If nothing else, Yoenis Cespedes opting out early in the 2020 season showed the Mets one thing: Dominic Smith is a bona fide everyday player. Before Cespedes opted out on August 2, Smith barely saw any playing time, getting ten plate appearances in the team’s first nine games, starting only three. But after Cespedes opted out, Smith saw more regular playing time, and he hit the ground running.
Over the course of the 2020 season, Smith hit .316/.377/.616, with a .993 OPS and 165 wRC+. He ended the season in the top 12 in Major League Baseball in batting average, RBI, slugging percentage, OPS, and doubles. He played to an MVP caliber this past season. Long story short, the Mets need him in the lineup for as many games possible.
But after the dust on this season settles, the Mets will have some decisions to make about the configuration of their team. And it will be hard to make an argument against Smith being an everyday player. But where do they put him? He can play two positions in the field, one better than the other, and if the DH is here to stay, Smith can find time there. But what is the Mets’ best plan of action regarding Smith? Let’s look at each possibility.
Putting Smith in left field is probably the worst idea of the three. A natural first baseman, he was thrust into left field during the 2018 season in an attempt to get him into the lineup. In the years since, he has improved there, but not remarkably so. Last season he was worth -3 Outs Above Average in left field, and this year he finished at -2 OAA. He prevented -3 runs in left field last season and -2 runs this season. There’s a valid argument to be made that this season is a small sample size, and if you were to extrapolate these numbers over the course of a full length season, it would probably be close to the same as last year, if not worse.
The Mets need Smith’s bat in the lineup, but how badly? If he’s going to cost you outs and runs in the field, he needs to work overtime at the plate to make up for it. And if he’s seeing time in left field, he’s taking away playing time from Jeff McNeil, who has proven himself to be a more than capable fielder in left, definitely better than Smith with 1 OAA and 1 run prevented this season in left field. And if the Mets happen to acquire a real center fielder over the offseason, the outfield becomes even more crowded, as now you also have Brandon Nimmo, a natural left fielder, fighting for playing time. But there are other ways to get Smith playing time.
Making Smith the designated hitter would have its perks. It sure seems like the designated hitter is here to stay in the National League. As tradition dies, opportunity rises from the ashes. The Mets are a team built with a designated hitter in mind, and this could definitely work to Smith’s advantage. The man can hit, as his numbers from this season and last season show. Even if he doesn’t sustain this season’s monstrous numbers and reverts back to last season, a .282/.355/.525 line is one you have to keep in the lineup.
If the designated hitter remains, it seems like the Mets will use it as a rotational spot, with a few mainstays to give starters more rest and let good hitters continue to bat. But if you want consistent production there, it may become a regular spot for Smith in the lineup. But that’s looking purely at hitting numbers. If you want to maximize both offensive and defensive production, there’s one spot that is perfect for Smith.
Going into this season, first base was seen as Pete Alonso’s domain. But as the 2020 season went on, Smith saw more time at first, with Alonso spending time as the team’s DH. This might be the best configuration for the team. Looking past the small sample size of this season, you can’t afford to lose both Smith’s production and Alonso’s impact bat in the lineup. If you’re going to choose one to be your defensive first baseman, Smith has a leg up on Alonso.
At first base this season, Smith is worth -1 OAA and prevented -1 runs playing first base, which sounds slightly below average and somewhat undesirable, until you find out that Pete Alonso is worth -3 OAA, and has prevented -2 runs. At this point, if the Mets want a team that performs well on both sides of the ball, Smith at first base might be their best bet.
No one can be sure how the Mets will operate with new ownership coming in. But Dominic Smith has proven his worth over the last two seasons, and he’s put them in the position of needing to play him as much as possible. Hopefully the Mets utilize Smith in a way to ensure they get the greatest value from his play, as he is becoming one of their brightest young stars.