Give Seth Smith some love

Two-thirds of the Colorado Rockies’ outfield is set in stone. Carlos Gonzalez (projected for 2.6 Wins Above Replacement in 2010 by CHONE) and Dexter Fowler (2.2 projected WAR), both entering their age 24 seasons, are franchise pillars.

In right field, Colorado figures to pencil in Brad Hawpe on most nights. That’s a shame, because the Rockies have a better player ready for an everyday role in Seth Smith.

A University of Mississippi product taken in the second round of the 2004 amateur draft, Smith bashed to the tune of .313/.379/.506 in the minors. In Triple-A, the lefty batter posted a .317/.381/.528 triple-slash in 2007 and a .323/.426/.524 line in 2008.

Arizona Diamondbacks vs Colorado Rockies in Denver

Granted, he was a little long in the tooth for a prospect, and Colorado Springs (the Rockies’ Triple-A affiliate) is a great place to hit. Smith’s Major League Equivalent (MLE) lines weren’t all that spectacular: .265/.317/.421 in 2007 and .254/.339/.391 in 2008. He never really ranked as a top prospect, either: Baseball America rated Smith as the seventh best prospect in the Colorado system in 2005, 15th in 2006, 16th in 2007 and 12th in 2008.

Despite the quantitative and qualitative skepticism, Smith has been excellent when given the chance to take the field in the majors. In 518 career plate appearances, the 27 year-old has a .290/.375/.499 line.

“Coors!” you say. However, even accounting for the cozy dimensions of his home ballpark, Smith’s offensive performance has been 26 percent better than the major league average (126 wRC+). Here are his batting projections for the 2010 season:

Bill James: .288/.362/.487, 128 wRC+
CHONE: .288/.369/.482, 130 wRC+
ZiPS: .289/.366/.473

Smith has a patient, potent bat, and all three forecasts say that he’ll be an asset at the plate. So what? you say. Hawpe has very similar projections:

Bill James: .280/.375/.501, 135 wRC+
CHONE: .273/.367/.484, 129 wRC+
ZiPS: .264/.367/.468

So, Smith and Hawpe project to hit around the same level. But what separates the two is defense.

Rockies Hawpe Catches Brewers Lopez's Fly Ball to End Fourth Inning in Denver

Hawpe plays the outfield like a Stegosaurus. His career UZR/150 in right field is -21.6, and Sean Smith’s Total Zone has Hawpe as a -16 run fielder per season in his four full years in the majors from 2006-2009. John Dewan’s Plus/Minus system rates him as a -9 run fielder per year over the past four seasons. For 2010, CHONE projects Hawpe as surrendering a full win with his laggardly leather (-10 runs).

It’s hard to say exactly how well Smith will rate in the field, but it’s reasonable to assume that he won’t be near as statuesque as Hawpe. CHONE, factoring in Smith’s Total Zone numbers in the majors and minors, projects him as a -1 run fielder.

Considering that the two are basically equals from an offensive standpoint, and that Hawpe is possibly the worst defensive outfielder in the game, Smith looks like the better bet as the starting right fielder. Let’s say that Hawpe and Smith are both about +20 runs above average offensively. Let’s also say that Hawpe is a -10 run fielder (a generous estimate) and Smith a -1 fielder. Factoring in position and replacement level adjustments, Smith projects as a +3.2 win player, while Hawpe projects at +2.3 WAR. That gap could be wider, depending upon how much you want to ding Hawpe for his defense.

Give Seth Smith some love, Colorado.

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Comments

  1. Pochucker said...

    I have this sickening feeling that this surplus of outfielders (dont forget they resigned Spilborghs for close to 3mil—why I dont know they have E.Young to use also)is going to cause havok with all of them for at least the first half
    of the year.

  2. Levski said...

    Why would you put Smith in right field? Carlos Gonzalez was a right fielder in the minors, even though he’s played all over the outfield in the majors. CarGo’s defense in RF should be very good, and he’s got an extremely strong arm to boot. That would leave left field for Smith, where he might be just fine.

  3. Mark C. O'Connor said...

    If the Rockies need to dump an OF, I’m sure we can find a spot for Seth Smith on the Giants. Hell, he’s better than every position player on the team (except Pablo Sandoval)!

  4. JK said...

    If they have two ofs they will play the most, it’s Gonzalez and Hawpe, not Fowler.  Whole presumption of the article is wrong.

  5. B-Chad said...

    I love Seth Smith for fantasy purposes.  He’s a case of draft the talent and wait for things to sort themselves out if I ever saw one.  Good write up, I’m hoping the OF crowd scares others away personally.

  6. The A Team said...

    “Hawpe plays the outfield like a Stegosaurus.”

    This is one of the best analogies I’ve read in a long time.  10 points to you.

  7. The A Team said...

    Mark-

    Yes the Giants absolutely could use Smith.  Hell they could use Ryan Spilborghs.  But why would the Rockies opt to help an in-division rival who has a similar talent level team.

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