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