Daily Dollar debates: Smoak, Moss and Jones

Here’s the second in a series of articles focusing on low-risk, medium-reward $1 sleepers who could be a boon for stars-and-scrubs minded drafters and diamonds in the rough for active waiver-wire fishers. The goal of each article is to present a short, objective analysis of two or more players comparable in expected value. I hope this provides a chance for readers to debate in the comments below. I look forward to reading everyone’s thoughts!

This daily dollar debate began as two separate first baseman questions. The first was to be between prospective full-time players Justin Smoak and either Brandon Belt or Kendrys Morales. The second was to be a question of prospective part-time hitters who are on the strong-side (lefties) of a prospective platoon. But the more I thought about the first question, the less I thought that Belt and Morales were fair comps to Smoak. Both are ranked within the top 200 overall per Yahoo’s rankings, and neither is really unknown. At least one of them is likely to go $2 (if not a buck or two more) if you were to throw them out late in a draft. That said, i think Smoak’s value is a lot closer to Morales than some think, while I am not fully buying Belt as more than a .260-.270 kind of guy with a 20-25 home runs.

That tidbit aside, let’s dive into the analysis.

First up is Justin Smoak. My colleague Nick Fleder did a nice write-up on him about two weeks ago. Long story short, Smoak, the guy the Rangers traded to the Mariners to acquire Cliff Lee, has had a pretty disappointing start to his career.

He’s hit for average/slightly above average power in a power-suppressing park while maintaining a strong walk rate (career 10.6 percent). His career strikeout rate is survivable, but still undesirably high at 21.6 percent. Smoak’s biggest problems outside of the strikeouts have been that he gets under the ball way to often—12.8 percent of his career flyballs in play have been popups, compared to a 9-10 percent major league average—and the fact that he hits almost as many ground balls and flyballs with one of the major league’s lowest speed scores to boot.

Smoak’s speed score last year in the majors was lower than Prince Fielder’s. Clocking in at 1.6 on a scale that ranges from 1-10, with mot players clumping between 4 and 6, Smoak’s “speed” is downright Jim Thome-ian. Heck, even Jim Thome owns a career 2.4 speed score.

Because of his disappointing major league numbers, the Mariners temporarily demoted Smoak to Triple-A. He did not do much after being demoted (.242/.390/.364 in 20 Triple-A games), but that demotion seemed to light a spare in him. After being called back up, Smoak cut his popup rate down to a respectable 7.7 percent and hit five home runs in the process. His overall triple-slash line was Carlos Pena-ian (.217/.290/.364), but he still managed to float 19 home runs in one of the major league’s hardest home run parks.

Entering his age 26 season, the Mariners are moving in the fences between fourand 17 feet throughout the outfield. Smoak has some cheap and underrated power upside to offer fantasy owners.

Katron’s Gameday BIP Location tool data show that the shorter fences would have resulted in an additional two or three home runs at home for Smoak last year. I strongly believe that 25 home runs is in the cards for Smoak this year. He’s wrapping up a hot spring batting .431/.474/.824 with four home runs over 16 games against pitching quality that falls somewhere between Quad-A and the major league level. Worrisome, however, are the 13 strikeouts in 57 plate appearances (22.8 percent). If Smoak can cut down on the strikeouts, he could end up being this season’s Chris Davis.

Brandon Moss’ situation presents a curious story. He is being platooned with Daric Barton despite posting a .337 wOBA (115 wRC+) against same-handed pitching last season (.419 wOBA, 172 wRC+ versus righties in 2012). Of course, there is an obvious sample size red flag considering that Moss had only nearly a quarter as many plate appearances (62) against same-handed pitching as he did opposite-handed pitching.

Then again, for his career, Moss owns a .331/.318 wOBA (103/94 wRC+) split against righties (843) and lefties (202 career PA). That is not to say that Moss is for sure a split-less hitter, or that he definitely broke out last year. At age 30, having struck out one quarter of his 1,000+ major league plate appearances, there are plenty of reasons to be bearish on Moss.

However, if you believe that last season was not a fluke, there’s no reason to think he cannot be a poor man’s Adam Dunn this year. Over 120 games, over which he could run away with a more full-time job, Moss should be able to muster 25-30 bombs for the Athletics. He almost certainly will not hit .290 (or anything close to it) this season, but .250 is in the cards with 150 runs plus RBIs. Ranked outside the top 500 in Yahoo, he won’t cost you much.

Last, but hardly least, we have Garrett Jones. He’ll turn 32 this season, and is what he is—a 20+ home run hitter who can post a liveable, but below-average batting average with marginal speed and the potential for 80-100 RBI. He also has average on-base skills, which, in tandem with the power, offers a respectable OPS for those who play in those kind of leagues. The Pirates intend to platoon Jones with Gaby Sanchez this season, which may curtail Jones’ counting stats some, but increase/maximize his rate stats in the process.

Jones is a career .198/.237.353 (.257 wOBA) hitter against lefties and a career .279/.348/.504 (.365 wOBA) hitter against righties. Over 80 percent of his career home runs have come off opposite-handed pitching. Even in a reduced platoon role, Jones should see action in 110 to 120 games. That should still put him in the higher end of the 15-20 home run range based on his past three years of production.

Paired with a make-your-own platoon mate like Matt Joyce and a joyful desire to micromanage all season, a fantasy owners could Frankenstein their way into collective production to the tune of a .275+ batting average, 22-30 home runs, 80+ runs and RBIs and maybe even a few steals. Jones is clearly the least exciting of these three options, but he also offers the most consistency.

Time for you to chime in. Who would you rather have this season? Justin Smoak, Brandon Moss or Garrett Jones (plus a platoon mate)? Post your thoughts and arguments in the comments below!

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

Jeffrey Gross is an attorney who periodically moonlights as a (fantasy) baseball analyst. He also responsibly enjoys tasty adult beverages. You can read about those adventures at his blog and/or follow him on Twitter @saBEERmetrics.
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11 years ago

In my 14 team, 140 keepers (10 per team) salary league Jones went in the 5th round of the draft, while I was able to pick up Moss after all 15 rounds of the draft. I would rather have Jones,  especially since I live in Pittsburgh, but I’m happy paying what little I did for Moss. Do you think he’ll suffice as my RF until my starter (Corey Hart) or my keeper (Wil Myers) is ready? Thanks.