clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The Seth Smith Problem: Part 2

New, comments

Seth Smith isn't hitting as well with the A's as he used to with the Rockies. What's changed in his results against different pitch types?


In my last piece, I discussed the seeming decline of Seth Smith from his time in Colorado to his time in Oakland--his strikeout numbers have shot up, his power numbers have fallen, and the result is that he's become a 1-WAR caliber player. Today, I want to get deeper into some numbers that shed some light on the specifics of Smith's issues.

First off, there are some pretty clear underlying causes of both the strikeout increase and the power decline.

Year (Team) SwStr%
2009 (Rockies) 8.1%
2010 (Rockies) 8.5%
2011 (Rockies) 10.3%
2012 (A's) 9.5%
2013 (A's) 10.7%

Actually, it's kind of odd that Smith's strikeout rate upticked in 2012, not 2011, because it seems his final year in a Rockies uniform was the year he started swinging through an above-average number of pitches. We can see a more linear downward trend in Smith's contact rate on swings at pitches inside the zone (Z-Contact% on FanGraphs):

Year (Team) Z-Contact%
2009 (Rockies) 86.4%
2010 (Rockies) 87.3%
2011 (Rockies) 85.0%
2012 (A's) 83.4%
2013 (A's) 82.7%

League average is 86-88%, so Smith started out right around average (like his strikeout rate) and has since slipped to well below average.

As for the power decline, here's something:

Year (Team) GB%
2009 (Rockies) 39.0%
2010 (Rockies) 36.1%
2011 (Rockies) 38.0%
2012 (A's) 41.5%
2013 (A's) 44.1%

I mentioned last week how Smith's ability to clear the fence once the ball was in the air didn't seem to be impacted by his move from a hitter's haven to a pitcher's paradise, but he simply isn't hitting the ball in the air as much. Smith is hardly the sort of hitter who stands to gain much from grounding the ball, and the uptick in this area has taken him from a solid power producer to a borderline problematically underpowered corner outfielder/DH.

So, both the strikeout increase and the loss of power are backed up by deeper numbers. But today, I want to look even deeper than that. I want to compare how Smith has handled different pitch types in a Colorado uniform vs. an Oakland uniform. For the sake of simplicity, I'm just going to look at him against righthanded pitchers, since his role for both teams has rarely included seeing lefties regularly, and it's easier to compare things accurately with more focus.

First, let's see how he's been pitched to:

Pitch Type % Seen vs. RHPs, w/COL 2009-11 % Seen vs. RHPs, w/OAK 2012-13
Fastball 35.46% 32.28%
Sinker 17.51% 19.22%
Cutter 7.16% 5.21%
Slider 12.64% 11.69%
Curveball 12.59% 13.26%
Changeup 14.64% 18.34%

*Splitters and forkballs were rolled in with changeups. Eephuses were rolled in with curves.

The biggest difference here is that Smith has seen more changeups as an Athletic than a Rockie, in exchange for slightly fewer fastballs. Otherwise, things are pretty even--he sees breaking stuff about 25% of the time and some sort of moving fastball about 25% of the time as well. More changeups and fewer four-seamers is a fairly bad omen--changeups are the more likely pitch to be both rolled over and swung through. Seeing as we're only talking about righthanded pitchers, the increased number of changeups is also telling because the pitch is typically the best weapon of a pitcher against opposite-side hitters.

So, let's start comparing Smith's results against each pitch type, starting with the fastball:


Outcome % vs. RHPs, w/COL 2009-11 % vs. RHPs, w/OAK 2012-13
Ball 36.49% 33.37%
Called Strike 18.67% 18.49%
Swinging Strike 4.54% 7.44%
Foul 21.70% 23.82%
Groundball 5.33% 4.59%
Line Drive 4.14% 4.47%
Flyball 9.14% 7.82%
Ball In Play 18.61% 16.87%
Normalized Groundball 28.62% 27.21%
Normalized Line Drive 22.26% 26.47%
Normalized Flyball 49.12% 46.32%

A couple of things jump out, and none of them are good. Fastballs against Smith are going for strikes at a higher rate, and in particular, his swinging strike rate has jumped dramatically. Further, he's fouling more balls off while putting them in play less. Both of those point to a potentially slowing bat, as he's having considerable difficulty doing anything on his swings. To put it in perspective, 41.49% of his swings against righty fastballs with Colorado resulted in the ball being put in play. With Oakland, that's down to 35.05%. He's seeing fewer balls when he doesn't swing and fewer good outcomes when he does swing. That's not good.


Outcome % vs. RHPs, w/COL 2009-11 % vs. RHPs, w/OAK 2012-13
Ball 39.55% 36.88%
Called Strike 18.91% 17.50%
Swinging Strike 5.06% 6.04%
Foul 14.91% 19.38%
Groundball 8.92% 8.96%
Line Drive 4.39% 3.75%
Flyball 8.26% 7.50%
Ball In Play 21.57% 20.21%
Normalized Groundball 41.36% 44.33%
Normalized Line Drive 20.37% 18.56%
Normalized Flyball 38.27% 37.11%

More of the same, here. Balls are down about 3%, swinging strikes and fouls are up, and balls in play are down. With the Rockies, Smith was putting sinkers he swung at in play 51.93% of the time. With the A's, that's down to 44.29%. He's also hitting a few more grounders and slightly fewer liners and flies, if you take that to mean anything. Again, uniformly negative trends.


Outcome % vs. RHPs, w/COL 2009-11 % vs. RHPs, w/OAK 2012-13
Ball 34.20% 29.23%
Called Strike 14.66% 16.15%
Swinging Strike 11.40% 10.77%
Foul 20.85% 24.62%
Groundball 5.21% 10.00%
Line Drive 4.56% 5.38%
Flyball 9.12% 3.85%
Ball In Play 18.89% 19.23%
Normalized Groundball 27.59% 52.00%
Normalized Line Drive 24.14% 28.00%
Normalized Flyball 48.28% 20.00%

Well, Smith actually doesn't swing through cutters with Oakland as much as he did with Colorado, though just barely. There are other issues here, though. First, cutters are going for strikes at an obscenely high rate against the Oakland iteration of Smith. Second, check out that groundball rate spike! You can take some solace in the small sample of liners, I suppose, but again, there's not much in the way of positive outcomes here. Smith isn't seeing a lot of balls on cutters, nor is he driving the ball a whole lot.

Overall, Smith seems significantly worse with the A's than the Rockies when it comes to hitting hard stuff from righthanded pitchers.


Outcome % vs. RHPs, w/COL 2009-11 % vs. RHPs, w/OAK 2012-13
Ball 37.27% 34.25%
Called Strike 14.21% 18.15%
Swinging Strike 15.50% 14.38%
Foul 16.05% 15.75%
Groundball 6.83% 6.85%
Line Drive 3.51% 3.77%
Flyball 6.64% 6.85%
Ball In Play 16.97% 17.47%
Normalized Groundball 40.22% 39.22%
Normalized Line Drive 20.65% 21.57%
Normalized Flyball 39.13% 39.22%

It is with sliders that Smith starts to stop the bleeding a bit. There's yet another decrease in the number of balls, and the called strike number is way up, but he's actually putting sliders in play slightly more when he swings with Oakland than he did with Colorado. Further, the ball-in-play splits are essentially unchanged, just a tick on the good, liner-and-flyball-heavy side.


Outcome % vs. RHPs, w/COL 2009-11 % vs. RHPs, w/OAK 2012-13
Ball 42.22% 50.76%
Called Strike 19.26% 24.47%
Swinging Strike 10.00% 7.85%
Foul 13.33% 9.06%
Groundball 8.52% 5.44%
Line Drive 2.59% 1.21%
Flyball 4.07% 1.21%
Ball In Play 15.19% 7.85%
Normalized Groundball 56.10% 69.23%
Normalized Line Drive 17.07% 15.38%
Normalized Flyball 26.83% 15.38%

Against curveballs, Smith seems to have become an extremely passive hitter. He swung at 38.52% of them with Colorado, but only 24.77% with the A's. Seeing as roughly 2/3 of the curves he takes end up going for balls, it's hard to find fault with that strategy. Of course, Smith rarely does much with curves nowadays--his ball-in-play percentage has basically been cut in half from his Rockies days--but that's really not much to complain about, seeing as he's always struggled to do much with them other than hit the ball on the ground.


Outcome % vs. RHPs, w/COL 2009-11 % vs. RHPs, w/OAK 2012-13
Ball 36.46% 43.89%
Called Strike 13.38% 11.14%
Swinging Strike 17.04% 17.03%
Foul 15.13% 13.10%
Groundball 8.76% 8.08%
Line Drive 3.50% 1.97%
Flyball 5.73% 4.80%
Ball In Play 17.99% 14.85%
Normalized Groundball 48.67% 54.41%
Normalized Line Drive 19.47% 13.24%
Normalized Flyball 31.86% 32.35%

I noted earlier that Smith has seen significantly more changeups with the A's than the Rockies, which is problematic because he's swung and missed at 17% of the ones he's seen with both clubs and has high groundball rates against the pitch. One positive that comes out here is the increase in balls, which helps make up for the fact that Smith has gone from troubling to totally inept against changeups when he swings. He put the ball in play on 35.87% of his swings off of changeups with the Rockies, which has dropped to just 33.01% with Oakland, and when he has made contact with a change in the green and gold, his groundball rate is up almost 6% and his line drive rate is miniscule.

Overall, what comes out of this is that the bulk of Smith's decline against righthanded pitching with the A's seems related to a decrease in his ability to hit fastballs (including sinkers and cutters). His numbers against slower stuff--sliders, curves, and changeups--have changed some, but ultimately he's about as effective against offspeed pitches with Oakland as he was with Colorado. However, against harder pitches, Smith seems to have increasing difficulty in attaining positive outcomes--he's not seeing as many balls when he doesn't swing, he's not putting the pitches in play as much when he does swing, and he's not getting the ball in the air as much when he does put the ball in play. That's a disturbing trifecta of issues, and one has to question whether Smith's bat is slowing and he's reaching the end of his utility as an above-average offensive producer, even in a platoon role.