Is Seth Smith the next big “Moneyball” player for the Oakland Athletics?
The A's surely would be delighted if the Ole Miss product delivered on that kind of promise. He was their most significant offseason acquisition, but got off to a slow start – hitting .197 as recently as April 30.
But Smith was hitting .367 (11 of 30) for the month of May through Tuesday night, and he swung a big bat in Oakland's 5-0 win over the L.A. Angels late Monday. He doubled and scored in the fourth inning, then hit a bases-loaded double to score a couple of runs in the fifth.
"This is what we envisioned from him," Oakland manager Bob Melvin told MLB.com, saying the team hoped he would prove to be a valuable middle-of-the-lineup bat.
Smith, a second-round draft pick by Colorado in 2004, played his first five seasons in the Rockies' hitter-friendly environs. He's a .273 career hitter and I spent some time late Tuesday looking at his career stats to see why Oakland GM Billy Beane thought he might be worth dealing a couple of pitchers to obtain, then pay $2.4 million this season.
I wonder if it might be a matter of Smith's OPS – a stat that combines on-base percentage and slugging percentage. Smith flirted with the magic .900 number in 2009, when he hit 15 homers and had a healthy .378 OBP.
I'm no Bill James, but maybe Beane and his baseball guys saw something. That's why they get the big bucks – and why Seth Smith is enjoying a healthy payday as well.
The plot will soon thicken in Oakland when Manny Ramirez becomes eligible to join the roster after serving a 50-game drug suspension. Manny – who starts a minor-league rehab stint on Saturday – is likely to DH, which means Smith would likely get most of his at-bats in left field.
For what it's worth, Smith was a somewhat better hitter when playing in left field for Colorado over the past three seasons.