The SF Giants promoted Justin Smoak to their active roster on Thursday. To clear a spot, the team designated fan favorite Pablo Sandoval for assignment.
SF Giants fan had to say goodbye to one of their favorite #ForeverGiants on Thursday. A day after signing veteran first baseman Justin Smoak to a minor-league deal, the team designated longtime Giants Pablo Sandoval for assignment and promoted Smoak to the big-league team.
Over his 11-year career, Smoak has hit 196 home runs against a .229/.322/.419 triple-slash. A switch-hitter, Smoak’s OPS is 72 points higher against right-handed pitching than against southpaws.
The 11th overall pick in the 2008 MLB draft, Smoak quickly reached the big-leagues but struggled to reach his potential. He’s always been an above-average defender at first base with plus raw power and strong bat-to-ball skills. However, his swing limited his ability to tap into his power.
In 2017, with the Toronto Blue Jays, Smoak reworked his swing and clobbered 38 homers alongside a .270/.355/.529 triple-slash. He reached his only career All-Star game that year.
Since his peak campaign at 30-years old, Smoak has maintained some of those gains, but his numbers gradually declined in 2018 and 2019. Over those two seasons, he averaged 24 home runs and hit .226/.346/.434. A respectable, but unexceptional line.
This season, Smoak maintained his power gains (ISO of .195) but saw his strikeout rate soar (31.8%) and his walk-rate drop to it’s lowest career level (7.9%). His expected batting average (.201) and slugging (.351) didn’t suggest his .186/.262/.381 triple-slash was a symptom of bad luck, but just poor performance.
If you’re looking for positives in Smoak’s 2020 performance, his hard-hit rate and average exit velocity both ranked in the top half of the league. Still, he’ll need to regain his previous walk and strikeout rates for that really to make a difference.
Over Sandoval’s 13-year career, he’s bashed 149 home runs and a .279/.331/.445 triple-slash line. Aside from two and a half forgettable years with the Boston Red Sox, Sandoval spent the entirety of his career in the Giants organization. Signed out of Venezuela as a catcher who quickly moved through the team’s minor-league system, Sandoval was the first of a flood of homegrown hitting talent (Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt, and Joe Panik) to reach the majors.
A part of all three SF Giants world series championship teams, the Kung Fu Panda (as he was nicknamed by Barry Zito) always entertained with his incredible bat-to-ball skills and unexpected athleticism.
There’s no denying Sandoval’s struggles in 2020. In a diminished role, he hit .220/.278/.268 with just 1 home run. Granted, his replacement (Smoak), hasn’t exactly been incredibly productive either. In fact, per Baseball Savant, Sandoval’s expected batting average (.255) and expected slugging percentage (.378) are higher than Smoak’s expected numbers.
Regardless, Sandoval’s second stint in San Francisco has very likely come to a close. He will likely go through waivers unclaimed before the Giants release him and he declares himself a free agent. Just a few weeks after Giants fans said goodbye to Hunter Pence, they have to do it again with Sandoval.
Smoak will fill Pablo’s role as a left-handed pinch hitter and DH against right-handed pitching. He’ll also offer Gabe Kapler another defensive replacement for Wilmer Flores in late-game situations if he’d like to give Belt a full day off.