When an orgainzation admits its looking not just for tangible results from its players, but for ‘indicators’ that talent is emerging, you get the situation the Seattle Mariners find themselves in – raves about at-bats that produce …. outs.
It happened last night, after a 10-pitch at-bat by Justin Smoak with the bases loaded in the fourth inning of a game Seattle lost, 3-2. In it, Smoak fouled off a handful of pitches, hitting one into the upper deck in left field, well foul.
After the game, manager Eric Wedge said Smoak gave the team a “great” at-bat, tough on the 10th pitch he popped up to shortstop for the second out of the inning.
“That was probably my best at-bat of the season,” Smoak said. “ If I could have delivered there, we wouldn’t have batted in the ninth inning. I kept battling, fouling off pitches, hitting the ball hard. I’ve got to come through there.”
Smoak at least understood that, good as he felt in that at-bat, he’d failed to make the kind of out that would have scored a run – never mind a hit that might have changed a then-scoreless game. But in reporting what Wedge and Smoak said, and what’s been said much of this season in the Mariners clubhouse, are we in the media painting an accurate picture?
The job is just that, reporting. What they say makes the papers, and if you disagree with it, it’s not your place as a beat writer to say ‘well, not really.’
So here’s a little added perspective. After the game last night, scouts from other teams were not quite so complimentary of Mariners at-bats. One said Smoak was ‘clearly cheating’ on fastballs, which is why he kept pulling 94 mph fastballs foul. That approach also leaves him completely vulnerable to off-speed pitches.
Scouts, like players and managers, are fallible. What they say about Smoak or Dustin Ackley, Kyle Seager or Jesus Montero may be colored by which team they represent, what night they see him and who they’re sitting next to in the stands.
‘Great’ at-bats, however, more often than not result in a pop up. We can probably all agree on that.