Dominic Smith Defense May Be Key To 2021 Season

As Sandy Alderson is wont to do, the New York Mets are going to stick a first baseman in left due to his offense. That means Dominic Smith, the team’s best defensive first baseman, will be out there.

In terms of offense, Smith’s bat definitely plays in left. In 2021, he was the sixth best hitter in all of baseball. Since 2020, he’s had a 148 wRC+. If he had enough plate appearances to qualify, that would’ve ranked him behind only Juan Soto and Christian Yelich.

Seeing that, you certainly understand the impetus to keep him in the lineup. However, to truly justify that, he’s going to have to play well defensively, especially when he’s playing behind J.D. Davis, who is the worst defensive third baseman in all of baseball.

The numbers are a mixed bag for Smith’s ability to actually play left. Since 2019, he has a – 1 DRS. He also has a -5 OAA and a -4.1 UZR. While there has been progress on all three metrics for him, overall, with him playing 380.1 innings out there, those numbers are not very good.

Part of the issue is Smith really doesn’t have the speed to play the outfield. His sprint speed is 26.0+ ft/sec. That rates among the worst at the position. As an aside, that puts him right in line with Soto, who like Smith, appears like he belongs at first.

Despite the poor defensive numbers, there is some legitimate hope for Smith in left.

First and foremost, Smith entered this season knowing he’s going to be the left fielder. That permitted him to spend months preparing to play the position. That’s an advantage he really had not previously had in his career.

Another benefit is Luis Rojas. Rojas had previously worked with Jeff McNeil to help him learn left on the fly, and McNeil would be an All-Star. Rojas is an excellent coach who has previously worked with Smith.

One benefit Rojas and Smith will have this year is better information. Since buying the team, Steve Cohen has made a concerted effort to beef up the analytics department. On that note, Brandon Nimmo spoke about how it will impact defensive positioning.

On top of all that, we have seen Smith is a hard worker who does everything he can to succeed. There’s no doubt he’s done all he could’ve done to make sure he won’t be a question mark or liability in left this year.

Despite that, there still remains a reasonable debate whether Smith can adequately defend left this year. As we see, the numbers all point towards no, but from an intangibles standpoint, no one should be discounting Smith.

In the end, the only thing we know is Smith did everything he could’ve done to be a good left fielder. Time will tell if he actually became one or can become one during the season.

The Mets are going to need it because there are too many players playing out of position already. Someone is going to have to establish themselves and stabilize the defense. Hopefully, that player can be Smith.

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