The Oakland A's have spent most of the offseason selling off young, cost-controlled pitchers like Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez and Andrew Bailey for a cadre of top prospects whom they hope can make the club competitive in a brand new ball park in San Jose a few years down the road. But the A's sent a pair of arms made obsolete by the addition of Jarrod Parker, Brad Peacock, Tom Milone and others to Colorado yesterday, picking up a present-day upgrade for the outfield in Seth Smith for Josh Outman and Guillermo Moscoso.
Well, Smith is an upgrade when the 73 percent of the pitching population that tosses from the right side is on the mound, anyway. The lefty batter has been platooned judiciously during his big league career, with slightly over 83 percent of his career plate appearances coming against righty pitching. There's good reason for that. While he smacks around right-handers (his batting line against them is about 25 percent better than the league average, even accounting for Coors), he has been helpless versus lefties:
While some of Smith's extreme platoon split is likely small sample size noise, righty and lefty pitchers certainly do approach him differently. Right-handers pitch him cautiously, locating just 42 percent of their pitches within the strike zone against Smith (the average for righty pitchers against lefty hitters is about 46 percent). Most of what Smith gets from righties is tossed off the outer third of the plate:
Lefties don't tiptoe around the zone as much, throwing 49 percent of their pitches in the zone versus Smith (right around the average for LHP against LHBs):
Smith's power numbers might suggest that he hits many more fly balls against right-handers than lefties, but that's not the case. He actually has a higher fly ball rate versus southpaws (47 percent) than against righties (41 percent). It's just that his flies don't have the same oomph versus lefties: Smith's average fly ball distance when a righty is on the bump is 333 feet, compared to 315 feet against left-handers.
Smith figures to platoon with some combination of righty-hitting Colin Cowgill (picked up from the Diamondbacks in the Cahill swap) and Michael Taylor. Smith's pickup seems to signal a particular lack of confidence in Taylor. The former Phillie prospect, traded to the Blue Jays in the Roy Halladay deal and quickly sent to Oakland for Brett Wallace, once ranked as one of Baseball America's top 30 prospects but has failed to hit for power despite standing 6-foot-5, 255 pounds. The 26-year-old has slugged just .428 in over 1,000 career Triple-A plate appearances, while the average in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League has been between around .440 in recent seasons.
Smith can do the heavy lifting against righties, but the A's need either Cowgill or Taylor to produce against lefties. Asking Smith to play every day doesn't look like it would be in his or the team's best interests for 2012 and beyond.