Mets have managed to hide Dominic Smith well in left field

PORT ST. LUCIE, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 21: Dominic Smith #22 of the New York Mets poses for a photo on Photo Day at First Data Field on February 21, 2019 in Port St. Lucie, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
PORT ST. LUCIE, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 21: Dominic Smith #22 of the New York Mets poses for a photo on Photo Day at First Data Field on February 21, 2019 in Port St. Lucie, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

Dominic Smith’s recent move to left field has shown the New York Mets can hide him defensively when he’s unable to play first base.

Dominic Smith has a chance to become more than a position-less ex-first baseman. For about a week, the New York Mets have given him opportunities to start in left field as they did for a handful of games in 2018. So far, the experiment has gone as well as it could with the limited sample size.

How limited is the sample? In 47 innings, Smith has had 7 chances to make a play. This doesn’t include groundballs that squeak through the infield or a line drive that somehow manages to avoid a leaping Amed Rosario at shortstop.

These chances come from 6 starts and another 8 games where he played some left field after joining the game as a substitute. He hasn’t made an error yet and his early metrics aren’t really positive or negative. I mean, with just 7 chances to prove himself, can we really judge him fairly?

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Left field is often a spot where a team will move a player they’re looking to hide on the field. Unlike right field, there’s no arm needed to gun out a runner at third base. The Mets have been lucky with the minimal amount of chances Smith has had in the field. While partly due to a limited range, players are simply not hitting the ball near him all that often.

By comparison, in 2018, Michael Conforto logged 678 total innings in left field. There were a total of 151 chances for him to make a putout. This equals out to a chance once every 4.49 innings.

A similar event has happened with Jeff McNeil in left field. Through his first 241.2 innings, he has had 38 chances. One of these did result in an error and one is on there because he logged an outfield assist. In other words, we should divide 242 (rounded up) by 37 (the number of putout attempts) to make things fair. This equals out to a chance once every 6.54 innings.

Smith’s number through his first 47 innings is at a chance once every 6.71 innings. This is about one ball hit to him each game. Considering the higher rate of strikeouts pitchers are creating, it’s not a unique occurrence across baseball.

For the sake of covering another inexperienced left fielder, let’s look at J.D. Davis’ experience out there. He has had 11 chances in his first 82 innings of work. This comes out to one chance per 7.45 innings. This is even less than Smith and it’s clear why. Davis has a larger sample size and thus worse defensive metrics. His range factor is about the same as Smith’s. His Defensive Runs Saved, however, is extremely negative.

What I take away from these numbers is that Smith, McNeil, and Davis are probably not getting to balls someone like Conforto would. Their number of innings compared to what he logged in 2018 are minimal. We’ll need a full season to assess whether or not these three are of equal enough value to a more seasoned outfielder.

However, the contrast is not so stark. If the average left fielder makes an average of one putout in every 4.49 innings, this comes out to two per game. Smith and the gang are short in this regard. So, there’s probably one ball in every other start Conforto would have gotten to that they didn’t. This one ball could be a double in the gap or a blooper a few feet in front.

At the cost of getting these bats in the lineup, it’s worth the defensive shortcomings—as slight as they are. Left field is a great place to hide a guy who can’t play anywhere else either due to another presence or a poor glove altogether.

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What we’ve seen so far in 2019 is that Smith is capable of patrolling left field. As long as he continues to hit, there’s no reason why he cannot find a permanent job beyond the infield grass making one or two catches a night.