After tumbling out the gates to start the 2021 season, Dominic Smith’s recent hot streak has been a key reason the New York Mets have charged to the top of the National League East.
Smith is 7-for-17 in his last six games played (.411 BA) and slugging around 600. to raise his season average near .260. He’s beginning to look like the player who many believed had finally arrived during the 2020 Covid-shortened season.
Dominic Smith went nearly two full months between this homer and his last one on 4/13. Had to feel good in general, but it had to feel a little extra good because that baby wasn’t a cheap one. #Mets #LGM (via @Mets) pic.twitter.com/5Y2tox4mBd
— Matt Musico (@mmusico8) June 2, 2021
And while hitting is what gets him paid, Smith’s improvements on defense should have Mets fans extremely excited about the future.
A first baseman by trade, Smith has been forced to learn a new position with the emergence of slugging first basemen Pete Alonso (The 2019 NL Rookie of the Year). And for a while, things looked bleak for Smith in the outfield.
Coming into this season, Smith had played 470 1/3 innings in left field, and the results during that time left much to be desired.
There’s a plethora of metrics — that would take most folks hours to understand — that’s used to determine how good a particular player is defensively.
The two important metrics to look at here are Outs Above Average and Defensive Run Saved.
Outs Above Average is a ranged base metric of skill that shows how many outs a player has saved, while Defensive runs saved quantifies a player’s entire defensive performance by attempting to measure how many runs a defender saved. It takes into account errors, range, outfield arm and double-play ability.
Last season, the universal DH allowed the Mets to hide Smith’s inadequacies in the outfield by splitting his time with Alonso between DH & First Base. With the universal DH no longer an option, Smith has put in the work to be an everyday outfielder.
Although this is a small sample size, in 319 2/3 in left this season Smith has done a complete 180. He’s produced a 2 DRS, 0.8 RngR while being top 10 in each of the previously mentioned statistical categories.
But what can cause such a drastic shift in a player’s defensive rating?
According to Thomas Hall of metsmerizedonline.com, it’s as simple as adjusting his pre-pitch positioning.
“Well, a major component of his progression has been where the team has positioned him before the start of each play,” Hall writes. “Since the Junipero Serra HS standout has historically struggled with his range in the outfield, the coaching staff has decided to move him closer to the foul line, which has made it much easier for him to track down balls when ranging to his right.”
Smith has also stepped up as a mentor for younger players like MLBbro rookie Khalil Lee.
Last season, the Mets were one of the worst defensive teams in Major League Baseball. But now, as the game evolves and defensive versatility is considered a huge plus, the emergence of Smith as not only a dangerous hitter, but a reliable defender and leader will help the Mets remain in the pennant race.