The Mets have made no secret of their interest in bringing in a first baseman this offseason, which means one thing: they are not (yet) sold on Dominic Smith. And it's hard to make an argument that they should be.
Smith's debut was by any measure a disappointing one. Across 49 games in August and September, he hit a paltry .198 with a .658 OPS and failed to demonstrate either the smooth glove or the smooth swing that brought him to the majors in the first place. The one positive is that he showed the potential for real power for the first time in his career, hitting nine home runs with an isolated slugging close to .200. He still does not compare favorably to the average first baseman in that area, but he has shown consistent improvement year over year.
But a 22-year-old former first-round pick brings a lot of upside that a 183 plate appearance sample size doesn't necessarily encompass. So as the Mets explore their options, they'll be asking themselves what an extra year -- and, if offseason rumors are to be believed, a little less weight -- will do for Smith's numbers.
Projection systems all point to a significant increase in Smith's production, which is not a surprise given how poor the jumping-off point is. The size of that increase varies a lot. Steamer is the most pessimistic, anticipating a small boost in average, but declines in walk rate and slugging percentage that would result in a .253/.309/.417 slash line. That's a fair bit better than Smith's debut season, but roughly what Tommy Joseph, the worst qualified first baseman of 2017, put up for the Phillies.
Baseball Reference sees a little more power from Smith, but only ZiPS really anticipates anything like a major step forward. The .272/.324/.430 projection from ZiPS has shades of Mitch Moreland and Chase Headley, the 5th and 6th-worst qualified first basemen of 2017.
It's clear that the odds aren't great on Smith being anything close to an average first baseman next year, even factoring in a potential improvement in conditioning. Part of the issue is that there are just so many areas he needs to improve -- his defense, his plate discipline, his quality of contact, his base-running. Essentially everything outside of power needs to get better, and in some cases a lot better. Can it all happen? At his age, absolutely, but expecting it to happen in one year is, as these models show, not very likely.
The Mets won't have to look very far to find a first baseman with a better projection than Smith, but with a roster with as many holes as theirs, it's going to come down to where the biggest upgrades can be made. That may be at first base, but if the team likes what they're seeing from him this offseason, they may go all-in on him figuring it out and turn their attention elsewhere.
Maggie Wiggin (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Archive Posts) has been a Mets fan since birth and a MetsBlog contributor since 2013. She loves throwing hard and hitting hard and hates the DH. When baseball is out of season, she fills her days with data analysis and evaluation and patiently waits for Spring