The success or failure of Seth Smith's 2011 ultimately depends on what you thought of his defensive utility. Why is that? Because Smith's offensive production in 2011 was well above league average (115 wRC+), but FanGraphs only had him as a league average player (1.9 fWAR), while Baseball-Reference rated Smith as a replacement player (0.0 rWAR) -- and a major difference between the two systems is the defensive system used.
FanGraphs is partial to Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) while Baseball-Reference uses Defensive Runs Saved (DRS). To be honest, I'm not much of a fan of either system, especially for rating outfield defense. Colorado outfielders always seem to be rated very poorly despite having been plus outfielders in other home parks (Willy Taveras and Carlos Gonzalez are both good examples of this) because of Coors' nightmarishly large surface area. That's why I believe that the Coors outfield defense penalty severely mitigates the WAR bonus that Colorado outfielders gain from hitting at Coors (as does the Coors hangover effect, but that's another article).
Using the eye test on Smith's defense, I saw a player with below average range, speed, and throwing arm -- though not to the point that it made sense to take his bat out of the lineup. Fans that participated in Tom Tango's fan scouting report (who also used the eye test) seemed to agree.
Coming into 2011, Smith was slotted in as the everyday starter in right field, with Jim Tracy and Dan O'Dowd promising him some chances against left-handed pitching. Smith did receive 103 PA against LHP, but he hit very poorly against them (.217/.272/.304, 41 OPS+) -- making the statement that he's not any more than a platoon player. Then again, he did mash against right-handed pitching (.299/.365/.526, 138 OPS+) to the point that he'd be a very useful player in the 2/3 or so of games with a right-handed starter on the hill and a deadly weapon off the bench when lefties toed the rubber.
Smith's lack of homers appears to have him falling out of favor with Dan O'Dowd (he's never hit more than 17 in the majors), but he did smack 56 extra base hits in 2011, so it can be inferred that he's a great fit for the spacious power alleys at Coors and a pretty darn good hitter. He hit .300 or better in 4 of the 6 months of the season and ended up with a total .284/.347/.483 line (115 wRC+, 112 OPS+).
Rating and 2012 below the fold.Rating: B-
The defensive metrics really didn't like Seth Smith this year (especially DRS, which had his defensive play completely canceling out his offensive value) and Smith's struggles against left-handers certainly were problematic. However, it's tough to say that Smith wasn't a good offensive player for Colorado in 2011 given the ferocity with which he tore through right-handed pitching. Since I feel that defensive stats for Colorado outfielders are dubious at best, I'm awarding Smith a slightly above average grade overall.
It's pretty obvious that I like Seth Smith as an outfielder going forward (he'll be well above average if given the heavy role in a platoon) more than the majority of front office people, fans, and media. That's why it's such a shame that he has to go from the Rockies this off-season. Much has been written on this site about potential Smith trades the last couple of months, but here's the quick version:
Smith is still south of 30 and is a useful platoon outfielder with 3 years of pretty cheap team control left. Unfortunately, the Rockies as they are currently constituted would only really be using Smith as a bench bat and they have holes in the infield and the starting rotation, so it would make more sense to move Smith if a decent player could be found to fill one of those holes.
I don't believe that the Rockies have a high opinion of Smith as a baseball player and that to me is a real shame. If the Rockies were to commit to having a strong bench now that Michael Cuddyer will be playing everyday (and they really should), Smith is exactly the kind of player that would be needed to anchor it. If Smith can't be moved for good value, he needs to be in that role come Opening Day.