My mental image of Justin Smoak is of him striking out on a breaking pitch that dropped out of the strike zone. He seemed to do this over and over again. It got to the point where, if he got two strikes on him and there were two out, I thought that I might as well go to the kitchen or washroom or whatever, as nothing else was going to happen this inning.
The numbers seem to correspond to my perception. According to Baseball Reference, Smoak had 187 plate appearances with two strikes, and struck out in 112 of them. By comparison, Russell Martin struck out in 148 of 306, Troy Tulowitzki struck out in 101 of 268, and Josh Donaldson struck out in 119 of 368. Smoak was far worse than any of the other three.
My hypothesis is that Smoak is just not able to protect the plate with two strikes. He has to decide in advance whether he is going to see a curveball or a fastball, and adjust his swing accordingly. This isn’t really a criticism: he is among the fortunate few who is able to hit any major league pitches at all. He just can’t hit them with two strikes on him.
If this is his problem, he isn’t likely to get any better – and, indeed, his 2016 averages were almost identical to his career averages. At this point, the contract extension that he signed last summer is looking like an act of corporate philanthropy.