Toronto Blue Jays: Justin Smoak and the race for the AL home run crown

TORONTO, ON - AUGUST 17: Justin Smoak
TORONTO, ON - AUGUST 17: Justin Smoak /

There’s not too much to be excited for the Toronto Blue Jays heading into the final stretch of 2017 but if there is one thing, it Justin Smoak’s bid for the AL home run crown.

The Toronto Blue Jays are all but mathematically eliminated from the playoffs and may end up having their worse season since 2013. If there is a sliver-lining on this disastrous season it is the unlikely emergence of veteran Justin Smoak.

Only three Blue Jays have ever led the American League in home runs – Jose Bautista (2010, 2011), Fred McGriff (1989), and Jesse Barfield (1986). Smoak is hoping to become to the fourth.

The Blue Jays first baseman, who is having a career season at age 30, finds himself two long balls short of Oakland’s Khris Davis and New York rookie Aaron Judge with 37.


While Giancarlo Stanton is running away with the lead in all of baseball, there is a logjam in the AL as six players find themselves within three home runs of each other.

Smoak and Joey Gallo of the Rangers have 37 behind Davis and Judge who have 39, and right behind them is Logan Morrison of Tampa Bay and Mike Moustakas of Kansas City with 36.

Since the All Star break Toronto’s slugger finds himself in the middle of the pack of these six in home runs (Gallo 16, Davis 15, Smoak 14, Morrison 12, Moustakas 11, and Judge 9). With Judge crashing back to earth in the second-half of his rookie campaign, Smoak has been able to nearly close the gap on the Yankees phenom.

But with a handful of sluggers in a tight race it may just come down to whoever is hottest in the final month of the season.


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According to ESPN Smoak is on pace for 43 home runs this season which would be nearly double his career high before this season and establish himself as Toronto’s newest home run threat. It would also be the highest single-season home run total by a Blue Jay since Bautista lead all of baseball in 2011.

It may surprise some that Smoak is on pace for one of the highest single-season home run total in the Blue Jays 40 year history as only Bautista (54), George Bell (47), Jose Canseco (46), and Carlos Delgado (44) have ever hit more in a campaign. To put in perspective what Smoak has achieved this season, Edwin Encarnacion has never hit more than 42 and the year Josh Donaldson‘s won the League MVP he only hit 41.

Shawn Green holds the record for long balls hit by an American-born Blue Jay, hitting 42 in 1999. But Smoak, the South Carolinian, looks set to pass that mark.


The Jays switch-hitting wonder has made a once disgruntled fanbase nearly forget about Encarnacion. If the Jays are going to compete the next couple seasons, Smoak will be an important factor.

Last year the Jays gave their struggling first baseman a two year extension worth $4.125 million a season, with a $6 million option for 2019. Many in the Toronto media scoffed at what seemed, at the time, to be an unreasonable deal for an under-achieving former top prospect. But now Toronto seems poised to have a powerful middle order of the bat, under contract for a bargain.

After a lost campaign in 2017 Toronto will have to retool and regroup if they are going to compete next season, and having the Southern Smash Brothers (Donaldson and Smoak) in the mix will be integral for the team’s chances.

If Toronto is to enter the free agent bonanza in 2018-2019 than having a cheap power bat will give them greater flexibility in the market. If Donaldson departs than the team will have at least one power bat in the lineup.

There is no guarantee that Justin Smoak’s 2017 is anything more than a career anomoly. He has spoke about changing his approach at the plate this season, but if he can continue his success is anyone’s guess.

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Toronto has been in this situation before. In 2010 Bautista had a breakout season at 29 going from a .235 hitter with 13 home runs in 2009 to batting .260 with a league leading 54 long balls. Encarnacion also had a career year at 29 jumping from 17 home runs in 2011 to 42 in 2012. Smoak could just be the latest Blue Jays late bloomer.