In his quest to improve as an all-around hitter, Dominic Smith has taken to heart a piece of advice from one of the best to ever do it: Barry Bonds, baseball’s all-time home run leader.
It came in February, when MLB had Smith host an Instagram Live with Bonds as part of a Black History Month series. They got to talking about being lefthanded hitters and how that usually means faring worse against lefthanded pitchers.
"Like Barry Bonds said, if you can hit against your weaknesses every day, it’s just going to make you better," Smith said Wednesday afternoon, between early batting practice and working out in the outfield. "He was a big believer in hitting lefty BP every day. That’s just one of the things I took away from him."
And so Smith, too, has made that routine, taking indoor batting practice against the Mets’ lefthanded BP thrower, coaching assistant Rafael Fernandez, before every game.
That has led to an encouraging trend amid his underwhelming offensive season: He is hitting lefthanded pitchers significantly better than righthanded ones.
He has a .314 average, .371 OBP and .453 slugging percentage against southpaws. Against righties, those numbers are .223, .300 and .369.
Historically, he hits them about equally well (.779 OPS versus righties, .776 versus lefties).
"We know as a lefthanded-hitter, and being a pretty good lefthanded hitter, late in a game other teams are going to try to bring in lefthanded pitchers to get you out," Smith said of his conversation with Bonds. "I just wanted to work on that weakness. Then they won’t see that as if they can bring in just any lefty, and they know I can do damage against lefties. That’s something I wanted to add to my game."
Smith didn’t get a chance to show as much Wednesday, starting the Mets’ game against Atlanta lefthander Max Fried on the bench. Manager Luis Rojas said it was merely more rest for Smith, who has been playing a lot but was removed in the fourth inning of a blowout Tuesday. He’ll get another chance Thursday when Atlanta starts lefty Drew Smyly.
The other pieces of Smith’s success against lefthanders, according to him: regular practice against a curveball machine, plus a steadier mental approach.
"I know they’re going to try to get me to expand with their softer sliders," Smith said. "If I don’t chase that, I’m eventually going to get a better pitch to hit. If I don’t, take my walks. I think just trying to simplify the game that way and not try to do too much. I’m able to have that success against lefties right now."
The natural next question: Why has he done poorly against righthanders?
Rojas attributed that to early-season trouble with breaking balls, since fixed. Smith agreed and added that opposing pitchers having better scouting reports on him — after his considerable success in 2019-20 — has worked in their favor.
"He kept getting those backfoot sliders or a curveball bounced on the plate, and he kept chasing down," Rojas said. "Then they’d elevate fastballs. I don’t think there’s anything more than that. Dom doesn’t have a problem right now facing a righty. He’s not a true reverse split guy. He’s just doing better against lefties this year. His production against righties is going to elevate these last two months."
As slumps so often do, this one came down to a simple truth: Smith was trying too hard, he said.
"I was trying to be a one-man hero," Smith said. "You can’t do that in baseball."
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