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2021 Diamondbacks Rookie of the Year: Pavin Smith

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The overall value might have not impressed, but much of that is likely not Smith’s fault.

Arizona Diamondbacks v Pittsburgh Pirates Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

This proved to be a bit more one-sided than I expected, and indeed, even the outcome could count as a bit of a surprise. I thought Tyler Gilbert and Smith would probably fight it out, with Gilbert’s far superior bWAR perhaps giving him the edge. There also seemed a credible case to be made for no award this season. However, Smith’s status as an everyday player, along with him perhaps being cut slack for being thrown into unexpected duty, proved to be decisive. He ended up winning a clear majority of the votes cast, getting 64% of the vote, three times as much as Gilbert. Here are the full results:

I could perhaps have guessed, based on the overall ranking score for Smith, compared to the other candidates. He was voted in the top ten, with a score of 6.50; for comparison, Gilbert came in at a 5.78. I don’t want to steal James’s thunder, since he will be covering Smith in depth, when the SnakePit review series gets to Pavin in about three weeks. So I’ll just keep this as a relatively brief overview of Smith’s season.

He made his debut last year, but with only 44 PA, retained his rookie status for 2021. The numbers from his debut were quite encouraging, and turned out to be an almost perfect predictor of his stats for this season: BA was only three points different, OBP thirteen, and SLG just one. The main difference was in his playing time, as Smith went from being a September call-up to an everyday player. As noted previously, he saw the fourth-most games by a rookie player in franchise history, and in 2021, David Peralta was the only D-back to appear more often. Smith actually ended up with most at-bats for Arizona this season, and also led the team in hits, with 133. I think he’s the first D-backs rookie ever to do that.

What dragged down Smith’s value was the defensive metrics. He had an Offensive WAR of +0.9, but that was more than negated by Smith’s Defensive WAR of -1.8. That was the worst figure in the National League [not-so-fun fact: Josh Rojas was second worst]. UZR didn’t see Smith quite so badly, but he was still in the NL’s ten worst outfielders. The general consensus appear to be that it was borderline insanity to have Smith start in center field, which he did on 29 occasions - more often than anyone else except Ketel Marte. This was a position he had not played at all in his professional career, or even back in his college days with the University of Virginia, and the results were about what you’d expect.

It was, admittedly, not a move made by choice, resulting from the simultaneous loss to the team of both Marte and Tim Locastro. On the plus side, he only made one error playing there. But both his range and his arm were not up to the standard necessary to play the position. This should not have been a surprise, with Smith’s sprint speed 26.5 ft/sec ranking him 14th of 18 qualifiers on the D-backs. If he’d also qualified in CF, he’d have been the slowest center fielder in the majors this year. [That dubious honor instead went to Marte...] All credit to Smith, however, for being willing to do what was necessary to help the team out, and make the best of a situation into which he should never have been placed.

It’s to be hoped that next season won’t see the same messing around, and a regular, steady position and playing time certainly can’t do Smith any harm. The general SnakePit consensus is that he should have become the everyday 1B. though the tendering of a contract to Christian Walker makes that uncertain. But if this year is any evidence, Smith will do whatever is asked of him. to the very best of his ability.