Thursday, September 23

Will Smith has become the Dodgers’ ignored and underrated offensive star



Will Smith is underrated and overlooked. Why? That is hard to say.

Maybe it’s because the Dodgers catcher plays in the same position in the same division as a possible future Hall of Famer in Buster Posey. Maybe it’s because he plays on a superstar team, filled with MVPs, Cy Young winners, and future Hall of Famers.

Maybe it’s because he doesn’t even “own” his name in the public space, sharing it with a pretty famous actor and reliever who’s been in the majors since 2012. And maybe it’s because being an outspoken superstar just isn’t. your personality.

“He’s a quiet guy, a little reserved and reserved,” said Dodgers starter Walker Buehler, who has known Smith since they were both stars of prep baseball in Kentucky. “Maybe if it was crazy, loud and boisterous, people would understand it, but it is. That’s what drives him, and it’s been fun to watch. “

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Because here’s the thing: Will Smith, in his 26-year season, is absolutely a star quality baseball player. He made his major league debut on May 28, 2019, and at the end of his fourteenth game in the majors, he had six home runs and 19 RBIs with a .349 average and a 1,280 OPS.

In his 783 career plate appearances, Smith has an OPS + of 143, a statistic that basically aggregates a player’s on-base and slugging percentages and normalizes the numbers, based on factors like the ballpark. The average OPS + is 100, which means that Smith has been 43 percent better than the average MLB hitter.

However, perhaps adding context is a more effective way of looking at that statistic. Since the start of the 2019 season, 227 players have posted at least 750 at-bats, and Smith ranks 11th out of those 227 with his 143 OPS +. He is one point behind 2020 National League MVP Freddie Freeman. 144 and ahead of Home Run Derby expert Pete Alonso (137) and young superstars Ronald Acuña Jr. and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (both 136). The Dodgers have seven players in the top 50 on that list, but they are all behind Smith.

His 143 is by far the best of any receiver. Behind him on the list are Yasmani Grandal (128), JT Realmuto (114), Willson Contreras (111) and Posey (111).

“What we see offensively and defensively, in my opinion, is one of the best, two or three best receivers in all of baseball,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts told SN during a recent pregame interview session. in Zoom. “We look forward to the next three to five years, and he will be the best catcher in all of baseball. We’re lucky to have it and it’s only going to get better. “

A few hours after Roberts’ comments, Smith was 4-for-4 with a home run and three, THREE, infield singles. How many receivers can claim such a night?

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In 37 games during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, Smith hit .289 with a .980 OPS. In 117 games this season, Smith has 24 home runs, 71 RBIs, an .894 OPS and a 3.6 bWAR. Home runs, RBIs and bWAR lead all NL receivers (he’s a little behind Posey in OPS), but he wasn’t a NL All-Star this year. In fact, he didn’t even qualify for Phase 2 of the voting, finishing behind Posey, Yadier Molina and Contreras among the Phase 1 receivers.

Yes, overlooked and underrated.

“There is a good case for saying that Will should have been an All-Star this year,” Buehler said. “I think the catcher position is one of those positions where guys dig in and receivers take longer to recognize what they’re doing.

“The year of COVID being his second year probably hurt him, just because it was only 60 games, but he was a big part of what we did.”

Smith was selected 32nd overall in the first round of the 2016 MLB Draft by the Dodgers, as a junior in Louisville. Six of his teammates on that Cardinals team – Brendan McKay, Nick Solak, Zach Burdi, Kyle Funkhauser, Corey Ray and Drew Ellis – have also made it to the majors. Smith hit .382 for the Cardinals, with seven home runs and 43 RBIs in 55 games.

That was a huge leap. He had hit .222 with zero homers in 39 games as a freshman and .242 with two homers in 57 games as a sophomore.

“In his third year,” Buehler said, “he left and he hasn’t looked back since.”

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He made an impression on his future manager early in his professional career.

“The first thing I learned about Will is that he is very observant,” Roberts said. “He is very observant and very calm. Observing what Major League Baseball players do and how they work speaks to their ability to observe and their willingness to observe. And peace of mind, there is no panic. Whether it’s catching, blocking a ball with the bases loaded, putting your right fingers down, you’re in the batter’s box in a big spot. Seeing those things, for me, I could bet that he will be a good player. “

Overtime after the 2016 season – Smith hit four home runs in 55 games during his first season in the Dodgers organization – with Robert Van Scoyoc, now Los Angeles’ Major League hitting coach, helped add pop. . Smith hit 11 in 73 bi-level games in 2017 and then 20 in 98 bi-level games in 2018. In 2019, Smith hit 20 at Triple-A, then added 15 more in the majors, in just 54 games.

It seems strange to think that the boy who hit nine home runs in 151 games in college has been a stone in the middle of the lineup (38 starts at the cleanup spot, 39 at No. 5) for the NL-leading team. in runs scored. But that’s Will Smith.

“He’s doing things offensively, for a receiver, that not a lot of people have done,” Buehler said.

Perhaps, at some point, everyone else will notice.




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