Will Smith has become Dodgers’ overlooked and underrated offensive star

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will smith 091516 ftr gettyjpg 9dhvq1miehco1bcs4nc2auezy

Will Smith is each underrated and overlooked. Why? That’s arduous to say.

Maybe it’s as a result of the Dodgers catcher performs the identical place in the identical division as a probable future Hall of Famer in Buster Posey. Maybe it’s as a result of he performs on a workforce of superstars, stuffed with MVPs, Cy Young winners and future Hall of Famers.

Maybe it’s as a result of he doesn’t even “own” his title within the public house, sharing it with a reasonably well-known actor and a reliever who’s been within the majors since 2012. And possibly it’s as a result of being an out-front celebrity simply isn’t his persona. 

“He’s a quiet guy, kinda reserved and keeps to himself,” mentioned Dodgers starter Walker Buehler, who has identified Smith since they have been each prep baseball stars in Kentucky. “Maybe if he was crazy and loud and boisterous, people would get it, but that’s who he is. That’s what makes him tick, and it’s been fun to watch.”

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Because right here’s the factor: Will Smith, in his Age 26 season, is completely a star-quality baseball participant. He made his large league debut on May 28, 2019, and by the tip of his 14th sport within the majors, he had six homers and 19 RBIs to go together with a .349 common and 1.280 OPS.   

In his 783 profession plate appearances, Smith has a 143 OPS+, a statistic that mainly provides a participant’s on-base and slugging percentages and normalizes the numbers, primarily based on issues corresponding to ballpark components. The common OPS+ is 100, which implies Smith has been 43 p.c higher than the typical MLB hitter. 

Maybe including context is a more practical method to take a look at that stat, although. Since the beginning of the 2019 season, 227 gamers have posted at the least 750 at-bats, and Smith ranks eleventh of these 227 together with his 143 OPS+. He’s one level behind 2020 NL MVP Freddie Freeman’s 144 and forward of Home Run Derby savant Pete Alonso (137) and younger superstars Ronald Acuña Jr. and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (each at 136). The Dodgers have seven gamers within the prime 50 on that checklist, however all of them fall in line behind Smith. 

His 143 is, by far, the most effective of any catcher. Behind him on the checklist are Yasmani Grandal (128), J.T. Realmuto (114), Willson Contreras (111) and Posey (111). 

“What we see offensively and defensively, in my opinion, he’s one of the top one, two or three best catchers in all of baseball,” Dodgers supervisor Dave Roberts instructed SN throughout a latest pregame Zoom interview session. “We look out the next three to five years, and he’ll be the best catcher in all of baseball. We’re lucky to have him and he’s only going to get better.”

Just a few hours after Roberts’ feedback, Smith went 4-for-4 with a house run and three — THREE — infield singles. How many catchers can declare an evening like that? 

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In 37 video games throughout the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, Smith hit .289 with a .980 OPS. In 117 video games this season, Smith has 24 homers, 71 RBIs, an .894 OPS and a 3.6 bWAR. The homers, RBI and bWAR lead all National League catchers (he’s a tick behind Posey in OPS), however he wasn’t an NL All-Star this 12 months. In reality, he didn’t even qualify for Phase 2 of the voting, ending behind Posey, Yadier Molina and Contreras amongst catchers in Phase 1. 

Yep, overlooked and underrated. 

“There’s a pretty good argument to say that Will should have been an All-Star this year,” Buehler mentioned. “I think the catcher position is one of those positions where the guys get entrenched, and it takes catchers longer for people to recognize what they’re doing. 

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

Smith was drafted No. 32 total within the first spherical of the 2016 MLB Draft by the Dodgers, as a junior at Louisville. Six of his teammates on that Cardinals squad — Brendan McKay, Nick Solak, Zach Burdi, Kyle Funkhauser, Corey Ray and Drew Ellis — have made the majors, too. Smith hit .382 for the Cardinals, with seven homers and 43 RBIs in 55 video games.

That was fairly the leap. He’d batted .222 with zero homers in 39 video games as a freshman and .242 with two homers in 57 video games as a sophomore. 

“His junior year,” Buehler mentioned, “he went off and hasn’t really looked back since then.”

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He made an impression on his future supervisor early throughout his professional profession. 

“The first thing I learned about Will is he’s very observant,” Roberts mentioned. “He’s very observant and he’s very calm. Watching what major league players do and how they work speaks to his ability to observe and willingness to observe. And the calmness, there’s no panic. Whether it’s catching, blocking a ball with the bases loaded, putting the right fingers down, it’s in the batter’s box in a big spot. Watching those things, to me, I could bet on him being a good ballplayer.”

Extra time after the 2016 season — Smith hit 4 homers in 55 video games throughout his first season within the Dodgers’ group — with Robert Van Scoyoc, who’s now the massive league hitting coach for L.A., helped add pop. Smith hit 11 in 73 video games at two ranges in 2017 and then 20 in 98 video games at two ranges in 2018. In 2019, Smith hit 20 at Triple-A, then added 15 extra within the majors, in simply 54 video games. 

Seems unusual to assume that the child who hit 9 house runs in 151 video games in faculty has been a rock in the midst of the lineup — 38 begins on the cleanup spot, 39 within the No. 5 spot — for the workforce main the NL in runs scored. But that’s Will Smith. 

“He’s doing things offensively, for a catcher, that not many people have done,” Buehler mentioned. 

Maybe, in some unspecified time in the future, everybody else will discover.