Will Smith is both underrated and overlooked. Why? It’s hard to say.
Maybe that’s because the Dodgers wide receiver is in the same position in the same division as a likely future Hall of Fame Buster Posey. Maybe that’s because he’s playing on a team of superstars, full of MVPs, Cy Young winners, and future Hall of Famers.
Maybe that’s because he doesn’t even “own” his name in the public arena, sharing it with a fairly famous actor and reliever who’s been in the majors since 2012. And maybe that’s because that being a top superstar just isn’t his personality.
“He’s a quiet guy who’s pretty reserved and is on his own,” said Dodgers starter Walker Buehler, who has known Smith since they were both pre-season baseball stars in Kentucky. “Maybe if he was crazy and loud and loud people would understand, but he is. That’s what drives him, and it’s fun to watch.
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Because here’s the thing: Will Smith, in his season at 26, is absolutely a quality baseball player. He made his big league debut on May 28, 2019 and by the end of his 14th game in the majors he had six homers and 19 RBIs averaging 0.349 and 1.280 OPS.
In his 783 appearances in the career plate, Smith has a 143 OPS +, a stat that essentially adds a player’s base and hitting percentages and normalizes the numbers, based on factors such as rough factors. Average OPS + is 100, which means Smith was 43% better than the average MLB hitter.
Maybe adding context is a more efficient way to look at this statistic, however. Since the start of the 2019 season, 227 players have posted at least 750 batting appearances, and Smith ranks 11th out of those 227 with his 143 OPS +. He’s one point off 144 of NL 2020 MVP Freddie Freeman and ahead of Home Run Derby scholar Pete Alonso (137) and young superstars Ronald Acuña Jr. and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (both at 136). The Dodgers have seven players in the top 50 on this list, but they all fall behind Smith.
His 143 is by far the best of all receivers. 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, he’s one of the best, two or three best receivers in all of baseball,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts told SN in a recent session. pre-game interview with Zoom. “We’re looking at the next three to five years, and he’ll be the best catcher in all of baseball. We are lucky to have it and it will only get better.
Hours after Roberts’ comments, Smith went 4 for 4 with a home run and three – THREE – field singles. How many wrestlers can claim a night like this?
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In 37 games in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, Smith reached 0.289 with an OPS of 0.980. In 117 games this season, Smith has 24 homers, 71 RBIs, a .894 OPS and a 3.6 bWAR. The Home Series, RBI and bWAR all lead the National League receivers (he’s behind Posey in OPS), but he wasn’t an NL All-Star this year. In fact, he didn’t even qualify for Phase 2 of the vote, finishing behind Posey, Yadier Molina and Contreras among the Phase 1 receivers.
Yes, overlooked and underestimated.
“There’s a pretty good argument to say that Will should have been an All-Star this year,” Buehler said. “I think the receiver position is one of those positions where guys dig in, and it takes more time for receivers to get people to recognize what they’re doing.
“The year COVID being his sophomore probably hurt him, just because there were only 60 games, but he was a huge part of what we did. “
Smith was drafted 32nd in the first round of the 2016 MLB Draft by the Dodgers, as a junior at Louisville. Six of his teammates from that Cardinals team – Brendan McKay, Nick Solak, Zach Burdi, Kyle Funkhauser, Corey Ray and Drew Ellis – have also reached the majors. Smith reached .382 for the Cardinals, with seven homers and 43 RBIs in 55 games.
It was quite a jump. He had hit .222 with zero homers in 39 games in freshman and .242 with two homers in 57 games in sophomore.
“His junior year,” Buehler said, “he’s gone and hasn’t really looked back since then.”
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He marked his future manager at the start of his professional career.
“The first thing I learned about Will is that he’s a very observant,” said Roberts. “He’s very observant and he’s very calm. Watching what major league players do and how they work is a testament to his ability to observe and his willingness to observe. And calm, there is no panic. Whether it’s catching, blocking a ball with bases loaded, putting the right fingers down, it’s in the batter’s box in a big place. Looking at these things, for me I could bet he would be a good baseball player.
Extra time after the 2016 season – Smith hit four home runs in 55 games in his first season with the Dodgers – with Robert Van Scoyoc, who is now the league hitting coach for LA, helped to add pop. Smith touched 11 in 73 two-tier games in 2017, then hit 20 in 98 two-tier games in 2018. In 2019, Smith touched 20 in Triple-A, then added 15 more in majors, in just 54 games. .
It seems odd to think that the kid who hit nine home runs in 151 college games was a rock in the middle of the roster – 38 starts at cleanup, 39 at # 5 – for the team leading the NL in points scored. But it’s Will Smith.
“He does things offensively, for a wide receiver, that not many people have done,” Buehler said.
Maybe at some point everyone will notice.