Back in mid-May, Justin Turner, Cody Bellinger, and Max Muncy were floundering around the Mendoza Line. The Big Three at the top of the order were starting to heat up and it seemed as if one of them was on base every time through the batting order. The Dodgers were desperate to find someone who could at least hit their weight in the cleanup position. In stepped Will Smith, who subtly made The Big Three essentially work as The Big Four.
This season, Smith is slashing .269/.354/.472/.826 with a wRC+ of 133, and he’s cashing in on hitting behind Mookie Betts, Trea Turner, and Freddie Freeman. He is only one RBI behind his career high of 76 with more than a month of baseball to go. Smith’s production has been consistent throughout his career, though his approach shifted last season and has carried over into 2022.
Smith’s 2021 and 2022 seasons are incredibly similar. Last year, he adjusted his launch angle to ~19 degrees, and he has the exact same Barrel % the last two seasons. The same can be said for his line drive percentage of ~23% over the last couple of years.
The new swing path flattens out the results a bit, and he has stuck with it. Combine that with the intangibles that Dave Roberts loves to speak about, like “it’s his heartbeat, there’s no panic, he stays within himself” (gotta love coachspeak), and Smith has become the definition of consistency for the lineup.
And there is just something about the calmness of his swing, as Smith never seems to be in a hurry and he rarely chases out of the zone (18th in chase percentage). His power comes naturally in his swing path now and he distributes relatively equally to all fields. This sort of complete profile is impressive, and if sustained, will likely result in Smith being one of the best catchers in Dodgers history.
There also might be something to Roberts’ examples. Smith is better when it matters.
Will the real Will Smith please stand up? pic.twitter.com/U6hlPhSxmy— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) October 17, 2020
For his career with runners in scoring position, Smith is slashing .303/.406/.550/.956, significantly better than his career numbers with the bases empty, and this year is no different.
Of particular note, he’s only striking out 9% of the time with runners in scoring position this year, best on the team. That’s correct, Smith strikes out less with runners in scoring position than Betts, Trea, and Freeman. Hate to say the most overused word in sports, but Will Smith is clutch.
Yet, what is most discussed about the Dodgers is the greatness at the top of the lineup and the relative uncertainty at the bottom. While there’s plenty of reasons to talk about the Big Three (all Top 10 players in baseball by WAR), Smith seems to have become lost in the shuffle in a bit, and some are already looking past him, taking what he’s been doing for granted.
But it’s important to appreciate what Smith is doing this year and has been doing since 2019. Without Smith bolstering the middle of the Dodgers lineup this year, the offense would have suffered for large swaths of the season. And though it is hard to measure his exact impact, the starting pitching ERA for 2022 is sitting at 2.67, and Smith is now an average framer with a well above-average pop time to control the running game.
Additionally, watching the offensive struggles of catchers throughout baseball should help with the respect issue. The average backstop has a .228/.298/.368/.666 line with easily the lowest wRC+ of any position, yet Smith has been durable enough that he qualifies for the batting title and is a Top 30 bat in baseball for any position. Not an All-Star, apparently.
This 2022 Dodgers team is amazing for many reasons. The Big Three, the deepest starting rotation in recent memory, the incredibly deep bench, JT and Muncy’s rebound, etc. It’s understandable to be exited about all that, but appreciate Will Smith for what he is doing right now as well. He’ll be up fourth, driving in runs, and walking out to “Still D.R.E.“.