Will Smith is both underrated and overlooked. Why? That’s hard to say.
Maybe it’s because the Dodgers catcher plays the same position in the same division as a likely future Hall of Famer in Buster Posey. Maybe it’s because he plays on a team of superstars, full of 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 a reliever who’s been in the majors since 2012. And maybe it’s because being an out-front superstar just isn’t his personality.
“He’s a quiet guy, kinda reserved and keeps to himself,” said Dodgers starter Walker Buehler, who has known Smith since they were both 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.”
Because here’s the thing: Will Smith, in his Age 26 season, is absolutely a star-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 to go with a .349 average and 1.280 OPS.
In his 783 career plate appearances, Smith has a 143 OPS+, a statistic that basically adds a player’s on-base and slugging percentages and normalizes the numbers, based on things such as ballpark factors. The average OPS+ is 100, which means Smith has been 43 percent better than the average MLB hitter.
Maybe adding context is a more effective way to look at that stat, though. Since the start of the 2019 season, 227 players have posted at least 750 at-bats, and Smith ranks 11th of those 227 with his 143 OPS+. He’s one point behind 2020 NL MVP Freddie Freeman’s 144 and ahead of Home Run Derby savant 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 that list, but they all fall in line behind Smith.
His 143 is, by far, the best of any catcher. Behind him on the list 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 manager Dave Roberts told SN during a recent 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.”
A few hours after Roberts' comments, Smith went 4-for-4 with a home run and three — THREE — infield singles. How many catchers can claim a night like that?