Will Smith is one of the best hitters in baseball with a 14th-best .866 OPS, a solid .270 batting average and 13 home runs on the season entering Monday. Having been selected to his first All-Star Game this season and earning the admiration of teammates Clayton Kershaw and Bobby Miller for his skills behind the plate, it’s easy to forget that Smith struggled at times during the Dodgers’ 2020 World Series campaign.
In his feature story on the 28-year-old catcher, the Los Angeles Times’ Jack Harris recalled Smith’s inconsistency on defense in 2020. Smith only started 31 of 60 games as a catcher in the COVID-19-shortened season and only caught three of the Dodgers’ final eight playoff games due to his issues with pitch framing and inconsistent defense.
After winning the World Series, Smith was motivated to improve as a catcher.
“It makes you realize that, yeah, I need to get a little better at these aspects of the game,” Smith said before playing in his first All-Star Game. “And that’s what I started doing. I started to really learn, when it comes to the game calling and all that. It just takes time.”
Now, Smith has started as catcher in a career-high 75 percent of games and ranks sixth in runs saved among all catchers. With an unexpected reliance on rookie pitchers Miller and Emmet Sheehan, Smith has been an enormous help to the young pitchers making their MLB debuts.
“I trust Will behind the plate,” Miller said. “I didn’t shake him off at all, and he took me to the promised land.”
Veteran ace Kershaw thinks that Smith is among the best catchers in baseball.
“It’s hard to break into that [conversation of] who is the best catcher in the game,” Kershaw said. “Ultimately, he is one of the best catchers now, if not the best.”
While the World Series served Smith well in terms of making a name for himself as an elite hitter, manager Dave Roberts has witnessed Smith’s progression firsthand.
“I do think, yeah, he probably had some disappointment that he wasn’t behind the plate every game [during the 2020 playoffs],” Roberts said. “There’s always a point where a young player has his teammates view him in a different light, where he graduates essentially.”
Smith still has improvements to make in his catch framing, as he currently ranks 44th among catchers with a 44.4 percent strike rate, a drop from both his 2022 and 2021 efficiency. However, with a somewhat depleted pitching staff at times including a bullpen that has been one of the worst in baseball for much of the season, having a reliable catcher like Smith behind the plate has been invaluable in keeping the Dodgers in the hunt for the NL West.
Despite dropping as low as third in the NL West, the Dodgers reached the All-Star break at the top of the standings.
Photo Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
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