Will Smith, the Dodgers’ very own Fresh Prince of L.A., earned himself a different nickname in his first full MLB season: Clutch.
The Silver Slugger finalist came up big in several of his 501 plate appearances this season, with seven homers and 17 RBI late in games. In total, Smith posted 25 homers—the third most among the Dodgers this season—and 76 RBI.
Smith, known for his quiet confidence in the clubhouse, didn’t seem fazed by his late-inning heroics.
“I like them,” he said of his clutch homers after he blasted one in the 10th-inning against the Mets in August. “I’ve had success late in the game. I’m confident, I know what I’m doing. You’re not always successful, but when you are it’s pretty enjoyable and fun.”
According to FanGraphs, Smith’s success is rather unique. He’s not very good at making the most of balls thrown right over the plate, but that obviously didn’t affect his stats. Instead, Smith favored pitches pretty much anywhere else in the zone and avoided chasing bad balls. He connected 60% of the time, much higher than the league average of 45%, and only swung at one ball outside the strike zone in the 164 he saw as of August 31.
Smith also excelled defensively this year, with 1,101 putouts and a .995 fielding percentage in 117 starts at catcher. He ranks seventh in defensive runs above average since he entered the majors.
It’s no surprise that manager Dave Roberts sees great things in his new everyday catcher’s future.
“What we see here is offensively, defensively, in my opinion, he’s one of the top one, two, or three catchers in baseball,” Roberts said in a pregame press conference earlier in the season. “If we look out in the next three to five years, he’ll be the best catcher in all of baseball, so we’re lucky to have him, and he’s only going to get better.”
Stats: .258/.365/.495, 25 HR, 76 RBI, 19 doubles, 130 OPS+, 130 wRC+, 3.5 bWAR, 4.6 fWAR
Game of the Year
On July 20, Smith made a pinch-hit appearance in the bottom of the ninth against the Giants and blasted a three-run homer against Tyler Rogers, the cherry on top of the Dodgers’ comeback win that night. L.A. went from trailing the Giants 6-1 in that game to moving up to one game behind them.
“That was probably our biggest win of the year,” Chris Taylor said that night.
On the Dodgers’ 40-man roster at lockout time; eligible for salary arbitration after 2022.