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Dodger Greats, Then and Now: Mike Piazza and Will Smith

One of the best catchers of the 90s meets a rising star of today’s major leagues in our comparison of Mike Piazza and Will Smith.

Photo by Cooper Neill/MLB Photos via Getty Images and George Gojkovich/Getty Images

This week, we’re taking a look at two of my personal favorites: Will Smith and Mike Piazza. (And if you were hoping to see Austin Barnes in our catcher feature, don’t worry, he’s on the list!)

Catcher: Will Smith and Mike Piazza

We’re comparing Smith’s 2022 season, his fourth in the majors, to Piazza’s 1996 season, his fifth. Both players were 27 in their respective seasons; Piazza played in 148 games total, while Smith played in 137.

On Offense

Mike Piazza knew how to swing a bat. In 631 plate appearances, he smashed 36 homers, collected 184 total hits, and drove in 105 runs. He also walked quite a bit: 81 bases on balls—21 of those intentional—compared to Smith’s 56 total. Piazza also had an impressive on base percentage (.422), slugging percentage (.563), and OPS (.985), with each one of those figures around at least a hundred points higher than Smith’s in 2022.

The 2022 season started slowly for Smith, who dealt with a pectoral issue that forced him to take some time off. In his 578 plate appearances, he batted .260 and hit into only 11 double plays compared to Piazza’s 21. Smith also managed three triples and 26 doubles on the year. Nonetheless, he’s still hailed as one of the best catchers currently playing in the majors, and his performance this year could be an anomaly after his much hotter 2021.

Here’s a closer look at some key batting stats for the pair. Interestingly, Piazza and Smith struck out almost exactly the same number of times: 93 and 96, respectively.

Piazza vs. Smith on Offense

Rk Name Year Age G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB GDP HBP SH SF IBB OPS+
Rk Name Year Age G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB GDP HBP SH SF IBB OPS+
1 Mike Piazza 1996 27 148 631 547 87 184 16 0 36 105 0 3 81 93 0.336 0.422 0.563 0.985 308 21 1 0 2 21 166
2 Will Smith 2022 27 137 578 508 68 132 26 3 24 87 1 0 56 96 0.26 0.343 0.465 0.807 236 11 10 0 4 4 120

Awards, League Leads, and Honors

Piazza finished second in MVP voting for two consecutive years starting in 1996 but collected votes for six in a row starting with 1993, his first full season in the majors. He also earned an All-Star Game selection and Silver Slugger in ’96.

Smith has still not secured major recognitions, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t gotten close. He was a Silver Slugger finalist and led National League catchers in homers (24), RBI (87), and on-base percentage (.343). Smith also secured a nomination for the 2022 All-MLB Team.

While Smith missed out on the All-Star Game, he’ll be playing on a different all-star team of sorts in 2023: The catcher was asked to join Team USA for the World Baseball Classic, an honor that he readily accepted. He’ll play alongside teammate Mookie Betts during the spring tournament.

On Defense

When it comes to defense, Piazza’s name doesn’t typically come up—but that might be unfair, Mike Petriello wrote on MLB.com. Based on new data, Piazza saved about 137 runs during his career thanks to his pitch-framing skills. He was also excellent at preventing passed balls and wild pitches, according to Baseball-Reference.

But what do the numbers show for 1996? Piazza had a .992 fielding percentage that year, a bit higher than the league average of .989 for catchers, with 1,134 defensive chances—that’s putouts, assists, and errors combined. He allowed 12 passed balls, 28 wild pitches, and 155 stolen bases. That’s where the defensive difficulties come in: Piazza was historically easy to run on, which might explain the high number of stolen bases allowed in the first place.

Smith tends to fare better on defense and earned a nod as one of ESPN’s best catchers of 2022, though his numbers don’t always show it. His fielding percentage was .997 in 2022, compared to a league average of .993, with 1,003 defensive chances total. He allowed only four passed balls and 46 stolen bases, but his caught-stealing percentage and number of wild pitches allowed.

Here’s how the catchers compare:

Piazza vs. Smith on Defense

Rk Name Year Age Tm Pos Lg G GS CG Inn Ch PO A E DP Fld% Rtot Rdrs Rtot/yr Rdrs/yr RF/9 RF/G lgFld% lgRF9 lgRFG PB WP SB CS CS% lgCS% PO Awards
Rk Name Year Age Tm Pos Lg G GS CG Inn Ch PO A E DP Fld% Rtot Rdrs Rtot/yr Rdrs/yr RF/9 RF/G lgFld% lgRF9 lgRFG PB WP SB CS CS% lgCS% PO Awards
1 Mike Piazza 1996 27 LAD C NL 146 143 118 1255.2 1134 1055 70 9 6 0.992 -8 -8 8.06 7.71 0.989 7.5 7.45 12 28 155 34 18% 28% 1 AS,MVP-2,SS
2 Will Smith 2022 27 LAD C NL 109 106 106 956.1 1003 968 32 3 6 0.997 1 7 2 9 9.41 9.17 0.993 9.12 8.97 4 28 46 10 18% 24% 1