Dodgers catcher Will Smith was one of two finalists among National League catchers in fan voting, but lost out to Braves backstop Sean Murphy to start behind the plate at the All-Star Game. But that doesn’t close Smith’s path to what would be his first midsummer classic.
First off, either Murphy or Smith would have been a fine choice to start for the National League. They’ve been clearly the two best catchers in the league this season. The offensive numbers are close enough, with Murphy hitting .289/.385/.540 with 13 home runs and a 150 wRC+ compared to .283/.404/.502 with 12 home runs and a 149 wRC+ for Smith.
Behind the plate, Murphy sets himself apart, rated better than Smith at Baseball Savant by catcher framing (+5 runs to zero), caught stealing above average (+7 to -2), catcher blocking (+5 to +2), and very slightly at pop time (1.87 seconds to 1.89), and by FanGraphs’ all-encompassing Defense statistic (+11.8 runs to 3.3).
That Smith was among the top two NL catchers in fan voting is an improvement from his first two years of All-Star eligibility. He’s earned it, and the retirement of a pair of star catchers helped.
In 2021, Smith was fourth among NL catchers in the first phase of fan balloting, with 633,787 votes. Buster Posey was first with 1,845,042 votes, and ultimately was voted to start. In 2022, after Posey retired, Smith was still fourth in fan voting with 901,117 votes. Eventual starter Willson Contreras, then of the Cubs, paced the first round of voting with 2,146,343 votes.
This year, with Posey and Yadier Molina now retired, Smith got 1,139,905 votes to finish second behind Murphy (1,903,694) in the first round of voting.
Players also vote for nine position players to make each league’s All-Star rosters, one at each position (with three outfielders).
In 2021, Posey got the most votes among players and J.T. Realmuto of the Phillies was second, earning an All-Star berth.
Last year, starter Willson Contreras was also first among players. Travis d’Arnaud of the Braves was second, earning the berth. d’Arnaud’s catching teammate William Contreras, Willson’s brother, was listed on the ballot as a designated hitter, and earned his own All-Star berth by finishing second at DH behind the fan-voted Bryce Harper, but Harper was hurt so William Contreras started, putting both Contreras brothers in the lineup.
That the National League roster had three catchers was somewhat of a rarity, and was mostly because one of them was a DH. In the five All-Star Games from 2017-22, only one other of the 10 league rosters carried three catchers — in 2019, when Willson Contreras, Yasmani Grandal, and Realmuto were all on the NL roster.
After the fans and players make their votes, that leaves six players for the league office to determine, four pitchers and two position players. But this is where the rule that every MLB team must be represented comes into play.
Last year, five of the six MLB selections in each league were players who were their team’s only All-Star, leaving little room for flexibility.
We’ll get the full All-Star rosters on Sunday, with the announcement televised by ESPN starting at 2:30 p.m. PT.
But even that doesn’t end the chance to make a roster. Replacements can, and always do happen.
In 2021 when Posey bowed out due to injury, Molina was added to the roster. But when Molina was ruled out due to injury, Omar Narváez of the Brewers (.301/.397/.471, 134 wRC+, 2.6 fWAR through July 9) was selected by MLB over Smith (.254/.354/.447, 116 wRC+, 2.0 fWAR).
But the best, and most likely avenue for Will Smith to make his first All-Star roster this year is via the player vote. It would be an upset if Smith and Murphy aren’t the top two catchers on that ballot as well.
We’ll find out Sunday.