Dodgers manager Dave Roberts knows how special it is to have three players of the caliber of Mookie Betts, Trea Turner, and Freddie Freeman at the top of his lineup. Betts and Freeman are former MVPs, and all three have won the World Series before coming to the Dodgers.
But there’s a fourth guy — in fact, he’s the fourth guy in the lineup — whom Roberts thinks isn’t getting quite the attention he deserves: catcher Will Smith.
In fact, as Bill Plunkett writes in the Orange County Register, when you consider how much harder it is to find a good-hitting catcher compared to other defensive positions, Roberts has some pretty strong superlatives to heap on his catcher.
“You could argue he is the most valuable position player we have,” Roberts said. “That just speaks to the delta in catchers’ offensive performance versus first baseman to their performance and Freddie, to Mookie and right fielders, to their performance. If you look at the delta from the catching position, to offensive performance, you could argue he’s the most valuable player on our team.”
Smith is second on the team with 22 homers, third with 82 RBIs, and fourth in OBP (.349), SLG (.464), OPS (.812), and OPS+ (121).
Smith is also fourth among position players in WAR (3.5 on Baseball-Reference, 3.7 on FanGraphs), trailing the Big Three on both sites. A lot of that comes from two factors: playing time (Smith has played just 123 of the Dodgers 145 games) and the 18.4% of his plate appearances that have come as a designated hitter, which is at the very opposite end of the defensive value spectrum from catcher. Smith has played just 98 games at catcher, which has undeniably helped him maintain his offensive performance but hurts his overall value from a WAR standpoint.
So Roberts might be engaging in some hyperbole in discussing Smith, who has spent the majority of the year batting cleanup for the best team in baseball. But Roberts is clearly right in his assessment of Smith as a player:
“It’s been the ‘Big Four’ for me for quite some time. I think that he doesn’t have the name cachet so it’s kind of held. But if you look at numbers and talking to opposing managers of having him in the number four, it’s been the ‘Big Four’ for quite some time. He’s solidified kind of the top of the order. …
“I sort of expected this from Will. I just think that he’s just a smart player. He’s always watching the right things, and the right people. I know he has the ability to hit with two strikes. I know he has the ability to hit to all fields. He hits right and left(-handed pitchers). He values the walk. So those are really good ingredients that I know he possesses.”
Most valuable or not, Will Smith absolutely makes the Big Three a Big Four, and with Justin Turner and Max Muncy right behind them, it has potential to be a Big Six. Combine that with the best pitching staff in baseball, and there are high hopes for October with this team.
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