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Dodgers Will Smith Deserves Patience based on Potential

The young rookie has struggled in September, yet remains the team’s best option

DENVER, COLORADO - JULY 31: Will Smith #16 of the Los Angeles Dodgers circles the bases after hitting a 3 RBI home run in the ninth inning against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field on July 31, 2019 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

When Will Smith debuted earlier this year, he made a pretty big splash. After a couple of brief call ups he finally took over the starting catcher duties back in late July. The rookie clubbed 12 homeruns in his first 28 games, including two walk-off dingers that made him an instant fan favorite.

Through the end of August, Smith was batting a robust .292/.364/.702 with a 1.072 OPS and 13 homeruns. But then came September.

Since the start of this month, Smith has struggled. He’s hitting only .079/.143/.079 over 42 PA in September, and has yet to get an extra base hit.

Smith’s recent skid has some concerned that the rookie might have hit a wall. Whether it’s a fatigue issue or just that major league pitchers are making adjustments to him, there’s no doubt that Smith is slumping.

September Slump

There’s not always one definitive reason why a player starts to slump. Sometimes a hitter picks up some bad habits at the plate. Other times their mechanics may be thrown off for a while or they’re just not seeing the ball well. Add all these considerations to the fact that baseball is a pretty difficult game already, and you can understand how every player is going to have some ups and downs.

One factor that can’t be overlooked in Smith’s case is the possibility of fatigue. We’re nearly at the end of September now, and players are likely feeling the accumulation effects of an entire season. Smith has played 110 games so far in 2019, and there’s still a few weeks to go in the regular season, plus playoff games ahead. Before this season, the most Smith ever played was last year, when he logged 98 games total.

Another aspect of Smith’s offensive regression could be that pitchers are making adjustments. Many times, rookies will get called up and take the league by storm initially. Then, after opposing pitchers have had a chance to face them a few times, and scouting reports catch up, those same rookie hitters will start to struggle until they make the necessary counter-adjustments. It’s all part of the game.

Looking deeper into his offensive numbers this month, a couple of things stand out. Smith is walking slightly less and striking out a bit more in September, but the good news is that when he’s hitting the ball, he’s still hitting it fairly well. His hard hit percentage since September 1st is 40.0%, almost identical to his 40.7% mark in August, when his offensive numbers were much better. Add to that the fact that his BABIP is only .120 in September compared to .261 in August, and you could argue that Smith is getting a little unlucky.

On the defensive side, Smith has held his own. However, there were some rumblings about his influence on the pitching staff, and whether the recent struggles by the starters had anything to do with him being behind the plate.

This claim is tough to gauge, as there are so many other variables to consider. Also, any young catcher has to have time to build rapport with the pitchers on the team, and Smith is still pretty new to the staff. With all that said, it doesn’t seem like this should be much of a concern at the moment.

Going Forward

There’s no need to panic just yet. After all, we are still talking about a pretty small sample size in terms of Smith’s September numbers. Even with his current slump, Smith still has a .860 OPS on the year, which is the 4th highest mark in baseball among catchers with at least 170 plate appearances.

There’s not much the Dodgers can do at the moment other than try to balance out Smith’s playing time as the regular season comes to an end. He’ll need rest to stay fresh for the post season, but he’ll also need regular at-bats so he can try to right the ship before then.

Besides, it’s not like there’s another viable option for the Dodgers to consider anyway. Russell Marin is not an everyday catcher at this point in his career and Austin Barnes is, well… still Austin Barnes.

Smith offers so much upside offensively, and if he gets anywhere close to where he was before September, it gives the Dodgers lineup a significant boost. There was no way the numbers Smith put up earlier this year were sustainable. Likewise, the struggles he’s had over the last couple of weeks probably won’t persist all year either.

Here’s hoping to a resurgence from the Fresh Prince.

Written by Brian Robitaille

Originally from Southern California, and currently stationed in Northern Virginia, Brian is a devoted Dodgers fan, and has been since he was a kid. He's an Active Duty member of the U.S Air Force, and has been serving for the last 16 years. While he loves all things sports related, and supports all his teams (Lakers, Steelers, L.A Kings, & USC) his true passion is the Dodgers, and loves writing about the boys in blue.

13 Comments

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  1. Will looks tired, it’s understandable, and he has been pounded by foul balls & balls in the dirt, etc.
    I love the guy, he just needs to adapt to the longer, more grueling schedule, and he will.

    I suggest a day or two off. After all they are carrying 3 catchers, which hopefully will not be the case in the playoffs, they need that spot for another pitcher or another position player

    • I agree Jon. He may be a little fatigued but hopefully he gets a 2nd wind in time for the playoffs. Thanks for reading.

  2. He’s no different than having Barnes in there now. In other words an auto out. Just when we lengthened our lineup 1-8 it’s all gone south with all these slumps there’s like 3 hitters I trust right now

    • Get serious. Smith has twice the defensive skills and arm than Barnes. No comparison.
      Plus, while Smith’s slumping a bit now, he still has better at bats than Barnes ever did.
      The stats prove it.
      I do agree that the poor hitting Dodgers have a problem that some good coaching could take care of. ex.:
      Stop standing and looking at fat 1st pitch or early count strikes when that may well be the best they’re going to get. Averages drop drastically when you fall behind in the count.
      They need to be more aggressive from the get go.
      Thanks.

      • Smith has a better arm but is not better at blocking balls or getting to balls in front of the plate, his framing is not as good. I think they need to give him some rest and give Barnes a few starts and see where he is at. They are in a good spot where they can afford to this so why not take advantage of it.

  3. Fatigue is probably an accurate assessment as was pointed out, Smith is now playing in MLB where the seasons are longer plus those games in the PS. A day off here and there is what he has been getting. But it might help if he was put in the same spot in the lineup too. However he must make the necessary adjustments at the plate because pitchers around the league talk to one another about how they can get him out.

  4. For all who know the game Smith coming back down to earth is no surprise. Nothing in his minor league career pointed to this, his numbers were not as good as Barnes had.

    I think he will be a solid catcher but the mistake the Dodgers are making is by sitting Barnes so much and not giving Smith a break. If They need Barnes at some point he has not played in close to 3 weeks and it will hurt the club. Rest Smith and give Barnes some time and go with the guy who is hot come playoff time. The staff seems to be better with Barnes anyway so if the bats are equal there is still an upside but go with who is playing better at the time

  5. We all know baseball is a game of adjustments so Will Smith knows what he needs to do. And he has the hitting coaches there to help him get it going again. suffice it to say he has the most power of any home grown catcher since Piazza. I mean he has more power than Martin and Barnes combined. We don’t count Grandal because he came via trade with the Padres before the 2015 season.

  6. Not quite Jon. Smith is a good catcher but you seem to be judging his talent on a very small sample size. He wasn’t even our number one rated catcher in the system. Keibert Ruiz was. Barnes needs to come back now. We need a seasoned catcher who’s been to the playoffs and will at least know the pressure. A rookie catcher who isn’t hitting is a big risk. And as far as being aggressive at the plate, the dodgers didn’t get the record they have by swinging aggressively. They worked the count and the pitcher. I feel the problem with the hitting begins and ends with Roberts. No consistency or regularity. Constant lineup and batting order changes. I will say this: I think Smith has a good chance of being the regular catcher. Just not this year.

  7. Totally agree with you Jon. Give him a couple days to recoup after being hit by all those wild hits and pitches. Add the merry go round of pitchers even my head spins. You’re right on Jon!!

  8. agree with you Ed, it was way to small of a sample size to rush to judgement about Smith and since it was better than his minor league numbers ever were it was not likely going to continue. I think they need to rest him a bit and give Barnes some time and see how he is looking and how Smith looks with some rest.

  9. I see we have the usual Barnes Lobbyists. I’m surprised nobody has tied Smith’s slump exactly to Barnes being announced as returning. I saved the data, its astounding to see. The week it was announced about Barnes call for postseason (quite a shocker with his 0.69 BA and .000 BA in the 2018 postseason and WS), Smith was ahead of Bellinger’s start (see article here), broke various records,was averaging HR every 8-AB and I’ll post the 2 weeks stats up till the LA Press mentioned on 8/24 that Barnes would be back in Sep (Smith’s last HR was 8/31)-.I don’t believe we will see Barnes until Postseason, with his BA at exactly 200 the Blue-Braintrust will not want to risk showing a sub-200 Player AB. One good friend felt that some Spell was cast on Smith after looking at the stats I have saved through 9/18

    Will Smith – RM= Martin
    8/10 – NO PLAY
    8/11 – HOME-RUN 3/2 & 3-RBI
    8/12 – NO GAME
    8/13= 4/2,1BB, 3-RBI [RM 2/0] 2-HOME-RUNS, SETS RECORD FOR 26 RBI IN FIRST 23 GAMES
    8/14 = NO PLAY & RM 4/0
    8/15 = 2/1 = 2BB
    8/16 HOME-RUN
    8/17 = NO PLAY….RM 4/0
    8/18 – 4/1
    8.19= NO GAME
    8/20-HOME-RUN
    8/21 – HOME-RUN
    8/22 – NO PLAY … RM 3/0
    8/23 – 4/0 – RM – + BARNES coming back for 3 days & Sep 1,but has to wait, Smith’s last HR was 8/31 and Bat went Cold as of 9/1
    8/24 – 3/1 + BB

  10. Wow, I’m really surprised to see people actually advocating for Barnes, who’s been a .200 hitter over the last two years. Smith has slumped no doubt but his upside is far better than Barnes will ever be. Even when he’s slumping, his numbers are better than Barnes. Hell, I’d give Martin starts before Barnes. I don’t want Austin anywhere near the Dodgers post season roster, but maybe that’s just me.

    Either way, good to see Smith hit one out yesterday. Hopefully he comes around in time for the playoffs.

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