Although Will Smith may not receive the fanfare from being a run producer in the Dodgers first World Series win since 1988, he surged in the shortened season representing one of the breakout players at catcher. Smith built on his solid debut in 2019 rebounding after a slow start in the truncated year logging 37 games with 137 plate appearances, 23 runs, eight home runs, 25 RBI and a .289/.401/.579 slash line.

Viewing his impressive 14.6 walk percentage and 16.1 percent strikeout rate requires exploration a bit later but his .289 isolated power along with his .411 weighted on-base average (wOBA) puts him in solid standing at a shallow position. Smith also displayed strong discipline metrics with a 5.7 swinging strike percentage, 85 percent contact rate, an 88.2 Z-Contact (in the strike zone) percent and impressive 18.2 O-Swing (outside the strike zone) percentage.

While his 22 strikeouts versus 20 walks stands out in his profile during his 137 plate appearances and his 0.91 walk-to-strikeout ratio finished fourth-best in the National League, it can be a bit misleading. Smith caught fire hitting .348 (33-for-66) his last month of the season in September producing six doubles, four home runs, and 14 RBI in only 18 contests with an eye popping 1.048 on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS). However, this sample also yielded seven walks against 12 strikeouts with an unsustainable .380 batting average on balls in play (BABIP).

Diving into his Statcast data, Smith generated 93 batted ball events with 12 barrels (12.9 percent), a 90.8 MPH average exit velocity and 47.3 hard hit percentage. Raising his hard hit rate by over eight percentage points fueled his power surge and Smith also notched an impressive 41.9 sweet spot percentage which tracks launch angles between eight and 32 degrees. Bookmark this thought when seeing his radial chart following the second half of 2019 through the end of last season statistics.

Smith's expected statistics graded out well with a .289 expected batting average (xBA), .538 expected slugging (xSLG) and .386 expected weighted on-base average (xwOBA). While his xSLG and xwOBA both finished below his actual numbers, some migration to the mean may be pending in 2021 but both represent very good numbers in comparison to his peers. Especially at catcher. Here's his zone profile for the visual crowd:

In regard to his discipline metrics on Statcast, Smith remained stable in terms of his zone swing percentage but his zone contact improved by 5.6 points to 88.1 percent. He also reduced his chase percentage but also raised his chase contact by over 16 points to 70.8 percent. What may be most impressive, Smith cut his swing percentage from 42.5 percent to 38.2 while taking his whiff percent down by almost 16 percentage points.

His batted ball data supports the upward movement in his power results. Smith produced fewer ground balls trading them for line drives which increased by 9.2 percent. He also relied less on pulling the ball while increasing his opposite field batted ball events by nine percent. Due to the variance of his position, keeping his results in perspective given the small sample of last year and his career to this point remains relevant.

However, his strong finish in September benefited his overall numbers on Statcast with the following percentile finishes:

  • xwOBA - 95th percentile
  • xBA - 89th percentile
  • xSLG - 90th percentile
  • Hard hit percentage - 88th percentile
  • Walk percentage - 89th percentile
  • Whiff percentage - 95th percentile

Personally, the whiff rate growth may be the key to prolonged success for Smith. If he maintains this level of discipline with his power potential prior to his peak, he's on the precipice of a terrific career as run producing catcher.

Expanding his results for a larger sample size, here are Smith's numbers from the second half of 2019 through, and including, the end of this season:

  • Smith's 2H 2019-through-2020: 82 games, 304 plate appearances, 49 runs, 20 home runs, 61 RBI, stolen base; .267/.365/.566, 11.5 BB%, 21.4 K%, .298 ISO, .385 wOBA, 7.7 SwStr%

Among catchers with at least 300 plate appearances (only 17 made the cut), Smith ranked first in isolated power (ISO) and wOBA. He tied for second in home runs, finished second in walk percentage, third in RBI, and seventh in runs. Smith also hits most of his home runs to his pull side and excels driving the ball to left-center field as his spray chart displays:

He also launched all but one home run in this sample between a 19-degree launch angle to a 32-degree angle as seen in his radial chart courtesy of Statcast:

With only 333 plate appearances to his credit in the majors, there are some remaining steps to be taken before paying full retail for his slash line last year. For starters, here's Smith's rolling chart of isolated power, weighted on-base average, and Z-Contact:

After struggling in the second half of 2019, Smith displayed tremendous growth at the onset of 2020 but let some of his patience ebb down the stretch trading it for power. Fantasy owners prefer power, but its effect on his batting average going forward cannot be ignored. Add in that Smith hit all eight of his home runs in 2020 off of right-handed pitching along with 20 of his 23 career homers.

There's always room for improvement in young hitters, even one's who starred in a run to a championship. As for his projections, here's how two different systems forecast his upcoming season:

  • Will Smith 2021 Steamer projection - 89 games, 357 plate appearances, 47 runs, 18 home runs, 50 RBI, two stolen bases; 236/.323/.462, 10.2 BB%, 23.9 K%, .226 ISO, .330 wOBA
  • Will Smith 2021 ZiPs projection - 123 games, 434 plate appearances, 61 runs, 23 home runs, 83 RBI, two stolen bases, 11.1 BB%, 25.1 K%, .243 ISO, .334 wOBA

Smith slashed .268/.363/.574 through his first 333 plate appearances in the majors, both sites may be overcompensating for some batting average regression. He's not a .289 hitter over the course of a full season, but he's also not going to crater to this level given his improved discipline metrics discussed above. Only four catchers accrued at least 500 plate appearances in 2019, the 357-to-434 plate appearances yield a nice sliding scale of potential playing time outcomes for Smith.

But his power may be a bit light in these projections. Using a hybrid of his results from 2020, the second half of 2019 through last year and his career rates, here's how his 2021 season could end up:

  • Smith with 300 plate appearances: 48 runs, 19 HR, 58 RBI, one SB
  • Smith with 450 plate appearances: 72 runs, 28 HR, 86 RBI, 2 SB

This represents Smith maintaining the power gains with some slight regression baked in. Plan on an average between .258-to-.271 as well with these numbers. But do not pay for his average from 2020. His on-base skills appear real and the power's been streaky but prevalent in his profile in the majors. Plan accordingly.

Statistical Credits:

ZiPS courtesy of Dan Szymborski