That was the jam back in the day. Yes, I’m an old fart. If your head is bobbing front to back right now, salud. For those of you shaking your head from side to side, with the frown making you look like a clown….I kid. It’s an older song, so many may not have had the pleasure of experiencing it. No prob, but I know everyone is familiar with Will Smith, aka The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, aka Mr. Bad Boy, aka Mr. Independence Day, aka Mr. Man in Black, aka Mr. Enemy of the State, aka….woooo saaaaah, wooooo saaaaah. Mr. I’ve grossed $100 million in eight straight movies, Mr. I’m the most powerful actor in Hollywood…..Translation: Will Smith is/has/and will continue to be straight fire. No different than what Will Smith of the Los Angeles Dodgers is doing. You know we hate talking about catchers here at Razzball, but 12 homers in 28 games needs to be addressed. I was shocked to see that he was 0% owned on the Razzball Player Rater. Can it continue and is he worth the pickup?
Smith is 24 years old, 5′ 10″ 192 pounds, and bats from the right side. The Dodgers selected him in the first round of the 2016 MLB draft. He quickly advanced through the minor league system, increasing the power output every season (4 home runs in 2016, 11 in 2017, 20 in 2018, and 20 in 2019). He likely would’ve have hit more if he wasn’t called up to the majors.
Speaking of the majors, I alluded to the 12 homers in 28 games up top! The batting average is also .318, BABIP is .308, and ISO is .500. Ha! The walk rate is 9.8%, while the strikeout rate is 25.5%.
The ISO is obviously coming down, but he did post a .335 number in Triple-A this season, and a .268 mark in Double-A (2018). Steamer has him projected for a .222 ISO rest of season. For perspective, that would place him in the top 110, next to the likes of Jose Abreu and Shohei Ohtani. Not bad company.
The strikeout rate of 25.5% is high, but not exhorbitant. Throughout his minor league career, he’s had an elevated number. The walk rate of 9.8% is nice, but there’s room for growth here, as he had a rate above 10% in every minor league season and posted a 14.8% rate in Triple-A this year.
Both the batting average and BABIP are high, as he was more of a .250-.260-ish hitter in the minors. Steamer has him projected for a .227 batting average with a .255 BABIP. Blasphemy!!! Let’s dig into the numbers to see if we must revolt against the machines.
The GB/FB rate of 0.42 is absurdly low. In fact, he’s the only player currently below 0.5, and there are only eight players in the 0.5 range. With that said, he’s consistently been in the 0.5-0.6 range for most of his minor league career, so the fly ball tendencies should continue. The HR/FB rate of 33.3% will come down, but he posted a 21.7% and 25.3% rate the past two minor league seasons. So, regression shouldn’t be too severe.
Fangraphs has the hard hit rate at 51.6%, while Statcast has it at 45.3%. Fangraphs has tended to skew towards the higher side. Regardless, he’s smashing the ball. The exit velocity is 90.2 mph, barrel rate is 15.6%, and the launch angle is 26.1. That’s elite company. The barrel rate is 16th in all of baseball, exit velocity is 99th, and launch angle is 1st, by a wide margin.
Now, looking at all these numbers, my immediate thought was small sample size and pretty sizeable regression. But then, I looked at the plate discipline numbers. The swinging strike rate is only 9.8% and the chase rate is a paltry 21.7%. Contact rate in the strike zone is 88.1%, while the contact rate in general is 75.4%. Damn, those are really juicy numbers, especially from a power hitter. Nevermind a catcher.
Looking at the splits, he struggles against lefties and feasts on righties. Interesting. The walk rates are the same, but the strikeout rate is 33.3% against lefties versus 21.7% against righties. The OPS is .621 against righties and .267 against lefties. Now, something to consider is that the Dodgers have faced two lefties over the past three games. In those games, Smith was batting third in the batting order. I looked at the minor league splits for Smith. Unfortunately, there was only data from the 2019 Triple-A season, but the numbers showed the same thing. Hmmm, I’ll trust the Dodgers and their analytics team on this one.
You all know how I feel about young hitters. Pitchers will start attacking differently, so there will inevitably come an adjustment period. Let’s see if I can find anything.
The pitch types have been 48.9% fastballs, 21.1% sliders, 4.4% cutters, 16% curveballs, 8.3% changeups, and 1.4% splitters. Pitchers have been attacking the low-and-away zone the most frequently. Smith doesn’t chase those pitches, though. He has excellent plate discipline. The low-and-inside, outside-the-strike zone is the area where he swings the most. Even then, only 28% of the time. Correspondingly, that is the area where he strikes out the most. The second-highest zone is the up-and-away one. The power zones look to be over-the-plate, and up-in-the zone, both inside and outside. The low-and-inside approach seems to be the correct way to attack him. Maybe fewer pitches up, but that needs to be thrown in order to set up the down-and-in pitch.
I’m going to have to go against the machines here. Although regression will come for Smith, I don’t believe the ride down will be too severe. The plate discipline is too juicy for me to ignore.