Phillies

A closer look at Nick Williams' surprising, impressive rookie season

A closer look at Nick Williams' surprising, impressive rookie season

With less than two weeks to go before baseball season ends, now's a good time to begin looking back at the most surprising developments, stats and trends for the Phillies in 2017.

In no particular order, we'll run these throughout the fall, starting today with Nick Williams' success against left-handed pitching.

• • •

Williams has had an impressive rookie season overall, but his success against same-handed pitching has been the biggest surprise in Year 1.

In the upper minor leagues in 2015 and 2016, Williams hit .223 with a .583 OPS.

As a major-leaguer, Williams has hit .288 against lefties with a .780 OPS, a double, two triples and two homers.

Makes me think back to a conversation with Williams in the summer of 2016, when things started to click for him vs. lefties.

"I've been seeing lefties a lot better lately," Williams said then. "A lot of them kind of do the same thing to me and that helps. I just want to master, really figure out what I'm trying to do and what they're trying to do to me. I didn't like when [managers] thought I couldn't hit a lefty and they would call a guy in from the bullpen just to pitch to me. It bothered me, I didn't like that, them thinking it could just take a lefty to get me out. I worked on it, worked on it, and I got better at it.

"Breaking balls away, sometimes they try to come in, but usually if they throw me a breaking ball that's a strike, it's a good pitch to hit. There's a couple times you can tip your hat to them for hitting a certain spot, but really, when lefties throw me a breaking ball for a strike, it's a good pitch to hit. Just staying patient and the one that's an inch off, two inches off, just bite your lip and take."

Williams won't place high in NL Rookie of the Year voting because it's been an impressive class with Cody Bellinger (the lock), Rhys Hoskins, Paul DeJong, Josh Bell and Kyle Freeland. (I think the Padres' Dinelson Lamet will be the third-best player among that group next year.) In other years, he'd be more of a top-five consideration.

Consistency over 300 PAs

Williams' strong summer has been overshadowed by Hoskins-mania, but his production has been consistent.

Through 302 plate appearances with the Phillies, Williams has hit .286/.338/.475 with 14 doubles, four triples, 10 homers and 48 RBIs. 

Project that over 162 games and you get 32 doubles, 9 triples, 23 homers and 108 RBIs.

That doesn't mean that if Williams plays 162 next season he'll absolutely hit all of those marks, but it's an idea of what a full, healthy season from him might look like.

"Nick Williams looks like the Phillies' rightfielder of the next six years" couldn't have been said with nearly as much certitude just six months ago.

Still think the Phillies waited too long?

I'd argue this is more indicative of the Phils' front office moving Williams along the right way.

They wanted him to show more plate selection before bringing up to the majors and he obliged, walking eight times in his final 13 games at Triple A after walking eight times in his previous 65 games.

(Since this is the internet and at least a few will be inclined to label me a Phillies apologist for those previous two paragraphs, I do think they waited at least two months too long with Hoskins, maybe more.)

Williams just turned 24 on Sept. 8. He celebrated with a three-run homer off of Max Scherzer and a 4-for-5 night at Nationals Park. 

He's shown power to all fields, and though he's never been much of a base stealer, his speed stands out.

Finding a decent comp

So Williams has hit .286/.338/.475 in his first 302 plate appearances. 

Before this season, Justin Upton hit .268/.347/.472 over a decade (wow, does time fly).

Pretty similar, right?

Back to that 162-game projection for Williams of 32 doubles, 9 triples, 23 homers and 109 RBIs.

From 2007-16, Upton averaged 32 doubles, five triples, 27 homers and 86 RBIs per 162 games.

Williams' 300 plate appearances are far, far different from Upton's 6,000. But if Williams can start hot next season and remain consistent throughout 2018, a left-handed hitting Justin Upton with a skill set to bat second through sixth ain't bad.

So, is this sustainable?

Williams has a .376 batting average on balls in play. The league average is .300, so some will be quick to holler out that Williams will regress.

But keep in mind that just because the league average BABIP is .300 doesn't mean all players end up there. From 2014-17 in the minors, Williams' batting average on balls in play fell in the .355 to .365 range.

And this season, there are 33 players with a BABIP of at least .350. So it's not necessarily a major fluke that Williams has hit the way he has to this point. 

When putting the ball in play, fast players like Williams get on base more often than those with average speed. Williams already has 10 infield hits. (Make it 11 after his infield hit off lefty Tony Watson last night.)

Next April and May are going to be really important for Williams. He'll start facing pitchers for the second, third and fourth times, and the rest of the league will have a better idea of how to get him out. These early returns are promising, though.

MLB Playoffs: Javier Baez snaps out of funk to help Cubs avoid sweep

uspresswire-cubs-javier-baez.jpg
USA Today Images

MLB Playoffs: Javier Baez snaps out of funk to help Cubs avoid sweep

CHICAGO -- Javier Baez snapped an 0-for-20 skid with two home runs, Wade Davis hung on for a six-out save and the Chicago Cubs avoided a sweep, holding off the Los Angeles Dodgers 3-2 Wednesday night in Game 4 of the NL Championship Series.

Jake Arrieta pitched three-hit ball into the seventh inning to held the defending World Series champion Cubs close their deficit to 3-1. Manager Joe Maddon got ejected for the second time in this series in the eighth, and a packed Wrigley Field crowd watched Davis get Cody Bellinger to ground into a game-ending double play.

Maddon was heavily criticized for not using Davis during a 4-1 loss in Game 2. This time, the Cubs closer threw 48 pitches to finish the job.

Willson Contreras also homered for the Cubs. Bellinger and Justin Turner connected for the Dodgers, who had won a team-record six straight playoff games.

Game 5 is Thursday, with Jose Quintana pitching for Chicago against Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw (see full recap).

Tanaka, Yankees blank Astros to take ALCS lead
NEW YORK -- Masahiro Tanaka pitched seven innings of three-hit ball and the New York Yankees finally solved Houston Astros nemesis Dallas Keuchel, beating the ace lefty 5-0 on Wednesday for a 3-2 lead in the AL Championship Series.

Gary Sanchez hit an RBI single off Keuchel and later homered to help the wild-card Yankees win for the third straight day at home and move within one victory of their first trip to the World Series since 2009.

The teams head back to Houston for Game 6 on Friday night, when Justin Verlander and the reeling Astros will try to regain their footing following an off day and force a decisive Game 7. Luis Severino is scheduled to start for New York.

Just days ago, Houston was up two games to none and appeared to be closing in on its second World Series appearance. But the Astros, like defending AL champion Cleveland before them, have been unable to put away these poised Yankees, who improved to 6-0 at home in this postseason in front of their cheering, chanting fans (see full recap).

MLB Playoffs: Yankees storm back for win over Astros to even ALCS

uspresswire-yankess-castro-judge.jpg
USA Today Images

MLB Playoffs: Yankees storm back for win over Astros to even ALCS

NEW YORK -- Aaron Judge ignited a rousing rally with a home run, then doubled during a four-run eighth inning to spur the New York Yankees over the Houston Astros 6-4 Tuesday night and level the AL Championship Series 2-2.

The Yankees trailed 4-0 against starter Lance McCullers Jr. until Judge homered leading off the seventh. He tied it with a line drive that nearly left the park in the eighth and scored on Gary Sanchez's go-ahead two-run double off loser Ken Giles.

The Yankees have rallied from a second straight 0-2 series deficit -- they beat Cleveland in the Division Series by winning three in a row to take that best-of-five matchup.

Aroldis Chapman struck out two in a perfect ninth, and New York improved to 5-0 at home in the playoffs.

Masahiro Tanaka pitches for New York against Dallas Keuchel in Game 5 Wednesday and rematch of the opener, won by the Astros 2-1 (see full recap).

Dodgers on brink of World Series after shutout
CHICAGO -- Yu Darvish pitched sparkling ball into the seventh inning, Chris Taylor homered again and the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Chicago Cubs 6-1 on Tuesday night to open a commanding 3-0 lead in the NL Championship Series.

Andre Ethier also went deep and Taylor added an RBI triple in the fifth as Los Angeles set a franchise record with its sixth consecutive playoff win. Yasiel Puig had two more hits in another entertaining performance that included an impressive bat flip -- on a long foul ball in the first inning.

Looking for a four-game sweep and their 22nd NL pennant, the Dodgers will send Alex Wood to the mound Wednesday night at Wrigley Field with a chance to reach the World Series for the first time since their last championship in 1988. Jake Arrieta, eligible for free agency after the season, pitches for the Cubs in what could be his final start with the team.

Los Angeles was eliminated by Chicago in the NLCS last year, but this is a different group of Dodgers. The lineup is patient and pesky and the pitching staff is much deeper, especially since Darvish was acquired in a trade with Texas in the final minutes before the July 31 deadline (see full recap).