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.

Phillies' ramped-up rebuild demands starting-pitching upgrade

Phillies' ramped-up rebuild demands starting-pitching upgrade

Let the record show that on a snowy Friday afternoon 10 days before Christmas 2017, the Phillies ramped up their rebuild.

Dramatically.

What other conclusion can be drawn after the club went out and signed Carlos Santana, one of the best offensive players on the free-agent market? With the signing, confirmed by multiple baseball sources, general manager Matt Klentak has attached a new level of importance to the 2018 season.

Just a couple of days ago at the winter meetings in Orlando, Klentak spoke of how 2018 was going to be a time to "find out" more about the team's young core of players. Who would continue to take a step forward? Who would fall by the wayside?

But now that Santana is here, 2018 doesn't feel like it's just a find-out season. It feels like a season in which the Phillies can continue to find out about players — separate the studs from the duds — and also start nibbling around that second National League wild-card spot.

Sure, a lot has to go right for that to happen.

And one of the things that has to go right is Klentak has to land a starting pitcher to slot in around Aaron Nola and the rest of the staff, which has the look of a bunch of No. 4 and No. 5 starters — until someone steps forward.

Santana's deal is for three years and $60 million, according to sources. Three years is a nice get — i.e., it's not cripplingly long — for a 32-year-old (in April) who hits for power, produces runs and does what Klentak likes best: controls the strike zone. (You could say that Klentak added two players who control the strike zone to his lineup Friday as the trade of Freddy Galvis to San Diego for strike-throwing pitching prospect Enyel De Los Santos cleared the way for J.P. Crawford to be the regular shortstop.)

The Phillies need to do everything within reason to make sure that the first of Santana's three seasons with the club isn't about simply inching the rebuild forward. The Nationals are the class of the NL East, but the rest of the division ranges from ordinary to awful. The Phils, with an improved offense and bullpen (Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter), can play with the Braves and Mets and clean up on the Marlins, the jewelry store that became a pawnshop, in agent Scott Boras' words.

It's just up to Klentak to get more starting pitching, and he's on the case. He admitted that at the winter meetings. He is particularly fond of young starters with years of control remaining on their contracts. Gerrit Cole, Chris Archer and Michael Fulmer fit this description. It takes talent to get pitchers like that. The Phillies have enough depth of prospects to get one of these guys and their reserves of expendable talent just grew with the Santana signing.

Santana, a switch-hitter who has averaged 25 homers, 85 RBIs and a .810 OPS in eight seasons, is going to be the team's primary first baseman. Rhys Hoskins is going to be the primary leftfielder. That means the Phillies suddenly have a young outfielder that they could deal. Maybe they try to capitalize on Nick Williams' strong half-season in the majors and package him for an arm. Or maybe it's Odubel Herrera or Aaron Altherr.

However it plays out, you can be sure that Klentak will be creative. You can rule nothing out with this guy. The other day, we poo-pooed the Phillies signing Jake Arrieta, who is looking for a long-term deal approaching $200 million. But if Arrieta lingers out there until February and is looking for a two-year landing spot, hey, maybe.

We wouldn't even put it past Klentak to entertain the idea of using Santana at third base a little bit — he did play 26 games there in 2014 — and trading Maikel Franco. The Giants were sniffing around, gathering intel on Franco at the winter meetings. There has to be a reason for that. Also at the meetings, an official from a rival club said the Phillies weren't as aggressive as he expected in trying to move Cesar Hernandez. Could it be that Hernandez would get some time at third if Franco were to be moved? Hernandez is still a trade chip, but he doesn't need to be cashed in until July and by that time Scott Kingery should be here.

There are a lot of ways this thing can go. And with the signing of Carlos Santana — which won't become official until he passes a physical next week — the Phillies have guaranteed that the remainder of this offseason will be a busy one.

It has to be.

The stakes have changed for 2018. The rebuild is still in place, but it has been ramped up. Matt Klentak has improved the bullpen and the offense. Now he has to attack that starting pitching and he has the trade weapons to do it.

Source: Phillies agree to $60 million deal with Carlos Santana

Source: Phillies agree to $60 million deal with Carlos Santana

The Phillies' busy Friday continued with a pricey free-agent signing.

The Phils have agreed to a three-year, $60 million deal with former Cleveland Indian Carlos Santana, a source confirmed to NBC Sports Philadelphia's Jim Salisbury.

It is by far the most expensive contract the Phillies have given out under the Matt Klentak-Andy MacPhail regime.

They had the money. When the offseason began, the only player the Phillies had signed to a multi-million dollar deal was Odubel Herrera.

Santana, 31, has always been a high-walk power hitter. From 2011 through 2017, he walked between 88 and 113 times each season, all while maintaining relatively low strikeout totals for a man with such power and plate selection.

In 2016, Santana set a career high with 34 home runs. Last season, he hit .259/.363/.455 with 37 doubles, 23 homers and 79 RBIs.

This addition provides the Phillies with much-needed pop to protect Rhys Hoskins and also gives the Phils added versatility. Santana is a switch-hitter who came up as a catcher, but he hasn't caught since 2014. The last three seasons, he has played primarily first base. In his eight seasons, Santana has also started 26 games at third base and seven in right field.

The move likely means Hoskins will play left field, and it could facilitate another Phillies trade of an outfielder such as Nick Williams, Aaron Altherr or Odubel Herrera.