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 Notes: Nationals fire Dusty Baker

ap-dusty-baker-nlds-press-conference-cubs-nationals.jpg

MLB Notes: Nationals fire Dusty Baker

WASHINGTON -- Dusty Baker's time as the manager of the Washington Nationals is over after two seasons, two NL East titles and zero playoff series victories.

The Nationals announced Friday that they would not be bringing Baker back. His two-year deal with the club is expiring.

The contracts for the members of Baker's coaching staff also are finished. The team said it will work with its new manager to fill those positions.

The moves come the week after Washington was eliminated from its NL Division Series against the Chicago Cubs with a 9-8 loss at home in Game 5. The Nationals also were bounced from the postseason in the NLDS round in 2016 -- also with a Game 5 loss at home by one run, that time against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

This outcome, essentially, is what Baker was worried about as far back as spring training in February, when he made clear his desire for a new contract, knowing his was up after 2017.

Before the series against the Cubs began, Baker was asked about his possible future in Washington.

"I've given some thought to some things, but we were told that we were waiting until after the season to make a determination," he said at the time. "There's a good chance I'll be back."

He expected negotiations to pick up after the season ended (see full story).

Turner, Taylor repay Dodgers' patience by sharing NLCS MVP
CHICAGO -- Justin Turner and Chris Taylor shared MVP honors in the NL Championship Series, repaying a Dodgers organization willing to roll the dice on players whose big league careers were stalled.

In Turner's case, it was then-bench coach Tim Wallach who rediscovered him playing in a Cal State-Fullerton alumni baseball game four years ago, after his career appeared all but over.

In Taylor's case, it was Los Angeles' willingness to gamble that an offseason of grueling workouts would enable the young utilityman to rebuild his swing in a matter of months.

The co-MVPs turned up in the interview room together after the Dodgers eliminated the reigning World Series champion Chicago Cubs 11-1 in Game 5. They were champagne-soaked with hats turned backward, a pair of goggles still perched on Turner's head. Fittingly, they doused each other with praise.

"He's a dynamic player and a table setter," said Turner, who hit .333 for the series, with two home runs and seven RBIs. "When he goes, we usually go as a team."

"I talk to him as much as I can. He's one of the reasons I decided to make the changes I did," said Taylor, who finished at .316 with two homers and three RBIs. Both men also walked five times, as many as the entire Cubs roster (see full story).

Rare Jackie Robinson rookie jersey up for auction
NEW YORK -- A rare jersey from Jackie Robinson's historic rookie season with the Brooklyn Dodgers 70 years ago could be available for someone with a few spare millions.

The jersey, part of a Heroes of Sports offering by Heritage Auctions, has been certified by Mears, one of the top memorabilia authentication companies. It is accompanied by a letter from Robinson's widow, Rachel, saying it is the one brought home by the Hall of Famer at the end of the 1947 season, when he became the first black player in the majors and earned Rookie of the Year honors.

"This is the only one known from the `47 season, the only one that survived," Chris Ivy, Heritage's director of sports auctions, told The Associated Press in a phone interview. "It stayed in his closet for five decades plus until it was eventually sold to a private collector in the early 2000s."

The online auction opened Friday and closes at 11 p.m. on Nov. 19. The entire collection is from one owner and can be viewed on Heritage's website. Other items available for bidding include Babe Ruth's pants from the Hall of Fame induction in 1939, Keith Hernandez's 1978 Gold Glove award, a Wilt Chamberlain jersey from 1966, Bill Vukovich's Indianapolis 500 trophy from 1953 and Muhammad Ali's shoes from his fight against Ken Norton in 1973.

Ivy said the Robinson jersey has been valued at more than $3 million. He wouldn't be surprised to see it exceed that.

"It's tough to estimate a piece like this -- it's a one of a kind," he said. "As far as collectibles a rookie (jersey) is always sought after, something that's significant."

MLB Playoffs: Dodgers crush Cubs to reach 1st World Series in 29 years

uspresswire-dodgers-team-celebrate.jpg
USA Today Images

MLB Playoffs: Dodgers crush Cubs to reach 1st World Series in 29 years

BOX SCORE

CHICAGO -- Enrique Hernandez put a Hollywood ending on an L.A. story three decades in the making.

Fueled by a home run trilogy from their emotional utilityman, Clayton Kershaw and the Los Angeles Dodgers are finally going to the World Series.

Hernandez homered three times and drove in a record seven runs, Kershaw breezed through six crisp innings and Los Angeles ended the Chicago Cubs' title defense with an 11-1 rout in Game 5 of the NL Championship Series on Thursday night.

"It feels good to hear World Series," Kershaw said. "It's been a long time coming for this team."

After years of playoff heartache, there was just no stopping these Dodgers after they led the majors with 104 wins during the regular season. With Kershaw firing away at the top of a deep pitching staff and co-NLCS MVPs Justin Turner and Chris Taylor leading a tough lineup, one of baseball's most storied franchises captured its first pennant since Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda managed Kirk Gibson, Orel Hershiser and Co. to Los Angeles' last championship in 1988.

"Every night it is a different guy," Turner said, "and this is one of the most unbelievable teams I've ever been a part of."

Kershaw will be on the mound again when the Dodgers host the New York Yankees or Houston Astros in Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday night. The Yankees have a 3-2 lead heading into Game 6 of the ALCS at Houston on Friday night, so one more New York win would set up another chapter in an old October rivalry between the Yankees and Dodgers.

Los Angeles made the playoffs eight times in the previous 13 seasons and came up short of its 22nd pennant each time, often with Kershaw shouldering much of the blame. The three-time NL Cy Young Award winner took the loss when his team was eliminated by the Cubs in Game 6 of last year's NLCS at Wrigley Field.

The ace left-hander was just OK during his first two starts in this year's postseason, but Los Angeles' offense picked him up each time. Backed by Hernandez's powerful show in Chicago, Kershaw turned in an efficient three-hit performance with five strikeouts and improved to 6-7 in the playoffs -- matching Burt Hooton's club record for postseason wins.

"To get to be on the mound tonight and get to be going to the World Series on the same night, it's a special thing," Kershaw said. "Who knows how many times I'm going to get to go to the World Series? I know more than anybody how hard it is to get there. So, I'm definitely not taking this one for granted."

When Kenley Jansen retired Willson Contreras on a liner to shortstop for the final out, the party was on . The Dodgers poured out of the dugout and mobbed their dominant closer near the mound, and a small but vocal group of Los Angeles fans gathered behind the visitors' dugout and chanted "Let's go Dodgers! Let's go Dodgers!"

On the field, manager Dave Roberts hugged Lasorda and told the iconic skipper the win was for him.

"I bleed Dodger blue just like you," Roberts said. "Thank you, Tommy."

Hernandez connected on the first two pitches he saw, belting a solo drive in the second for his first career playoff homer and then a grand slam in the third against Hector Rondon. Hernandez added a two-run shot in the ninth against Mike Montgomery.

The 26-year-old Hernandez became the fourth player with a three-homer game in a league championship series, joining Bob Robertson (1971 NLCS), George Brett (1978 ALCS) and Adam Kennedy (2002 ALCS). Hernandez's seven RBIs tied a postseason record shared by four other players who all did it in a Division Series.

Troy O'Leary was the previous player to have seven RBIs in a playoff game, for Boston at Cleveland in the 1999 ALDS.

It was a stunning display for a player with 28 career homers who remains concerned about his native Puerto Rico, which is recovering from a devastating hurricane. He delivered a historic performance in front of his father, Enrique Hernandez Sr., who was diagnosed with a blood cancer related to leukemia in December 2015, but got word last November that he was in remission.

"For me to be able to come here and do something like this is pretty special," said Hernandez, who also goes by Kik?. "My body's here, but my mind's kind of back home. It's hard being away from home with what's going on.

"All I want to do right now is go to my dad and give him a big hug."

Kris Bryant homered for Chicago, but the NL Central champions finished with just four hits in another tough night at the plate. Each of their eight runs in the NLCS came via the long ball, and they batted just .156 for the series with 53 strikeouts.

Long playoff runs in each of the last two years and a grueling five-game Division Series against Washington seemed to sap Chicago of some energy, and its pitching faltered against sweet-swinging Los Angeles. Jose Quintana was pulled in the third inning of the final game, and the Cubs never recovered.

"They executed their plan," Bryant said. "They pitched great and the bullpen was lights out. That makes for a tough time scoring runs."

Turner and Taylor helped put it away for Los Angeles, contributing to a 16-hit outburst while closing out a pair of impressive performances.

Turner singled home Taylor in the Dodgers' five-run third, giving him seven RBIs in the series and 24 throughout his postseason career. Taylor finished with two hits and scored two runs as the Dodgers, who have won five straight NL West titles, improved to 7-1 in this postseason.

Taylor's versatility helped Los Angeles cover for the loss of All-Star shortstop Corey Seager, who missed the series with a back injury, but is expected to return in the next round. Coming off a breakout season, the 27-year-old Taylor hit .316 with two homers and scored five times against the Cubs.

"I couldn't be happier to be a part of this and be with these guys," Taylor said. "It's been an unbelievable year, and I'm just super excited."

Out with a bang
Hernandez joined Kennedy (2002), Adrian Beltre (2011), Reggie Jackson (1977 vs. the Dodgers) and Babe Ruth (1928) as players to hit three home runs in a postseason series clincher.

Lights out
Dodgers relievers have thrown 23 consecutive scoreless innings, a postseason record.