Trevor Williams has perfected the “eyeball smile,” as he put it, scrunching the top of his face to project what his mouth is doing behind a mask. It’s a useful tool when getting to know new teammates and coaches in a pandemic Spring Training.
“It is an interesting dynamic,” Williams said in his first media appearance since the Cubs signed him as free agent, “because I felt like a new kid at school for the first time, but I didn't have the ability to stand in front of the class and introduce myself and shake everybody's hand.”
He expects it’ll be easier when everyone’s wearing jerseys with their last names on their backs.
This will also be the first time in Williams’ MLB career that he’ll pitch wearing a jersey without the Pirates’ name or logo. Williams and the Cubs hope the change will do him good.
The right-hander hasn’t had an ERA of under 5.00 since 2018. That year, Williams cut his ERA to 3.11 with an impressive finish: just 11 runs total in his final 13 starts (1.29 ERA).
“One thing we've been really successful with as a pitching infrastructure is taking guys that can throw multiple pitches – three, four pitches – and have command,” Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said. “Williams’ command is really excellent. So, when you look at the success we've had with, obviously, Kyle Hendricks, but even a guy like Alec Mills, we've really been able to game plan incredibly well with a guy like Trevor Williams.”
Hendricks joined the Cubs as a minor-leaguer in a last-minute trade that sent Ryan Dempster to Texas. He developed into a Cy Young candidate in 2016 and enters this season as the Cubs’ ace.
Mills wasn’t a heralded acquisition either, but after a few spot starts in 2018 and 2019, he cracked the rotation last year as José Quintana landed on the injured list. Mills was one of two MLB pitchers (joining Lucas Giolito) to throw a no-hitter in the shortened 2020 season.
Like Williams, Hendricks and Mills rely on finesse, not velocity.
“He's 28 years old, he's had success in our division,” Hoyer said of Williams, “and it's a really good project for us to get him back to where he was.”
To the pitch lab.
Williams said he’s moving on from his struggles last year (6.18 ERA), but it’s a season he won’t forget.
“The biggest difference is getting away from what made me a good pitcher,” Williams said of the past two seasons. “I lost my identity. I lost a sense of what may be good in terms of pitch selection. Execution really was the main thing as well.”
Coming into this season, and after talking with Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy and his staff, Williams said he already has a clear picture of the adjustments he wants to make.
“They seem so simple because most of the time, fixes are really simple at the end of the day,” Williams said. “But I'm excited to grow from that (2020 experience), I'm excited to hear what Tommy and the staff has to say, and I'm excited to earn the trust of the guys behind me.”