Devin Williams - Twenty Seven Amazing Innings
To go along with the weird trend of 2020, Devin Williams won Rookie of the Year as a setup man. It was the first time a reliever won the award since Craig Kimbrell in 2011. He beat out Alec Bohm and Jake Cronenworth for the honor. Williams had a trying start to his time in the league
Williams was drafted by the Brewers back in 2013 out of High School in the second round. He was known for his elevated velocity on his fastball. After three years in the minors, Williams got the invite to Spring Training where he tore his UCL. After missing the entire 2017 season due to Tommy John surgery, he emerged in August 2019 to make his major league debut. After a ho-hum 2019, Williams emerged in 2020 and dominated. He posted a 0.33 ERA in 27 innings, with a record 53 strikeouts and a WHIP of 0.630. What led Devin Williams to such a great year?
Check out this fancy team color graph I made. Aggressive on the eyes, but Williams' dominance exceeds the color selection in this chart. He was first in six categories including Whiff% and K%. The Barrel% number is above average as well, with only the BB% that was a negative. Given he's a pitcher that predicates his success on a high 90's fastball and a crazy breaking changeup, that walk number is right where it should be. How did he record such silly numbers? It all boils down to two pitches, his circle-change and his fastball.
Circle Changeup (52.7% thrown, 83-85mph)
Nicknamed "The Airbender", Williams' circle change is filth. Out of all qualified pitchers from last year, Williams' changeup was fourth in vertical movement (40.9 inches) and second in horizontal movement (18.1 inches) which as a total break percentage puts him in first in the league. He increased his vertical break by six inches from last year, catapulting him into that number one spot.
What adds to the effectiveness of his changeup is his disparity in speed from his 4-Seam with relatively the same pitching motion. We're talking between a 12-15mph speed difference with downwards movement. That's what lead hitters in hitting a paltry 2.5 degree launch angle last year and a ton of swing an misses. In his 27 innings, he recorded 53 strikeouts, with 41 of them coming from the changeup.
4-Seam Fastball: (41.8% 95-99mph)
It seems most bullpen guys must throw at least 95mph to even make it to the majors. Of course, Williams fits this build. He was in the 86th percentile for velocity and in the 74th percentile in spin rate. Sure, you can try to sit on the changeup and hope he misses his spot down low, but wait to long and you'll be struck out by the fastball. Remember, a 95mph fastball is faster than you can blink your eye from the moment it's released to the moment it hits the catchers mitt. Hitters cannot afford to cheat for the change with this speed. His 4-Seamer has some life on it as well. He ranks in the top 12% of pitchers in terms of horizontal movement.
Cutter and Sinker - 3.5% and 2.1%
Given he's thrown these two pitches rarely this past year (Statcast found only two instances of the Sinker), I couldn't grab any video of it. One stat to note: Devin Williams decreased his sinker usage from 39% two years ago to 2.1% last year. He replaced the usage with an increase on the 4-seam and the changeup.
How Special Was Williams' 2020 Season?
Grabbing statistics all the way back to the start of the Live Ball era (1920) who have pitched the same or less innings, Devin had an incredible season:
1st in 1375 ERA+, (ERA+ is a measurement of someone's ERA, minus park factors and defense played, league average ERA+ is 100)
2nd in .86 FIP behind Karl Spooner (1954)
1st in 53% K%
3rd in .339 OPS allowed behind Karl Spooner and Nick Anderson (2020)
I admit, I was salty when Devin Williams won the NL Rookie of the Year. I truly believe Alec Bohm should have won, but after digging into his statistics, you have to recognize the historical significance of this past year regardless of the shortened season. As long as he continues to produce the insane movement and control on his changeup, Williams can be a top tier reliever for years to come.