A 30 Game Nick Williams Check Up
On June 30th the Phillies finally called up a major hitting prospect. Since then, Nick Williams has hit .289/.325/.535 in the majors with 5 home runs in his 30 games. Williams’ arrival in the majors coincided with an improvement in the Phillies offense (it turns out everyone in the lineup was better in July). With Aaron Altherr’s repeated injuries, Williams looks to have a hold on an outfield spot for the rest of the season. So now 30 games into his season, how is Nick Williams holding up?
We might as well start with the bad news. As most suspected, Nick Williams has not had good plate discipline in the majors and currently has a 4.1% walk rate and a 25.2% strikeout rate. He is also currently swinging at 42.0% of the pitches he sees outside of the strike zone (MLB average is 29.8%). When he expands the zone he is making contact at a rate below the major league average (52.5% vs 62.8%). He also is swinging at pitches in the zone more often than the average major leaguer (75.7% vs 66.8%), and he is making below average contact vs those pitches (80.8% vs 85.6%). Nick is swinging early and he is swinging often, and right now he is showing both a penchant for expanding the zone and for missing in the zone.
We knew this was going to be his problem so this isn’t new information, but it is still something he will need to improve greatly to have a sustained career.
What Williams has shown off in the majors is his raw hit tool. His wrist strength has allowed him to wait back and drive pitches the other way. So far all 5 of his home runs have been to the left of center field. He has also shown the ability to hit line drives up the middle and to both gaps.
Williams showed pull power in the minors, so if pitchers attempt to bust him inside we could start to see more home runs to right field. For now, his swing is better if he is using his strength to go the opposite way.
On the note of contact, it is easy to point to Williams’ .350 BABIP as a sign of regression, but he has kept up his torrid line drive rate from AAA and is currently at 25.9%. He is hitting more ground balls, but he also has not hit an infield fly ball in the majors yet. As mentioned earlier, he is working up the middle more than he ever has, and that should help keep his BABIP high.
His line right now (119 wRC+) is about where his peak is without improving his plate discipline numbers. That still would put him right on the edge of the top 10 left fielders offensively, which is not going to carry the Phillies, but could make him a solid regular.
As for defense and base running. Williams rates out as a poor defender so far, but also has only had 39 total fielding chances rated as possible, so I am not entirely sure what he is being graded on. On the bases he is 0 for 2 in stolen base chances. Both should improve, and right now there is not meaningful data that we can extract.
So what is Nick Williams in the major leagues? Roughly Nick Williams in AAA. He has made the small adjustments to keep pitchers varying their plan against him, but he still is ultra-aggressive at the plate in detriment to his on base percentage. He still needs to make the big adjustment to his approach to be a great player for the Phillies, but he has more than held his own so far, which is about all you can really hope for from a rookie.