2017 Phillies Report Card: Nick WIlliams
Coming into 2017, Nick Williams’ stock was down. Critics saw a sputterring offensive game in the second half of 2016, and conflict with coaches in Lehigh Valley, and couldn’t help but conclude Williams was starting down the road to ruin. But throughout 2017, Nick Williams put ruin in the rearview and stood on the gas.
No one will confuse Williams’ offensive game with that of his rookie cohorts – a patient power hitter like Rhys Hoskins, or an on-base machine like JP Crawford – though you could find similarities to Jorge Alfaro. Williams’ tendency to swing freely was on display in 2017, as he posted a 44.6% swing rate outside the zone, (O-Swing% league average was 29.9%), and his K Rate was 28.3%, well above his most promising minor league season in 2015, where he kept that rate below 20% at AA. Despite all that chasing, he somehow managed a few more walks, showing about a 5.5% rate between MiLB and MLB, compared to a very bad 3.6% at AAA in 2016. His line-drive, ground ball and fly ball rates were fairly static versus his 2016 minor league campaign, but his .375 BABIP helped keep his offensive afloat, fueled in part by a miniscule 1.7% pop-up rate. Watch for that to regress next year; his minor league IFFB rates were recently closer to 10%. Williams ended up with very respectable offensive stats, smacking an XBH every 11.5 PAs or so, including 12 home runs in 343 PAs, for a wRC+ of 110 and an OPS over .800.
His base running did not stand out – FanGraphs shows him with -2.2 runs on the paths, and he managed just a single steal in three tries, though his swimming skills did have a chance to shine, which you rarely get in the big leagues:
His defense was at times remarkable, at least to the naked eye. He made a few dazzling diving catches:
Defensive metrics liked him a little in 89 innings in left field, but had him as a negative in center and right, where he spent the most time (-13 DRS combined). Too early to tell if there’s defensive value to be had, though scouting suggests he should be ok in a corner. Even if he manages to be neutral, his bat should help him have overall value as it did in 2017 – he earned a bit of WAR from FG (0.8) and BRef (0.1). Squint hard and there’s a 2-3 win 2018 lurking, as Williams gains experience and settles into his game.
Perhaps the most encouraging thing about Williams was how he finished. In 2016, his second half was about as putrid as that week-old egg salad sandwich you pull out of the cooler at a backwater gas station. But in 2017, his August and September were about par for the year, with steady rates, plus a spike up in BB rate in August, refreshing like the aroma of a freshly-made thing of whatever from the Wawa you maybe go to sometimes.
Ok, I don’t know what y’all get at Wawa. I’m a Sheetz guy. The Horror!!!
So offensively, you want more. The walks were ok, not good. The Ks were bad and need to come down. The extra-base and particularly longball power was nice. The baserunning will hopefully improve, and the defense seems like it will be respectable – he has some raw speed and athleticism to work with on both counts. If Williams were a third-year man or a 26-year-old rookie, his so-so half-year might earn him a lower mark, but after his dismal 2016, his 23-year-old season nets him high marks for resiliency and promising results.