Nick Williams is Thriving as a Pinch Hitter and Showing Meaningful Growth at the Plate
With the signing of Carlos Santana the Phillies opened themselves up to a playing time crunch in right field. A big question entering the year was how the Phillies would split the playing time for Aaron Altherr and Nick Williams. Through 47 games, Williams has 19 starts and Altherr has 30. So far that split has not gone well for either, with Altherr batting .198/.333/.379 and Williams at .231/.307/.374. Both players have been streaky throughout their careers and it as seemed like the Phillies are half a step behind in dividing the playing time. Right now the Phillies are going with more of a 50/50 split to playing time as Williams has surged in May.
Williams’ surge has not been as much powered by his starts, but by what he has done in his other opportunities. Not getting starts in late April and early May had turned Williams into the Phillies’ primary pinch hit bat. So far he is 8 for 18 (19 PA with 1 HBP) in those opportunities with a pair of home runs. Now part of Williams’ problems in the minors and majors has been high strikeouts and low walk numbers, and he has yet to walk as a pinch hitter, but his job has often been to put the ball in play, and put it in play he has with only two strikeouts in his 18 plate appearances.
The swing and miss suppression has not translated to his starts with Williams running a 31.7% strikeout rate in non-pinch hit plate appearances. What he has done is work counts and get on base, and he is walking at a 11.0% rate in his non-pinch hit trips to the plate. It isn’t just a fluke we can see that Williams has changed up a lot of things at the plate.
We can see immediately that Nick is swinging less, and not just at pitches out of the zone. Consequently, Williams is making contact more often when he is swinging. Given his wrist strength and raw power, this should translate to many line drives and home runs. That has not really happened yet for Williams, but there are signs of hope. In March and April, Nick hit .185/.254/.285 with an 8.5% BB% and 30.5% K%, but in May he is hitting .297/.381/.514 with a 9.5% BB% and 23.8% K%. If we take the same plate discipline numbers from above and split them by month we see that the changes aren’t season to season, but within the season.
Now these numbers don’t say what we should expect to see in the future, Williams has flashed better plate discipline for month stretches before. What it does show is that this is in Nick Williams’ tool set. So how does this all relate to playing time? It is pretty clear Williams needs more of it. The Phillies don’t want to abandon Altherr either (while Altherr is not hitting, he is walking at a high rate and still getting on base at an above average rate), and a strict platoon doesn’t really work with the dearth of LH SPs in the majors. So far the Phillies have shielded Williams from lefties, mostly by putting Altherr in those situations that are advantageous for him. However, Williams should be getting most of the starts vs RHPs so that the split is at minimum 50/50 going forward. So far the steps forward for Williams have been impressive, and if he and Altherr can start hitting again, it will go a long way to filling some of the Phillies’ lineup holes.
Plate discipline stats from Fangraphs.com