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.

2017 2018 Difference
O-Swing% 47.6% 38.7% -8.9%
Z-Swing% 74.8% 67.9% -6.9%
Swing% 59.1% 51.2% -7.9%
O-Contact% 52.6% 58.5% 5.9%
Z-Contact% 80.8% 81.5% 0.7%
Contact% 67.7% 71.6% 3.9%

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.

Mar/Apr May Difference
O-Swing% 40.0% 37.1% -2.9%
Z-Swing% 70.3% 64.7% -5.6%
Swing% 53.4% 48.5% -4.9%
O-Contact% 54.4% 63.9% 9.5%
Z-Contact% 78.1% 86.4% 8.3%
Contact% 68.2% 76.3% 8.1%

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

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  1. Wawa Mike

    May 26, 2018 11:33 AM

    Who is the better player right now, and who projects to be better long term? I like Williams, but just by a little bit. If the Phillies sign Harper next winter, both Williams and Altherr will probably be gone.

    • Romus

      May 26, 2018 12:37 PM

      Wawa……..Williams’ raw tools are so attractive. The quick and strong wrist action and his athleticism. I am willing to bet there are other GMs who would like to take a chance on him and what he may develop into…..of course at a discount sale price from the Phillies
      Then again….Cozens has a similar skill set as Williams. Both with raw power, maybe notch higher for Cozens….. both with high swing and miss, at least Williams had it prior to this season….. speed is a tick better for Williams….defense both have been known to run circuitousness routes to balls…….arm strength is probably Cozens, but accuracy is Williams.
      Seeing them both now on numerous occasions, they would seem to provide about the same production in a platoon setting with Altherr.. Perhaps Klentak could dangle Williams in a trade package.

      • Wawa Mike

        May 26, 2018 01:04 PM

        Romus – I expect either Altherr or Williams to be traded soon. Baltimore is playing a dangerous game with Machado right now. If he gets injured, the Orioles might not get anything in return. I expect the Phillies to offer Altherr or Williams, Crawford, Medina, and Kilome for Machado. All are young and controllable in the future.

      • Romus

        May 26, 2018 01:36 PM

        Mike…….Phillies will have to outbid other clubs.
        Keep hearing rumors from Chicago, though when addressed to Theo, he will just ‘roll his eyes’ like he said, but have heard these three as possibilities….Addison Russell, Ian Happ and a minor league prospect, which is probably a pitcher.
        Not sure the Phillies will match that…they can if they wanted to, but think that Matt Klentak will decide not to..
        However as you mentioned….I would think Medina, Williams, Crawford and Kilome could get it done…but you still have to sell the Angelos’ and Dan Duquette.

  2. Steve

    May 26, 2018 05:19 PM

    I’m only offering that package if the Phillies get a negotiating window to extend Machado

    • Chris S

      May 29, 2018 09:22 AM

      Machado is going to free agency. He has made that perfectly clear. Phillies shouldn’t trade for him and prepare their pitch to him when he becomes a free agent. With all the people that are in the Phillies building as long as the Phillies stay competitive this year they will have an inside track to nabbing Machado.

      • Steve

        May 29, 2018 10:42 AM

        Agree, especially since Franco isn’t playing too bad this year. If they can sign Machado they will be able to trade 2 infielders including Hernandez, Franco, Kingery, Crawford to adress other areas.

  3. BarryOnyx

    May 29, 2018 10:12 AM

    As much as I’d like this to be true as written…. ” in May he is hitting .297/.381/.514 with a 9.5% K% and 23.8% BB%.” I think you switched the K% and BB%. He has a 9.5% BB% and a 23.8% K% in May, not the other way around. Still an improvement over April. But if I’m wrong and you did write it correctly then Williams should be playing every day.

    • Chris S

      May 29, 2018 10:30 AM

      Any guy that is nearly OPSing .900 should be playing everyday. Williams should get a run of starts over Altherr at this point.

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