Trevor Williams Following a Key Approach From Ivan Nova

PITTSBURGH — Trevor Williams is a right-handed pitcher that relies heavily on his sinking, two-seam fastball. He worked that combination well on Tuesday, holding the Tampa Bay Rays to two runs on six hits over seven-plus innings in a 4-2 loss.

It’s a combination the Pirates have a lot of experience with, from Charlie Morton to Ivan Nova and Chad Kuhl, many pitchers that have come through Pittsburgh’s system have that profile.

Frequently, the biggest issue those pitchers face is left-handed hitters. They plagued Morton during the early part of his career. Even in 2011 — perhaps his best with the Pirates — Morton allowed a .960 OPS against to lefties.

Kuhl’s issues with lefties have been well documented here. He’s allowed a .974 OPS against to left-handers in his major-league career.
But Nova is different. Sure, he’s better against right-handers, but lefties have managed just a .756 OPS against him this season and his career platoon split is very small — .744 against right-handers, .779 against lefties.

Nova relies heavily on his fastballs and his curveball, but when he goes up against lefties, he breaks out his changeup at a significantly elevated level. Here’s Nova pitch usage against lefties and righties. (Changeups are in orange).

Ivan Nova pitch types vs LHB. (Baseball Savant)
Ivan Nova pitch types vs RHB. (Baseball Savant)

Nova’s changeup isn’t anything special. It has a negative wCH value according to Fangraphs. But it’s job is to simply keep hitters from selling out against his fastball.

The path that Nova has taken is the one that Williams seems to be on. Williams uses his changeup 0.9 percent of the time against right-handers and it’s the least-used of his four offerings. Against lefties, he throws it 15.7 percent of the time and it’s the second-most used offering in his arsenal.

Trevor Williams pitch types vs. RHB. (Baseball Savant)
Trevor Williams pitch types vs. LHB (Baseball Savant).

It seems that there’s more than just a bit of coincidence to the similarities between Nova and Williams this season. As Williams gains experience, he’s also taking things from those pitchers on the Pirates roster that have more of it than he does.

“It’s just watching the veterans do it every fifth day,” Williams said after the Pirates loss. “It’s awesome to see Nova and Gerrit (Cole) go out there every fifth day and do what they do. … There’s a lot of veterans in this clubhouse. It’s fun to watch them do what they do.”

Part of that is leaning on the changeup, which Williams now thinks is one of his better offerings in general, not just because of its own action, but because of the way it plays off his sinker.

“I would put my changeup above my slider the way it is and the way I utilize my sinker,” Williams said. “I think it’s a great pitch to throw behind my sinker. I had a lot of success with it today against (Evan) Longoria. Hit him into a double play with that and also (Logan) Morrison as well.”

CAPITALIZING ON AGGRESSION

Williams was able to use his sinker to work efficiently and deep into the game. He said the game plan was to take advantage of a free-swinging Rays team with the two-seamer to induce soft contact.

“We were forcing early contact early on,” Williams said. “The game plan was we knew they were going to be swinging at the first pitch. We wanted to attack that and get hitters out on 3 pitches or less. … It’s just pitch execution. When you know they’re swinging early, you can go from thirds and start pitching toward the black and kind of expand off that.”

Hurdle though Williams’ line could have been even more impressive if not for some tough luck. Williams gave up a run in the fourth on two weakly hit ground ball singles and a fielder’s choice.

“He gave up four base hits that weren’t even hard ground balls that found outfield grass,” Hurdle said. “Those consequences hurt, but no walks, seven strikeouts, 19 out of 26 first-pitch strikes, eight guys retired on two pitches or less, two three-ball counts. It was a really good night for him on the mound.”

NOTES

The Pirates managed just two hits off Tampa starter Alex Cobb, but scored two runs in the ninth off closer Alex Colome to tie the game at 2-2. … An error by David Freese in the 10th inning allowed the winning run to score. … Josh Harrison went 2 for 3 with a walk. … Andrew McCutchen, batting third for the first time in over a month, went 2 for 4 with two RBIs. … Gregory Polanco, who had been moved down to the No. 6 spot, went 0 for 3 with a strikeout and a walk.

  • Very good stuff Alan!

  • Great piece, Alan. Lots of insight here.

  • On top of all of this, and more importantly, he’s maintained his strong Twitter game..

    https://twitter.com/MeLlamoTrevor/status/880091769752432640

  • Polanco is on the “Biggest Bust” by the current management.

  • I’m impressed with Williams. Seized his opportunity; adjusting in anticipation of hitters adjusting to him. I like the intangibles with this guy.

    • Williams deserved better. Perhaps only two well-struck balls against him all night. Got dinked and dunked (and shifted) to death last night. Solid performance and he’s clearly above Kuhl on the pecking order.

      • I would go so far as to say TW is most reliable SP besides IN to give Pirates 7 quality innings on a regular basis. In that respect, he’s light years ahead of CK.

        • I could argue that point with you but it really isn’t worth it. I just hope William stays pretty consistent in the rotation. Mercer particularly, & Freese need to pick it up a little defensively.

    • Good points; I agree!!

  • Bust ass to tie it, then extra innings, runner on first, definitely a no-double defensive alignment, and our veteran 3B does an ole’ on a ground ball down the 3B line. We have to be better than that.

    Williams looked very good last night and posted his 3rd QS of June, and the last two have resulted in no-decisions. He earns his starts and has kept competitors for the Rotation at AAA by pitching well enough to keep the Pirates in games.

    • Freese has been bad, outside a hot stretch to start the year. Only 11 extra base hits and the defensive has been terrible. When Marte comes back Harrison needs to slide over to 3B. Frazier back to 2B

      • When I am looking at the future payroll commitments my reaction can change over time from “cool we control player x next year” to “oh no we are stuck with player x next year too!”. Unfortunately I am moving more to the later on Freese but he looks a lot better as a bench player next year than a starter. Now if we just had a third baseman that could mash the ball we’d be better. One that could stay sober and get a visa at least.

        • Polanco for Franco who hangs up the phone first?

          • If you mean Maikel Franco, Pirates do. Polanco has a long-term contract, Franco does not.

          • What a difference a year makes. Most of the Phillies young core is regressing and the supporting cast is a dumpster fire. I live in Philly. It’s really, really bad out here. Hell even Crawford is having an awful year.

        • We drafted a third basemen in the first round last year who can’t play third base. Go figure.

          • we didn’t draft him to play third base…..

            • So they announced him as one and played him there all last year for s’s & g’s?

              • Craig was announced on draft night as a pitcher. I’m almost positive of this because I was all set to throw my TV thinking they were pulling a JVB all over again. Then they corrected it and so I put my TV down.

              • Yes…..I think all of us know he wasn’t going to last as a third baseman, including everyone in the scouting and development department. As Tim has said before, no reason to move him to a less althetic position until its absolutely needed. Me- I think that’s stupid and I just would have moved him to first as soon as I knew that was his long term decision, but hey….it’s not my call.

              • I guess if there was even a 10% chance he could do it succesfully, it would be worth giving him a year there to get a good sense of his skill level, but…….again…….we weren’t expecting him to end up as a big league third baseman, which to me, is the same as saying we didn’t draft him to play third base (in the majors)

                • I still think that speaks to Mike’s point, though. Craig was interesting as a 3B pick, much less so as a 1B.

                  • If you say so. The pirates brass drafted him knowing full well he was going to be a first baseman. We all knew it too, pull up those comments from the draft and the week following, but there was no reason to not let him play 3rd at the lower level to see if he could at least maybe play it at some sort of an emergency level

      • Would be nice to see if Moroff could get untracked and find his power at the MLB level. Frazier seems to have been exposed somewhat – his June has not been good. And his bat (.741 OPS) doesn’t play as a corner OF (and he seems to struggle at PNC vs road). Moroff is the better fielding 2b. If he can find what he had at AAA while at PNC, that would be a big boost.

        Freese was acquired to be a bench player at the corners. Thanks to Kang, he was forced to become a starter. Freese does need a break and probably shouldn’t play more than 4x/week going forward. I can’t get too down on the guy. He didn’t sign up for playing daily.

        • We have like a thousand second basement in the system. We should have a 3 for 1 sale on them and see if we can get a third baseman or outfielder. “Blue light special, Bucs’ system!”

        • Moroff is never going to figure anything out form the bench.

        • It might be nice just to see Moroff. He has only taken Hansons spot in the dugout. It would also be nice t see a catcher who could possibly get a hit now and then.

        • He would prefer to play daily- trust me.

      • Frazier certainly showed off his 2B arm in the 10th. Pirates paid for their misguided strategy of playing an infielder in the outfield again.

        • Even worse, he didn’t start running to back up the play until *after* the ball got past Freese.

          • Scott Kliesen
            June 28, 2017 10:22 am

            Some players look great in part time roles, but get exposed when called on to play every day. I think Frazier may fit in that category of player.

            • especially when he’s playing out of position…..

            • Because baseball is cruel and meaningless and dumb, Adam Frazier has hit .226 (.660 OPS) since David Freese said he’d win a batting title some day. Was hitting .358 before that.

              Low-power guys will always be BABIP-dependent, and that can be just as streaky as your TTO Alvarez types. Frazier is in the valley right now and will eventually get back to a peak, but I agree with you fully. He’s likely not more than a 100-105 wRC+ hitter, and that just doesn’t play in a poorly-defender outfield corner as a starter.

    • Game should’ve never got to the 10th inning. I still can’t believe Polanco didn’t make the Rays pay for playing a shift on him w Cutch on 3rd base in 9th inning. Even a half bad bunt towards 3B gets him a Gatorade shower. I guess bunting for a win isn’t manly enough for him.

      • Andrew Rothstein
        June 28, 2017 9:39 am

        they threw 3 balls out of the strike zone and then put him on …

        • Scott Kliesen
          June 28, 2017 10:17 am

          At least two of those pitches were off the plate outside. Even easier to bunt towards 3B.

          Say what you will, but I’m convinced the odds of Pirates winning were highest with him trying to bunt to beat the shift.

      • For once he wasn’t flailing at pitches way out of the strike zone. I am not complaining.

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