The Nationals find their veteran starter in Trevor Williams

The Nationals find their veteran starter in Trevor Williams

Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

A week ago at the winter meetings, Nationals manager Dave Martinez told reporters that the team was looking to add a veteran starting pitcher. Friday, MASN’s Mark Zuckerman reported that Washington did just that, making its biggest move of the offseason by signing a free agent Trevor Williams. The two-year, $13 million commitment, according to The Athletic’s Stephen J. Nesbittrepresents the team’s third-largest contractual commitment, behind the long-term deals of Stephen Strasburg i Patrick Corbin.

Williams played a big role with the Mets in 2022, starting nine games Jacob de Grom i Max Scherzer they were in the IL early in the season and made 21 relief appearances. Given New York’s glut of solid right-handed relief arms, he didn’t make the roster for the Wild Cards series against the Padres. Had he been with the Nationals in 2022, his 0.6 WAR would have been third on the staff, and his 3.21 ERA and 3.88 FIP would have been fourth (among pitchers who pitched at least 25 innings).

Williams will immediately become the most reliable arm in Washington’s starting rotation. In federal baseball, Patrick Reddington pointed out who had a 1.80 ERA against the Nationals in 2022, so if nothing else, they’ve co-opted a former bully.

Trevor Williams: 2022 stats and 2023 steam projection

season age W L G GS IP k% BB% LOB% WAS FIP WAR
2022 30 3 5 30 9 89.2 22.6 6.2 82.3 3.21 3.88 0.6
2023 31 7 9 41 21 132 17.9 7.2% 70.3 4.79 4.73 0.8

Williams has spent six full seasons in the majors, serving as the Pirates’ full-time starter from 2017 to 2020. He had a career year in 2018, winning 14 games with a 3.11 ERA, before struggling enough in ’19 and ’20. be designated for assignment. He signed with the Cubs before the 2021 season and spent time in his pitching labhoping to correct the mechanical issues that started with an oblique injury in 2019.

Although his ERA didn’t reflect it at the time, Williams pitched much better in 2021, posting a career-high strikeout rate and shaving nearly two runs off his 2020 FIP. After 12 starts, the Cubs he changed it and the headliner Javier Baez to the Mets for Pete Crow-Armstrong at the deadline. He continued to pitch well in three starts and seven relief appearances for the Mets, which was ultimately reflected in his 3.06 ERA.

Williams was a slightly different pitcher in 2021 and ’22. He changed his pitch mix a bit, throwing more four-seamers and fewer sliders, but the big difference was in his release point:

The Nationals find their veteran starter in Trevor Williams

In 2021, Williams began releasing the ball more to the right of the rubber and significantly lower, then dropped it even further in 2022. The results are almost exactly what you’d expect from this change. His flattest four-seamer pitched, posted a career-high 13.8% pop-up rate and developed the biggest platoon splits of his career. In 2022 he allowed a .376 wOBA to lefties and a .274 wOBA to righties, compared to career marks of .337 and .318. Working out of the bullpen also allowed him to face significantly more righties than lefties for just the second time in his career. Here’s his pitching arm angle in 2020 and 22:

Assuming Williams starts for the Nationals, he won’t be able to field as many lefties as he did last year, which will likely affect his performance. On the bright side, he hasn’t faced a major penalty at times in order throughout his career. After two consecutive years with a 3.88 FIP, it seems reasonable to expect his mechanical changes to continue to pay dividends, even if he has to regress a bit.

National Starts: ZiPS 2023 projections

player IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BB% k% WAS+ FIP WAR
Stephen Strasburg 110.7 8.9 2.8 1.1 7.6 23.6 109 3.79 2
MacKenzie Gore 86.3 9.4 4 1 10.1 23.9 98 4.03 1.2
The horses fall 103 9 4.1 1 10.5 23.1 95 4.14 1.3
Josiah Gray 129 9.2 3.3 1.6 8.8 24.1 89 4.68 1.2
John Adon 102.3 7.7 4 1.2 10.0 18.9 80 4.81 0.5
Patrick Corbin 137.3 7.7 3.1 1.6 7.9 19.3 80 4.93 0.6

In the sense that no one knows what to expect from any of Washington’s projected starters, Williams’ ability to provide innings as both a starter and a reliever makes him a natural fit. But considering that the only Nationals starter projected by ZiPS to have an ERA+ over 100 has appeared in a total of eight games over the last three years, adding Williams to the pitching staff is a bit like trying to fill a bathtub with a mystery of plants.

Strasburg had thoracic outlet surgery in 2021 and returned to IL with a rib stress reaction after one start in 2022, general manager Mike Rizzo told reporters. in October that the status of Strasbourg was “still a bit of a mystery”. At the Winter Meetings two months later, he revealed that Strasburg still hadn’t started pitching. I highly recommend this Washington Post article by Jesse Dougherty on Strasburg’s fight to return to action.

The Nationals have it confirmed that Corbin will be in the rotation in 2023. The less said about this the better. Adon found himself in rhythm 20 losses midseason, but was optioned to Triple-A Rochester in June.

The starting rotation includes three young starters with real upside in Gray, Cavalli and Gore. Eric Longenhagen ranked Cavalli as Washington’s top prospect in July. He has a big arm, great stuff and command issues. He only made one major league start in 2022 and was shut down in September due to shoulder pain that required a cortisone shot. However, Martinez announced at the Winter Meetings that Cavalli signed up for next year’s rotation

Gore’s career has been documented widely here at FanGraphs, so much so multiple articles he has referred to this as a saga. The 2022 version of Gore started strong enough to push him early Rookie of the year debate, but the lefty’s velocity and performance began to decline in June. He was put on the IL in July with elbow soreness before being traded to the Nationals. Martinez confirmed that Gore was on track to be ready for spring training.

Gray didn’t make the jump many expected to see in his first full big league season in 2022. Over 28 starts, he posted a negative WAR with a 5.02 ERA and a 5.86 FIP. Despite getting fewer whiffs, his slider remained his best pitch. His curveball and changeup saw no real improvement, and his four-seam machine took a major step back; hitters had a .429 wOBA and 45.1% hard hitting against. By the end of the season, he was throwing it just 35% of the time.

This is the starting rotation that Williams will join. It’s doubtful he’ll be the piece that puts Washington over the NL East. The Braves won the World Series in 2021 and had the NL’s second-best record in 2022. Both the Mets and Phillies just signed free agents for the raw domestic product of a small island nation. (This is not entirely a joke. Turner: $300 million; Verlander, Nimmo, Senga, Quintana and Robertson: $358 million; GDP from the Marshall Islands: $271 million.)

But while Williams is in no danger of dragging the Nationals into contention, the ability to get the ball to a reliable starter at least once every five days should make a team that won just 55 games last year very less painful to watch. And if nothing else, the Nationals still have it Joey Meneses.

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