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Monday a big step for Williams, whose early benching is valid

It’s been a trying start to the season for the Phillies, to say the least, but one of the most frustrated responses to the team’s new style has not come from a fan or announcer, but rather from outfielder Nick Williams. After only starting two of the team’s first six games to start 2018, compared to starting 78 out of 85 games in the back half of 2017, Williams publicly called out Gabe Kapler’s analytical style of managing, which he felt was costing him playing time.

“I guess the computers are making [the lineup], I don’t know,” Williams said. “I don’t get any of it, but what can I do? I’m not going to complain about it because I have zero power. I’m just letting it ride.”

Going into 2018, Williams was projected to be a regular starter after a mostly impressive rookie season, but that simply hasn’t been the case so far. Though we’re about two weeks into the season (and Williams just helped his cause with a game-winning pinch home run Monday night), it’s still worth taking a closer look at Williams’ performance and trying to assess whether he’s justified in feeling that his time on the bench is unfair.

With only 17 plate appearances so far this year, the fact that Williams has only four hits and five strikeouts is irrelevant. In terms of his 2018 numbers, his spring training statistics may be a bit more telling. It’s certainly easy to dismiss spring numbers, as they’re all gathered from exhibition games, but 54 at bats over the course of a month can be at least a little more telling than what he’s posted so far in the regular season.

It was certainly a rough spring for Williams, as he posted a shockingly low .273 on-base percentage, no home runs and 16 strikeouts. The strikeouts aren’t terribly surprising, as he did struggle with those in 2017, but the drop in on-base percentage is certainly notable, down from .338 in his rookie season and .375 during that year’s spring training. Keep in mind, as well, that this spring was Kapler’s first chance to see Williams up close, and no manager, regardless of his approach, is going to look at that performance and be impressed.

Better in 2017

While the spring performance may explain why Kapler’s been hesitant to start Williams regularly, it’s still not a good measure of whether or not he deserves to be a mainstay in the lineup. To try and determine that, we need to go back to his numbers last year and take a closer look.

It’s easy to see on the surface that Williams had a good batting average, solid extra-base power and also struggled with too many strikeouts and too few walks. But one thing that sticks out is that he excelled in batting average on balls in play, hitting .375 when he made contact. This makes sense given his high strikeout rate and solid overall batting average, and it shows that if he can cut back on the whiffs, he could very well see a significant spike in his hitting performance.

Weighted On-Base Average (wOBA) and weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) were two other advanced statistics in which Williams performed well. Both look to credit hitters with the value of each plate appearance outcome, and Williams posted a wOBA of .344 and a wRC+ of 110, both generally considered to be above average. With wOBA taking into consideration how players contribute to overall run scoring and wRC+ taking ballpark and league effects into consideration, these statistics show that Williams was overall quite valuable in the Phils’ scoring efforts last year.

Though Williams could certainly stand to show more patience at the plate, I still believe that, given his overall strong numbers from 2017, he should ultimately be given more opportunities to start than he’s been given so far this season. It’s certainly true that he could turn out to be a bust, but it’s far too early in the year to tell if that’s going to be the case, and I feel that he’s earned the chance to properly prove himself further.

Admittedly, while I haven’t been a fan of a lot of the moves that Kapler have made so far in 2018, I can’t necessarily put much of the blame on him for not playing Williams very much. Sure he’s the one making the lineups, but he’s also been saddled with a deep, young group; he has to decide between Williams, Odubel Herrera and Aaron Altherr for two outfield spots. It’s a tough decision to make every game and is one that can certainly be influenced by things like spring numbers and, then, the player publicly criticizing lineup decisions.

Williams may have had a legitimate point when he called out Kapler’s decision-making process, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it was the right thing to do. When you want more playing time, you work on the aspects of your game that need fixing and show off your improvements when you do get chances to bat, not complain (despite his insistence that he wasn’t) to the media for everyone to hear. Monday was definitely a step in the right direction, and hopefully he continues proving himself from there.

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