It has been nearly three months since I wrote that Nick Williams may be “breaking out” for the Philadelphia Phillies. He was coming off a four-hit night, slamming a pair of homers to help the Phillies win 9-4 in Cincinnati.
Over a period of two months and 54 games from May 23 through that July 26 night in Cincy, Williams had slashed .280/.354/.520 with 11 home runs and 30 RBI over 195 plate appearances. That is a third-of-a-season worth of work.
The Phillies went 31-25 in that stretch, moving from second place and 1.5 games off the lead in the National League East Division to first place and 2.5 games up.
It appears that I may have been guilty for one of the few times during this past summer by getting swept up in the Phillies mid-summer run to the top of the division.
As the team collapsed over the final two months, Williams own performance declined as well. Over the final 46 games he slashed .246/.301/.352 with just eight total extra-base hits and 11 RBI across 153 plate appearances.
By mid-September his season was pretty much over, done in by hand and shoulder injuries that limited Williams to just a single pinch-hitting appearance (in which he struck out) and three appearances as a pinch-runner.
“It hurts the way this season ended,” Williams said per Rob Parent for the Delco Times. “Especially because I’ve been hurt the whole month of September. … It’s a struggle I’ve actually been through, in (2016).”
It’s still very hard to know what the Phillies have in Williams, who came to the Phillies as part of the package from the Texas Rangers in exchange for Cole Hamels back in late July 2015.
Over the full course of the 2018 season, Williams hit .262 with a .452 slugging percentage against right-handers. Against southpaws the lefty swinger hit just .232 and slugged at a weak .317 mark. Those numbers reveal that he may be best suited for a platoon role.
Another interesting split for Williams were his numbers in the Phillies wins and losses. You would expect players to have lower numbers in games in which their team lost. But Williams numbers in such situations appear extremely exaggerated.
During the 71 Phillies wins in which he played, Williams slashed .327/.406/.573 with 24 extra-base hits including 13 home runs. He played in 69 of their losses, slashing a putrid .179/.230/265 with just eight extra-base hits.
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He was given 239 plate appearances in the victorious games, 209 in the losing efforts, so the opportunities were similar.
He did come through at clutch time for the Phillies. Williams was .306/.386/.516 over 70 “late and close” situations and hit .274 with a .504 slugging percentage in 123 plate appearances during which the games were tied.
When the Phillies either led or trailed by four runs or more, Williams slashed just .219/.265/313 with three extra-base hits over 68 plate appearances.
To me, the numbers reveal Williams to be a “follower”, the type of player who catches fire when the rest of the team is on, but not one who is capable of lighting those fires himself. He also appears to be a “red-light” player, one who is capable of producing when the chips are down, but who perhaps loses concentration when they are not.
One positive thing stood out for me and should have to anyone who watched the now 25-year-old perform this season. Williams never stopped busting it. Accused at one point in his minor league career of coasting, he genuinely appeared to be going all out this summer on most nights, especially while the team was enjoying its greatest run of success.
To me, it all adds up to a couple of things. First, Williams showed enough, especially considering his age and that this was his first full season, to warrant another opportunity to start in the Phillies outfield.
However, because of the splits the club needs to have a solid right-handed bat to give him a break against at least the toughest lefty arms.
From what I got to see this season, Williams can start in the big-leagues. Can he start full-time for a contending team in Major League Baseball? That remains an open question. Williams himself recognizes the opportunity is there for himself and the team to become something special, as he was further quoted by Parent:
“We’re young. We should be really good for a long time. We have a lot of athletes. Maybe this will make us crazy good for the next few years to come, because we know how it feels to lose; to get our butts kicked. That’s never a good feeling. But I think it’s going to make everybody humbled and make them that much hungrier here.“
Williams still needs to show that hunger in all situations, winning or losing, up by one run or down by four. If he wants to be counted on as a starter on a contending Phillies ball club, he is going to have to walk the walk as well as he talks the talk.
There has been much speculation regarding the Phillies going hard after Bryce Harper in free agency. Whether they are successful in that pursuit or not, I wouldn’t be against Williams opening the 2019 season in a left field platoon split with a 28-year-old Aaron Altherr, who also shows talent at times but also still has much to prove.
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