Earlier this week I wrote about how the Pirates were looking like legit contenders. That was based on the fact that the team is currently winning, despite the lack of results from some of their expected top performers. The idea was that they would eventually get better performances from some of those top guys, offsetting some potential declines from the guys who are unexpectedly over-performing.
One of the surprises that I brought up was Trevor Williams. I mentioned that I expected him to eventually regress, as his numbers weren’t as good as his surface ERA. At the time of the article, Williams had a 2.29 ERA in 35.1 innings, but his 5.08 xFIP pointed to a serious regression, mostly due to his 2.6% HR/FB ratio.
In his last start, Williams gave up two home runs. This isn’t how regression works. You don’t have six starts where you are lucky in an area, then have one start where you’re equally unlucky in the same stat to make it even out. The idea is more that in all future starts, Williams will be closer to a 10% HR/FB ratio, rather than the 2.6% he had prior to the last start.
It’s possible that Williams could fall below the 10% mark. It’s also possible he could go above that mark. The league average is a 13.2% HR/FB ratio. Williams has been at 10.5% in his career. Pitchers typically need 400 fly balls before their HR/FB ratio stabilizes, and Williams has 200 so far, so that 10.5% isn’t exactly locked in.
That said, it would be unlikely for him to finish with such a low number, even at his increased 6.5% rate after his last start.
There were 134 pitchers who threw 100+ innings last year, and no one finished lower than 7.6%, with only two pitchers finishing below 8%. Only seven pitchers finished below 9%. There have been pitchers in the past who have finished with lower numbers, although that’s generally not a repeatable skill.
It’s possible that Williams could go throughout the year with a lucky HR/FB ratio. It’s doubtful that he would do this over his entire career though.
Making matters worse this year is the fact that he’s got a .209 BABIP and an 80.9% strand rate. The league average for starters this year is .286 and 72.7%. The career totals for Williams are a .281 BABIP and a 72.1% strand rate, so he should be expected to perform close to those averages. Again, he doesn’t have enough balls in play for a reliable stabilization rate, but until he reaches that point in any category, I’d expect the league average, which is what he’s showing so far.
What this means is that it’s not just an increase in home runs that Williams should see in the future. He’ll also see more balls in play falling for hits, and more runners scoring, rather than being stranded. His 4.17 FIP reflects these numbers, and the 5.02 xFIP adds in the normalized HR/FB ratio.
So what can Williams do to offset this?
For starters, he can increase his strikeout rate. He’s striking out guys at a 16.1% rate, which is down from 18% the last two years. More strikeouts means fewer balls in play, which will reduce the damage when his BABIP normalizes.
He could also reduce his walks. He has an 11.1% walk rate, up from about 8% prior to this year. If he’s expected to give up more hits, then offsetting those with fewer walks would help.
Finally, he could increase his ground ball rate. He had a 48% ground ball rate last year, but has been at 36.8% this year. The combination of more fly balls, plus the expected HR/FB correction, will not be good for him. The HR/FB stat is a rate stat, which means it doesn’t matter how many fly balls Williams gives up — he’ll see about 10% or more going for home runs. Fewer fly balls will mean fewer home runs.
I wouldn’t bank on Williams continuing his run of an ERA below 3.00. I’d enjoy it while it lasts, while realizing that he’s a prime regression candidate. But Williams can limit the impact of that regression with more strikeouts, fewer walks, and more ground balls. Considering he’s already put up better numbers in those areas than what he’s shown this year, it’s not out of the question to see him showing those improvements going forward.
Expect a regression from Williams, but hope he improves in those other key categories in the process.
Today’s Starter and Notes: The Pittsburgh Pirates lost 5-3 to the Milwaukee Brewers on Saturday night. The Pirates will send Chad Kuhl to the mound today for his seventh start. He pitched 4.2 innings in his last start, allowing four runs on four hits and two walks. In his two prior starts combined, Kuhl surrendered four earned runs over 12 innings. The Brewers will counter with right-handed pitcher Chase Anderson, who has a 3.38 ERA in 40 innings over seven starts, with 27 strikeouts and a 1.13 WHIP. He allowed four runs over 5.1 innings against the Cincinnati Reds in his last start.
The minor league schedule includes the second rehab start from Joe Musgrove, who went three innings for Bradenton in his first game. He moves up to Altoona today and is scheduled to throw four innings. Clay Holmes tries to bounce back from three runs and five walks in five innings during his last start. In his two previous outings, he threw shutout ball. West Virginia was rained out yesterday, so they will play a doubleheader today with Gavin Wallace returning from the disabled list in one game and Travis MacGregor starting in the second game. Wallace last pitched on April 26th and left after three innings. MacGregor had eight strikeouts in each of his last two starts. No starter is listed for Bradenton yet.
MLB: Pittsburgh (18-16) @ Milwaukee (20-14) 2:10 PM
Probable starter: Chad Kuhl (5.01 ERA, 28:10 SO/BB, 32.1 IP)
AAA: Indianapolis (14-12) vs Gwinnnett (10-17) 1:35 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Clay Holmes (3.38 ERA, 15:10 SO/BB, 16.0 IP)
AA: Altoona (15-12) vs Erie (10-18) 2:00 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Joe Musgrove (0.00 ERA, 0:0 SO/BB, 0.0 IP)
High-A: Bradenton (17-12) @ Charlotte (14-15) 12:35 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: TBD (0.00 ERA, 0:0 SO/BB, 0.0 IP)
Low-A: West Virginia (15-13) vs Hickory (9-17) 2:05 PM DH (season preview)
Probable starter: Gavin Wallace (4.95 ERA, 14:2 SO/BB, 20.0 IP) and Travis MacGregor (2.42 ERA, 36:6 SO/BB, 22.1 IP)
From Indianapolis on Friday night, here is the home run from Kevin Kramer, followed by a strikeout pitch from Alex McRae. The homer is the third of the season for Kramer.
— Indianapolis Indians (@indyindians) May 5, 2018
McRae’s strikeout pitch
— Indianapolis Indians (@indyindians) May 5, 2018
5/5: Braeden Ogle placed on West Virginia disabled list. Gavin Wallace activated from DL.
5/4: Pedro Vasquez promoted to Altoona. Sean Keselica assigned to Morgantown.
5/1: Joe Musgrove assigned to Bradenton on rehab.
4/29: Pirates recall Nick Kingham. Enny Romero placed on disabled list.
4/29: Brett McKinney added to Indianapolis roster.
4/27: Bo Schultz promoted to Indianapolis. Adam Oller promoted to Bradenton.
4/27: Gavin Wallace placed on disabled list. Beau Sulser and Drew Fischer added to West Virginia.
4/26: Todd Cunningham traded to Chicago White Sox for a player to be named later.
THIS DATE IN PIRATES HISTORY
Six former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, including a member of the last World Series team. Before we get to them, one of the Pirates best known pitching performances happened on this date in 1951. Cliff Chambers threw the second complete game no-hitter in franchise history and first in 44 years. Facing the Boston Braves in the second game of a doubleheader, Chambers pitched the no-hitter despite issuing eight walks. He won 3-0 and managed to keep the Braves off the board, while only retiring the side in order three times. You can view the boxscore here.
The Pirates had two shortened no-hitters back in 1906-07, which at the time were official, but rule changes a little while back said that shortened games were no longer official. I’m of the belief that they should still count because under the rules of the time they were official and anything after the new rules were put in place would be the ones that didn’t count. In the case of Howie Camnitz’s no-hitter in 1907, it was agreed upon prior to the game, that the two teams would play five innings in the second game of a doubleheader. The other game was six innings by Lefty Leifield and it was called due to darkness.
Players born on this date include:
Alberto Lois, outfielder/pinch-runner for the 1978-79 Pirates. He played 11 games during the 1979 World Series winning season, all as a pinch-runner.
Dick Cole, infielder in 1951 and then 1953-56. Came to the Pirates in a trade for Cliff Chambers just over a month after the no-hitter mentioned above.
Earl Turner, catcher in 1948 and 1950. Hit .240 in 42 games. Only made 13 career starts.
Bob Chesnes, pitcher from 1948 until 1950. Pirates traded three players and $100,000 to acquired him from San Francisco of the Pacific Coast League.
Luke Boone, 1918 shortstop. Native of Pittsburgh, who collected over 2,200 hits in the minors.
Ed Karger, 1906 pitcher. He pitched just 28 innings for the Pirates. The following year, he threw a seven-inning perfect game in the second game of a doubleheader, with the two teams agreeing to seven innings prior to the game. It’s not actually considered an official perfect game despite the fact it was a complete game.