Brewers: Devin Williams Has Gone From Prospect to a Top Bullpen Option
By Matt Carroll
No one knew exactly what to expect from Brewers reliever Devin Williams in 2020. His performance, so far, has been outstanding.
When the Brewers have found success in recent years, a common theme has been a strong bullpen, particularly on the back end. But going into 2020, few knew exactly who was going to land in those high-leverage setup roles, outside of two-time NL Reliever of the Year, Josh Hader.
Last year, a majority of those high-leverage innings, prior to handing the ball over to Hader for the close, went to either Junior Guerra, Jeremy Jeffress, or, toward the end of the year, Drew Pomeranz. Those three pitchers are now with the Diamondbacks, Cubs, and Padres, respectively.
Corey Knebel, who missed all of 2019 after Tommy John surgery but was a huge part of the pen in 2018, was one possible candidate. However, no one knew what to expect as he returned from injury this year, and he has mostly struggled so far in 2020.
So, without a clear candidate for the team’s setup roles, it was going to have to be up to someone to grab on of the spots for themselves. With 20 games in the books for the Brewers, young Devin Williams has done just that.
Williams has given up just one earned run so far this season while pitching almost exclusively in the seventh and eighth innings. But it’s the way that he has baffled hitters that has made him such an effective weapon late in games.
Williams has been elite in comparison to the rest of the league in regards to erasing batters in 2020.
Williams has been effective this season by mostly using a two-pitch mix that utilizes a high-90s fastball and a changeup that is one of the best in the league and one of the most unhittable pitches on the team. It’s a combo that has even caught the eye of Pitching Ninja, a connoisseur of filthy pitches.
Byron Buxton isn’t the only hitter to fall victim to Williams’s deadly arsenal this year. Williams has struck out 17 batters in 8 2/3 innings, which equates to a 17.7 K/9 that is good for second among active Brewers relievers behind just Freddy Peralta and ranks him in the 98th percentile in the league per Statcast.
Williams’s changeup continues to rank among the best in the league in both horizontal and vertical movement to similar average changeups. That’s probably part of the reason why his 49.3% whiff percentage not only is tops on the Brewers, but also in the 100th percentile in the league according to Statcast.
If you didn’t see this amazing start coming, you weren’t the only one. Williams had a decent 3.95 ERA in limited appearances in 2019 and a less-than-desirable 1.756 WHIP. Coming into this season as the team’s No. 13 prospect on MLB Pipeline’s Top 30 meant there was potential, but few saw him being this good, this fast.
The emergence of Williams has been huge for Milwaukee this year. The team’s offense has left little margin for error when they’ve been able to hand a lead over to the bullpen. Having reliable options like Williams, Hader, and newcomer David Phelps has resulted in most of those leads becoming wins.
If he continues to pitch like he has so far in 2020, Williams will continue being one of the team’s top options in high-leverage situations. Brewers fans probably wouldn’t mind if that were also the case for years to come.