Our 2020 Milwaukee Brewers season report card series continues as today we will grade the season of breakout reliever Devin Williams.
Devin Williams emerging as a lockdown reliever was by far the biggest surprise for the Milwaukee Brewers this 2020 season. The former second round pick made his MLB debut in 2019 and was simply average in the 13 innings he covered that season, but something clicked for him in year two.
After giving up three runs, one earned, in his second appearance of the season, “Airbender” Williams was absolutely dominant the rest of the way in 2020. It ended up earning him the NL Reliever of the Year award and produced one of the greatest seasons for a reliever that Brewers fans, and baseball fans in general, have ever seen.
Devin Williams 2020 Report Card
The biggest change Williams made in 2020 was that he essentially stopped throwing his sinker. Statcast indicates he threw that pitch 39% of the time in 2019 compared to just 3.5% this season. His new game plan was to utilize his best pitch, the changeup, and he did that to a tune of 52% and combined that with his 96-98MPH heater 42% of the time.
Williams’ results in 2020 speak to the success of his new changeup/fastball combo. His changeup is the best on the planet as it possesses not only elite levels of vertical movement, but insane horizontal movement as well. On average, his changeup breaks 18.1 inches horizontally. When this is compared to pitchers with similar changeup velocities, his had 35% more horizontal break!
His numbers get even better when you consider that in 62 chances, opposing batters recorded just two hits against his changeup all season. Both of the hits allowed were singles, the batting average against the changeup for the season was .032, and batters whiffed on the pitch 61% of the time!
Of course his fastball was a pretty good pitch for him as well. Opposing batters hit just .200 against this pitch and collected just five hits. Two of the hits against his fastball went for extra bases and the one home run he allowed this season came on July 27 when Colin Moran hit a solo shot.
In a shortened season, Williams set a new single season record for strikeout percentage. His 53% strikeout rate topped the previous best in a single season of 52.5% that was previously held by Aroldis Chapman. He also added a 17.7 strikeouts per nine innings pitched to go with this as well!
While a 0.33 ERA is not very realistic for Williams to do again in 2021, Brewer fans should be encouraged that because his changeup is unlike anyone else’s in the league, he should remain a dominant force in the bullpen for seasons to come.
His ability to command a high 80’s changeup for strikes this year was impressive and he easily keeps hitters off balance by throwing his fastball at 96-98MPH as well. His ability to command the changeup for strikes and this pitch combination will likely keep him relevant for quite some time.
The only additional stat you could have maybe wished for this season was for Devin Williams to record saves. Being a MLB closer is a different mindset than your typical high-leverage reliever, but given the shortened season and already dominant reliever Josh Hader in the closer’s role, installing Williams as the closer this season did not make much sense. However, if the 2021 season returns to normal, I would expect to see Williams get chances at closing games out.
Given he never had the chance, not recording a save is by no means a knock on Devin Williams 2020 season grade. He was clearly the best reliever for the Brewers this season. Maybe even the best reliever in the MLB. Maybe even the best on the planet.