Devin Williams is just the third Brewers player to win the Rookie of the Year award in franchise history, joining Ryan Braun (2007) and Pat Listach (1992).
This year’s NL Rookie of the Year balloting came down to a simple, yet complex decision. Do the voters put a higher emphasis on the numbers and statistics of a player or on the player’s ability to impact the game every single game rather then every other game?
Which is more important: Pure dominance while playing in only one-third of the games or simply being very good in nearly all of the games. This was a difficult decision for a lot of the Rookie of the Year voters.
Historically, voters have rewarded the everyday position players and relievers, especially non-closers, have had a tough time in these awards. However, Brewers reliever Devin Williams was able to pull ahead to win the Rookie of the Year award in 2020.
Of the Brewers three ROY winners, Williams had the lowest share of first place votes with just 14 out of the 30 possible (Braun had 17, Listach 20). What was shocking to many was the fact that the two voters from the Milwaukee chapter of the BBWAA gave their first place vote to Alec Bohm instead of Williams.
One of them, Andrew Wagner, offered an explanation on Twitter for his vote.
… which is no knock on Williams — it’s not his job to be out there every day and I get that — but I also took into account that Bohm, like all players this year, didn’t have access to the usual in-game video/etc, but was able to make adjustments on the fly each day…
— Andrew Wagner (@ByAndrewWagner) November 10, 2020
As mentioned earlier in the article, this vote was a debate between the importance of playing everyday over dominating in just one-third of the games. Wagner leaned towards playing everyday, which is a perfectly defensible position.
But in the end, the pure dominance of Williams won him this award. How did this dominance show itself? There were several key moments during the season that pushed Williams to this award, let’s look at the top three.
July 27th vs. Pirates
Devin Williams gives up his only earned run of the season
It may be hard to believe that an outing in which Williams gave up a run was instrumental in him winning an award, but it absolutely was. Because after this, he didn’t give up another earned run the rest of the season.
This was his second outing of the season, he gave up a home run off a fastball to Colin Moran of the Pirates and after that, he was lights out.
Williams still struck out three in 1.1 IP in that outing and the Brewers won that game 6-5.
Over his final 20 outings in the final two months of the season, Williams didn’t allow a single earned run and only six total hits.
August 11th vs. Twins
Devin Williams catches the attention of Pitching Ninja
While the game was still tied with the Twins 4-4, Devin Williams came in to pitch the 8th inning. He started off by striking out Mitch Garver and ended the inning by striking out Byron Buxton. He went changeup-changeup-fastball to Buxton and made him look absolutely silly while doing it.
Devin Williams, sir, this isn’t entirely fair.
Two wicked changeups and then dotting 98. pic.twitter.com/whi1lLgOMY
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) August 12, 2020
This was where Pitching Ninja, friend of the Cold Brew Podcast, first discovered the nastiness of Williams and that was not going to the last time Pitching Ninja featured Williams on his page.
The attention that Pitching Ninja brought to Williams’ changeup set off a firestorm of the rest of baseball media taking notice. Now everyone was becoming aware of the phenomenon that was Devin Williams and that kind of publicity is what helped lead to the BBWAA voters across the country deciding that Williams deserved the ROY award.
From that outing on, it was all eyes on Williams from around the baseball world and he did not disappoint. The continued coverage of Williams from Pitching Ninja and others in the weeks following is what led to him getting recognized with this award.
September 22nd vs. Reds
Devin Williams mows down the Reds in multi-inning outing
Towards the end of the season, Williams was making a final push for the Rookie of the Year award and the Brewers were making a push for a playoff spot. Williams is given the 7th and 8th innings to work and protect a 3-2 Brewers lead.
In the 7th inning, he strikes out Tucker Barnhart and Brian Goodwin before getting Brewer-killer Nicholas Castellanos to ground out to short.
Then in the 8th inning, with a one run lead, Williams has to face the heart of the Reds order in Joey Votto, Eugenio Suarez, and Mike Moustakas.
Williams struck out all of them, and made them look silly while doing it.
When you can make Joey Votto, one of the best pure hitters in the league, look as bad as he did in that at-bat, you’ve really done something.
Three of the best hitters in the league and the three best hitters in the Reds lineup all faced Williams and none of them could do a thing against his fastball-changeup combo. To quote Dan Plesac, he stepped in a big ol’ bucket of sassy!
Also, showcasing his ability to go multiple innings also could’ve helped win over some voters in the ROY race. It gave him some more innings on the year, especially since his 27 total innings was still viewed as a hindrance to him getting votes.
The push for Williams to wind up winning this award wasn’t entirely predicated on big moments, as it was more of just a continued dominance and staying at that level all season long.
These were the moments that really stuck out in a season of domination and likely had as much impact as any single game performance could for Williams to win.
The Brewers are certainly excited about the prospect of having Williams in that bullpen for a full 162 game season next year and for several years beyond.