Born: April 25, 1992
Height: 6’3″
Weight: 230
Bats: Right
Throws: Right
Drafted: 2nd Round, 44th Overall, 2013 (Marlins)
How Acquired: Trade (from Marlins for Richard Mitchell)
College: Arizona State University
Agent: N/A

(Pirates Prospects/David Hague)


Williams had a strong sophomore season at Arizona State, going 12-2, 2.05, but struggled to a 6-6, 4.12 record in his junior season.  Miami still took him in the second round.  He throws four- and two-seam fastballs in the low-90s, getting as high as 96 when he pitches in shorter stints.  His best secondary pitch is a change, as he’s had trouble developing a consistent breaking ball.  By 2014 he was throwing a slider more than a curve.  Williams produces a lot of groundballs, keeps the ball in the park and has good control, but doesn’t miss many bats.  Except during limited action in his first pro season, he’s had no platoon split.  The Pirates acquired Williams from the Marlins for rookie-level right-hander Richard Mitchell, who almost certainly isn’t a prospect.  The deal occurred on the same day on which Miami hired pitching guru Jim Benedict away from the Pirates, and a short time after the Marlins also hired Pirates special assistant Marc DelPiano.  It was eventually reported that the trade was compensation for the hiring of Benedict.

R:  0-0-0, 9.00 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 2.0 IP, 0.0 BB/9, 4.5 K/9
A-:  0-2-0, 2.48 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 29.0 IP, 2.5 BB/9, 6.2 K/9
A:  0-0-0, 0.00 ERA, 0.67 WHIP, 3.0 IP, 0.0 BB/9, 9.0 K/9

After being drafted, Williams pitched mainly in the short-season New York-Penn League.  He made ten starts, but the Marlins obviously limited his innings.  He showed good control but didn’t miss many bats.  Baseball America rated him the 11th best prospect in a weak Marlins’ system after the season.

A+:  8-6-0, 2.79 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 129.0 IP, 2.0 BB/9, 6.3 K/9
AA:  0-1-0, 6.00 ERA, 1.87 WHIP, 15.0 IP, 3.6 BB/9, 8.4 K/9

Williams got good results in the Florida State League, at least in terms of ERA.  He still didn’t miss many bats and opponents hit .284 against him in a league where the average was .258.  Williams allowed only five HRs, though, and his opponents’ OPS of .689 was a little under the league average of .711.  He struggled in three starts after a late-season promotion to AA.  BA rated him eighth in the Marlins’ system after the season, which probably says as much about the weakness of that system as it does about Williams.

AA:  7-8-0, 4.00 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 117.0 IP, 2.8 BB/9, 6.8 K/9
AAA:  0-2-0, 2.57 ERA, 1.57 WHIP, 14.0 IP, 4.5 BB/9, 8.4 K/9

Williams pitched about the same in AA as the previous year, although his ERA was a lot higher.  He did walk more hitters.  Opponents batted .275 against him and his HR rate doubled.  He had trouble throwing strikes in three late-season games in AAA, which is something that can happen with finesse pitchers who find it harder to get higher-level hitters to chase pitches out of the strike zone.

A+:  1-0-0, 0.00 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, 5.0 IP, 0.0, BB/9, 7.2 K/9
AAA:  9-6-0, 2.53 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 110.1 IP, 2.4 BB/9, 6.0 K/9

MLB:  1-1-0, 7.82 ERA, 1.90 WHIP, 12.2 IP, 3.6 BB/9, 7.8 K/9

The Pirates sent Williams to Indianapolis to open the season, but he came out early in his first start with shoulder discomfort.  He returned in late May and struggled through his first six starts, but pitched extremely well after that.  In those first six outings (not counting the aborted start in which he got hurt), Williams had a 5.06 ERA and 1.78 WHIP.  In his remaining 13 outings, including one in relief, he had a 1.50 ERA and 0.96 WHIP.  The Pirates didn’t call him up until September, though, and even then were more interested in wasting innings on veterans like Ryan Vogelsong than in giving Williams opportunities.  He made six relief appearances and one start, struggling most of the time.  He didn’t do well with right-handed hitters, but left-handed hitters torched him for a 350/409/950 line.  His four-seam fastball averaged 93.5 mph and his sinker 91.5.  He threw a lot of sliders but his change was probably his most effective pitch.  Williams had a solid 45.5% groundball rate, but was hurt by a .366 BABIP.  His xFIP was a much more respectable (than his ERA) 4.30.  That probably reflected the BABIP and an extremely high HR/FB ratio of 30.8%.

MLB:  7-9-0, 4.07 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 150.1 IP, 3.1 BB/9, 7.0 K/9

Williams went into spring training competing for the team’s fifth starter spot, but lost out to Tyler Glasnow. The team kept him as a reliever, though, and he ended up in the rotation a week into May when Jameson Taillon had cancer surgery.  His first start was a disaster, but he rebounded quickly and pitched well most of the rest of the season.  As a starter, he had a 3.96 ERA and 1.28 WHIP.  Excluding that terrible first start (admittedly not the best analytical technique), he had a 3.65 ERA.  Williams finished the season strongly, with a 3.48 ERA over his last 11 starts, with eight of the 22 earned runs he allowed coming in one meltdown.  He had a smaller platoon split than many of the Pirates’ starters, allowing an OPS of .688 to right-handed hitters and .742 to left-handed hitters.  His K rate improved from 6.3 per nine innings in his first 14 starts to 7.7 in his last 11.

MLB:  14-10-0, 3.11 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 170.2 IP, 2.9 BB/9, 6.6 K/9

Williams had a remarkable season.  He didn’t have a good first half, with ERAs in May and June of 5.51 and 5.32, respectively.  On July 11, though, he started a remarkable run in which he allowed just four runs over nine starts.  In his last 13 starts, he had an ERA of 1.29.  The big question, of course, is how much of this is sustainable.  The advanced stats weren’t buying it; Williams’ xFIP was 4.54 on the season.  There’s no single, obvious explanation for the gap between that and his ERA.  He had a batting average on balls in play of .261, which is low but not outlandishly so.  Williams’ strand rate of 76.6% was just a little over the norm of about 73%.  His HR/FB rate — xFIP normalizes HR rate — was 8.0%, moderately below the norm of 12-13%, but some of that was probably PNC Park, which depresses home runs.  Williams obviously didn’t walk or strike out a lot of batters.  He was slightly more effective against left-handed than right-handed pitchers.

AAA:  0-1-0, 6.00 ERA, 1.67 WHIP, 3.0 IP, 3.0 BB/9, 15.0 K/9
MLB:  7-9-0, 5.38 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 145.2 IP, 2.7 BB/9, 7.0 K/9

Williams was not able to repeat his 2018 success.  He pitched well through mid-May, with a 3.33 ERA, but went on the injured list at that point with a strain in his right side.  After returning he struggled severely, with a 6.58 ERA the rest of the way.  Opponents hammered him for a 302/361/586 batting line, including 23 home runs in just 91.2 IP.  On the season, Williams’ home run rate more than doubled, from 0.8 per nine innings the year before to 1.7.  Left-handed hitters posted a huge, .952 OPS against him.  Right-handed hitters did well enough, with a .777 OPS that included a .479 slugging average.  His ERA wasn’t likely a matter of bad luck, as his xFIP was nearly identical at 5.25.  All of his batted ball indicators — exit velocity, launch angle, barrel % and hard hit % — increased from 2018.

MLB:  2-8-0, 6.18 ERA, 1.57 WHIP, 55.1 IP, 3.4 BB/9, 8.0 K/9

Williams unfortunately picked up where he left off in 2019.  Like other Pirate pitchers, he reduced his fastball usage in favor of his breaking stuff.  The change helped him increase his K rate, but he continued getting hit extremely hard, leading MLB in home runs allowed.  Opponents slugged .543 against him, .708 by right-handed hitters.

The Pirates have a decision to make with Williams.  He’s be eligible for arbitration for a second time.  Even for a team that wasn’t as incredibly cheap as the Pirates, it’d be a questionable expenditure.

UPDATE:  The Pirates did, in fact, designate Williams for assignment after the season.

2020: $2,825,000
2018: $569,500
2017: $544,000
Signing Bonus: $1,261,400
MiLB Debut: 2013
MLB Debut: 9/7/2016
MiLB FA Eligible: N/A
MLB FA Eligible: 2022
Rule 5 Eligible: N/A
Added to 40-Man: 9/6/2016
Options Remaining: 3
MLB Service Time: 4.027
June 7, 2013: Drafted by the Miami Marlins in the 2nd round, 44th overall pick; signed on June 20.
October 24, 2015: Traded by the Miami Marlins to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Richard Mitchell.
September 6, 2016: Contract purchased by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
November 20, 2020: Designated for assignment by the Pittsburgh Pirates.