Williams has appeared in 13 games in 2021 which includes 12 starts and one appearance out of the bullpen when he first returned from the Injured List. He has a 5.06 ERA in 58.2 innings with a 1.53 WHIP in 2021, which compares similarly to the rest of his career.
Williams’ best season in the MLB came in 2018 with the Pittsburgh Pirates when he had a 3.11 ERA in 170.2 innings. The Cubs undoubtedly were hoping he would return to similar form for them in 2021, but a mixture of an emergency appendectomy and inconsistency has Williams closer to his other three full professional seasons (including 2020).
Reasons Why the Cubs Should Keep Williams
- It was mentioned when the Cubs signed Williams in January 2020 that he would be testing new grips and other things in the Cubs’ pitch lab. What can another year of work do for him? Not sure, but I want to see it.
- Williams father is a lifelong Cubs fan. This season Richard Williams saw his dream of his son pitching in a Cubs uniform become a reality in 2021.
- While this has no on field relevance, this has been such a fun story to keep an eye on in an otherwise lost season. No one would be happier than his father to see Trevor in a Cubs uniform beyond 2021.
- He will be unimaginably cheap. Although rumors indicate that Ricketts will be opening up his pocketbook this offseason, there will be no need in this case to keep Williams.
- Williams is currently on a one-year, $2.5 million deal for 2021. Considering his underwhelming season, he will likely cost even less than that for 2022.
- There is a previous long stretch of success for Williams starting in 2017 through the end of 2018. In that time period, he had an ERA of 3.56 in 321 innings (56 games started).
Comparing 2017-2018 to 2021
When comparing these numbers it’s very important to note that the sample size is very different, 321 innings compared to 58.2 innings. The first thing that jumps out at me is the K/9, he has his highest career K/9 in 2021 at 9.46 compared to 6.81 from 2017-2018. Obviously the jump in strikeouts hasn’t translated to more success, but it points to the fact that whatever tweaks and changes the Cubs and Trevor Williams made coming in to 2021 are working when it comes to missing bats. With the jump in strikeouts also came a jump in hits and home runs. He allows a BABIP (batting average on balls in play) of .351 in 2021 compared to .275 from 2017-2018. On top of that, the balls in play are turning into home runs more often than before: 1.72 HR/9 and 20% home-run-to-fly-ball ratio compared to 0.81 HR/9 and 8.8% home-run-to-fly-ball ratio.
The next thing that jumps out at me is the change in pitch selection. His fastball % has dropped from 70% (2017-2018) to 59%. With that, he replaced the fastballs with a curveball that was further developed in the Cubs pitching lab. He now throws his curveball 10% of the time compared to only 1% before. With another year in the Cubs’ lab and working with coaches, I wonder how much more he can develop the curveball.
There are still two full months left in the 2021 season, so I’ll be keeping an eye on each Trevor Williams start to see how he continues to develop himself. Williams is still young at 29 years old, and is only in his sixth MLB season. He is going to be extremely affordable for the Cubs to keep, and possibly lock up for two or three years for less than $3 million a year. We have seen what the Cubs pitching coaches can do for their bullpen pitchers in 2021. Currently, they have the fourth best 3.48 ERA and league best 10.88 K/9. Imagine what another year of work could do for Williams.
Beyond Williams’ affordability is the importance of showing pitchers around the league that the Cubs pitching lab can help them. Like I noted above, the proof is in the pudding for the Cubs bullpen, but it hasn’t yet shown up in the starting rotation. Trevor Williams can be the guy that proves to top free agents that the Cubs are one of the top landing spots for them. Not only that, but somewhere in Trevor Williams is a guy that had a 3.56 ERA in 321 innings between 2017 and 2018. If the Cubs can help bring that guy back out, he can be one of the highest value pitchers the MLB will see.