Mechanical issue may be to blame for Devin Williams’ struggles
Devin Williams’ 2022 season hasn’t gotten off to a great start. In six games, the Brewers trainer allowed four runs in 4 1⁄3 innings for an 8.31 ERA. Despite being credited with a hold in each of his appearances, Craig Counsell had to pull it out twice before completing a full inning to avoid losing a late lead. Williams came close to taking a lead in Wednesday’s 4-2 victory over the Pirates, allowing the two runners inherited from Brent Suter to score before crashing out of the inning.
While the fastball’s reduced speed has also been a concern, the steps have been the switch specialist’s Achilles’ heel. Williams has faced 27 batters so far in the young season and issued a free pass to seven of them. In particular, he struggled to land his change for a strike. In 2021, 44% of his changes were in the strike zone. That number is down to 37% to start this season.
Missing low with his change has been a theme for Williams. He threw many of his changes well below the zone, including many in the dirt.
An effective change starts at the bottom of the zone before diving and moving away from the hitter. This is especially true in the case of Williams. However, many of his changes don’t even start in the strike zone and therefore fail to tempt batters. The prosecution rate against his change fell from 42% to 35%.
These control issues can be attributed to a problem with the Williams version extension. He drops the ball noticeably closer to home plate than he has in the past, including when throwing his substitution.
Williams has always had a long stride. Last season, his average release extension was 7.0 feet past the rubber, which was 39th most among all pitchers who threw at least 100 pitches. This year, it climbs to 7.3 feet, which is currently tied for second. The exit extension of the Williams change was increased from 6.8 to 7.1 feet.
Considering he already had an above-average extension and has been one of baseball’s best relievers for the past two seasons, it seems unlikely that this was a conscious change.
Pitching has a lot of moving parts, so unknowingly releasing the ball four inches closer to the plate—and four inches further up the slope of the mound—can easily lead to control issues. A longer extension indicates that Williams may be straying too far during her delivery. If so, it can lead to a host of other mechanical issues.
Williams gave some hope of getting back on track when he threw eight of 11 pitches for strikes in a perfect inning in Game 2 of the Pirates series on Tuesday. On this outing, his average release extension when launching his shift was back at 6.8 feet. He only threw four, but he landed one in the outside corner, one in the bottom area, and none in the dirt.
It looks like Williams is battling a minor mechanical issue to start his season, but his track record inspires confidence he’ll fix the problem. The movement of his change remains as sharp as ever, which is arguably most important at this time of year. If its extension is the problem, it won’t be difficult to fix it. Better results are on the horizon.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and Baseball Savant.