Devin Williams was the Milwaukee Brewers’ top draft pick in 2013. The team had lost their first-round selection and had to wait until the second round to select the right-handed high schooler analysts praised for advanced control and a great changeup.
After his arrival in pro ball, it was a tough hill to climb for Williams. He topped out at A+ in 2016 before requiring Tommy John Surgery, which would keep him out of baseball until 2018. After a half-season of knocking off the rust, he found his home in relief. In 2019, he dominated hitters through 57 minor league innings, only allowing a 2.21 ERA with a 12.9 K/9. It was his first step towards greatness and earned him a few appearances in the Majors.
Entering the 2020 season, Devin Williams was a likely bullpen pitcher, but some predicted that he may start in the minors and be the first up. Once rosters expanded due to COVID-19, he was a lock (although, he was probably a lock anyway after a strong showing in Spring and Summer Camp). Little did we know, the team with the best reliever in baseball was getting an even better reliever by adding Williams to the fold.
July was by far Williams’ worst month. I can say that definitively because it’s the only month he allowed a single run. At Pittsburgh, three runs would come in to score again him but only one would count against him as earned. That was his second appearances of the season. After, Williams pitched 24.2 innings without allowing a run and only giving up six total hits for the year. He also struck out 49 batters, only giving up seven walks. I, honestly, can’t remember seeing a stretch that dominant.
A huge reason of Williams’ success is a changeup that might have been the best in baseball. Hitters only got two hits against the pitch all season, both singles. Williams finished off 41 hitters with the pitch, putting away 52.6% of batters.
That pitch and a 99 mph fastball helped Williams dominate baseball in every pitching measurement. Baseball Savant has him as the best pitcher in 2020 for xERA (expected ERA), xBA (expected batting average), xwOBA, xSLG, K% and Whiff%. Meanwhile, he’s top tier in hard hit% and exit velocity.
Williams is a great story and success for the farm. He also was one of the brightest spots for the team in 2020. His success has placed him in contention for Reliever of the Year and Rookie of the Year. Pairing him with Josh Hader in 2021 will create one of the most amazing bullpen duos we’ve seen, and he’s under team control for a long, long time.
Statistics courtesy Baseball Reference, Baseball Savant and FanGraphs.