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Milwaukee Brewers award candidate: Devin Williams, NL Rookie of the Year

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The “airbender” makes Williams one of the most dominant pitchers in the game

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Milwaukee Brewers Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports

The discussion around who should be the National League Rookie of the Year is beginning to heat up in earnest. The Milwaukee Brewers have a player in Devin Williams who could be the front runner on the list.

Before we go into Devin Williams’ worthiness to be the N.L. Rookie of the Year, let’s take a look at some of the other candidates.

Position Players

Jake Cronenworth: Other than Williams, Cronenworth might be the most worthy player to get the N.L. Rookie of the Year honor. Cronenworth came out scorching hot, and while he has come back to Earth, his numbers are still quite good. The Padres second baseman is currently slashing .304/.376/.509 with a 139 wRC+. For what it is worth, position player Cronenworth (1.7) is one of two players on the list with a higher fWAR than relief pitcher, Williams (1.4).

Alex Bohm: Bohm has entered the conversation because of an amazing September. In 167 plate appearances, Bohm is currently slashing .333/.401/.483 with a 139 wRC+. He is also posting a 1.0 fWAR. Bohm is closing in fast. The Phillies have just three games remaining against a very tough Tampa Bay Rays team. If he plays really well in that series, he could launch himself into the running for the top spot of this list.

Starting Pitchers

Dustin May: There are a few starting pitchers on this list. In much of what I am reading, May is the number one starting pitcher of the group. His numbers have been good. Over 52 innings pitched, May is sporting a 2.77 ERA. If we look a bit deeper, there are some statistics that suggest that his ERA makes him look better than he is. May is currently posting a 4.80 FIP and a 4.11 xFIP. His LOB% is 88.1% and BABIP against is .231. Those percentages are not in line with previous performance in the minor leagues. With a 6.75 K/9, he is relying on movement and deception to get weak contact (53.2% GB rate). And he has both. When he doesn’t have it going, however, the long ball gets him as demonstrated by a 21.4% HR/FB. His fWAR is only 0.3.

Kwong-Hyun Kim: Kim was one of the best starting pitchers in Korean baseball for a number of years. The 32 year-old is now pitching for the St. Louis Cardinals at a high level, lest we forget his start against Milwaukee on September 14. Over 34 innings pitched Kim is posting a 1.59 ERA and a 3.98 FIP. Just like with Dustin May, Kim is posting some numbers that are not in line with previous norms against lesser competition. Kim’s LOB% is 86.8% and his BABIP against is .202. Nonetheless Kim has some really nice pitching outcomes, because he has been able to keep major league hitters off balance. Kim is posting an fWAR of 0.5.

Tony Gonsolin: It is interesting to see all the buzz around Dustin May when in fact the better Dodgers’ starting pitcher has been Tony Gonsolin. Gonsolin has an fWAR of 1.5, which is higher than Devin Williams. Gonsolin is also sporting a 1.77 ERA and 2.44 FIP over 40.2 innings pitched. Maybe Gonsolin should replace May at the top of the Rookie of the Year list?

Devin Williams

All the players listed above are having good years and would be worthy of the National League Rookie of the Year. There is only one player that has dominated the league that is in contention for this award. Of course that is Devin Williams.

The perfecting of the changeup changed, pun intended, Williams career. Coupling that pitch with an elite fastball has made Devin Williams arguably the best relief pitcher in the game currently. Unfortunately for Williams, he does not fit into the traditional framework that a lot of voters who vote for these awards fall into. He is not accumulating saves.

What he is accumulating is strikeouts. Williams is striking out 18.72 per nine. That is the best in baseball.

While not getting saves, he is shutting down the competition. On that changeup, or "the airbender," hitters are just 1 for 59 against it. He is pumping his fastball up to 99 mph. He has given up no more than one hit in every appearance this season.

Looking at his numbers, they are mind-blowing. He is posting a 0.36 ERA (#2 in MLB) and a 0.74 FIP (#1 in MLB). He has stuck out 52 hitters in 25 innings. Devin Williams is the only player on this list that has been a dominant figure over major league baseball. The others have put up good numbers, but none have been great with the exception of Devin Williams.

The facts are that Devin Williams is a relief pitcher. Some voters will hold that against him. As a relief pitcher, Williams is not getting the “glory” stat of saves. Again some voters with archaic views will hold that against him. He plays in little old Milwaukee. Some voters will hold that against him. Nonetheless, no other rookie has dominated the sport. No other rookie has been truly great. Devin Williams has.

There is at least one writer that thinks Williams should be N.L. Rookie of the Year. Let’s hope he has a vote. Ryan Fagan of Sporting News writes:

Sure, he’s only pitched 25 innings this year, but he’s been incredible. He’s given up six hits, walked nine and struck out 52. Not a typo. He has 52 strikeouts and six hits allowed. His ERA’s 0.36, his FIP is 0.74 and he has a 1.4 fWAR, despite pitching just 25 innings. Apologies to the other excellent rookies in this group, but he gets my nod.

Baseball statistics courtesy of Fangraphs