The Cubs have reportedly added another buy-low/reclamation starter to the fold, joining Kohl Stewart and Shelby Miller: former Pirates righty Trevor Williams.
CI’s Evan Altman with the report, later confirmed by Jesse Rogers:
Source: Former Pirates starter Trevor Williams has agreed to a major league deal with the Cubs, pending physical. Had offers from multiple teams, deal will likely include some deferred money.
— Evan Altman (@DEvanAltman) January 30, 2021
The Cubs are in a agreement with pitcher Trevor Williams on a one year deal, sources tell ESPN.
Williams has spent his whole career with the Pirates. 31-37 in 94 career starts, 4.43 ERA.
— Jesse Rogers (@JesseRogersESPN) January 30, 2021
Williams, 28, was set free by the Pirates earlier this offseason rather than keeping him in arbitration. He has been among the many options we discussed this past week for the Cubs to target, and he’s certainly going to be able to give you innings (he’s been healthy). But the question is whether he can get back some of what made him so effective in 2017-18:
On first blush, it’s not hard to see some bad luck in there, but you can also tell that Williams is a command and control guy who stated giving up just a tick more walks, and a lot more dingers. We’ll have to dig in.
What makes him unique? Among the 96 pitchers to throw 750 pitches in 2020, Williams had the 20th-lowest release height (5.5 ft). And among pitchers that have a low release height (say 5.75 feet or lower), Williams had the sixth-longest extension. That combination is rare.
How didn’t his last team do a good enough job of emphasizing that? With the combination listed above, generally speaking you’d ask a pitcher to throw his hard stuff up in the zone, where the difference between his actual and perceived velocity will play the best against hitters. Williams didn’t do that enough with his four-seam fastball, as I see using the pitch highlighter on Baseball Savant:
His 144 (roughly, a third) highest four-seam fastballs: .247 wOBA allowed, 29.7 whiff%
His 148 lowest four-seam fastballs: .486 wOBA allowed, 11.1 whiff%
How can the Cubs emphasize it better? This is a flat Vertical Approach Angle guy, pitching too often like a steep one. Let’s cut out the low four-seamers, especially given that on low-in-the-zone pitches, we can go with a sinker with above-average vertical drop.
Also, I notice Williams has thrown just 99 curveballs in three years. We-the-Cubs love curveballs, specifically the knuckle-curve, our Pitch Lab’s speciality. But maybe, just maybe, Williams discovered something himself late last year yourself? He’s thrown 14 curveballs with more than 2350 rpm in his career, and half of them came in September 2020. Let’s build on that.
Williams might be the best bet among the group the Cubs were looking at to give you 120-ish useful innings in 2021, though he’ll have to be remade a bit if he’s going to give you more. I kinda love the possibility, though, given his relative youth and variety of pitches. There’s a whole lot there for the Cubs to work with.
Mild bonus? If the Cubs really dig Williams this year, they’d be able to keep him via arbitration for 2022, also.
Also, Williams is very funny, as you’ll come to see.
Yes, we need to understand that the nature of these signings is: this is unlikely to be fantastic.
But Cubs are in a place where they both can AND have to take higher-risk, low-likelihood shots. In that world, a guy like Williams (young, wide pitch mix, kinda funky) is great.
— Bleacher Nation (@BleacherNation) January 30, 2021
Elsewhere, the Cubs still figure to try to add one more starting pitcher, probably on a minor league deal. Among the guys they’re looking at: Jake Arrieta, Jeff Samardzija, Chris Archer, and Mike Foltynewicz. Really, any of those four would be a really nice add on a minor league deal if the Cubs can pull it off.
UPDATE: This is actually a pretty healthy guarantee – Rodon got $3 million – which makes me believe the market for back-end starters has really ticked up lately, presumably with greater confidence about fan attendance:
Trevor Williams Cubs deal is believed to be for about $2.5M
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) January 30, 2021
Altman later clarified, by the way, that there might not actually be that much, if any, cash deferred in the deal.
So, ultimately, Williams gets half of what Jon Lester got from the Nationals, if you were comparing the two deals. For the intangible, clubhouse stuff, you’d assuredly rather have Lester. For the higher floor in performance in 2021, you’d also probably have Lester. For the upside? Eh, I think Williams probably has the slightly better chance to be “good” in 2021 (and, again, the Cubs get him for 2022 if they want, as well).