Tonight at 8:05 pm EST, Jerome Williams of the Angels will face the Yankees in his first start of 2012. Despite playing for seven different major league organizations, he has never faced off against the Yankees. His long and winding career began as a first round pick in 1999, the 29th overall selection by the Giants. In 2001, 2002, and 2003, the right hander was rated by Baseball America as the #19 twice and #50 in their annual top 100 prospects series. At 21 years old, Williams broke out as a major league starter for the Giants, and in his rookie year went 131.0 inning, 21 games, and posted a 3.30 ERA, a slightly less impressive 3.96 FIP, 1.260 WHIP, 3.4 BB/9, and 6.0 K/9. He was solied in 2004, giving the Giants a 4.24 ERA, and then promptly traded to the Cubs for LaTroy Hawkins in 2005. Following a 3.91 ERA and 4.91 FIP in 2005 with the Cubs, Williams struggled in 2006 and was demoted to Iowa. After that season, he was waived and spent time struggling on the Athletics, Nationals, Twins, Dodgers, and even the Long Beach Armada. In 2009, the pitcher made his tour abroad, playing winter ball in Puerto Rico, and in 2010 played for the Lions in Taiwan. After his leave from the major leagues and return to the states, Williams received a second chance with the Angels on a minor league deal in the middle of the 2011 season. After a posting a 3.91 ERA in 73.2 inning in the Angel’s Triple-A affiliate, Williams made 6 starts for the major league team, posting a 3.68 ERA, 4.62 FIP, a 3.07 BB/9, and a 5.73 K/9.
Williams has a similar repertoire to when he first started. At the beginning of his career, he relied heavily on his two-seam and four-seam fastball, and used his slider, curveball, and changeup each around 12% of the time. After returning to the majors, the right hander says that he’s improved his mechanics to make his velocity more efficient and tightened up his slider enough to now call it a cutter. Although PITCHF/x still identifies the pitch as a slider, it tells us that he increased its usage to 34.2% last year. Velocity-wise, in 2007 Williams’ fastball was clocked sitting at 89.0 mph, but last year it sat at 91.1 mph, an increase of 2 mph. Aside from the velocity change on his fastball, he’s also throwing the two-seam, four-seam and curveball much less. We’ll get into the exact numbers later.
Here we have William’s release point based on the catcher’s perspective for all of his major league pitches in 2011. The first thing that I notice is how far away from the center of the mound the pitcher’s release point is. In the picture on our right, we can see his release point last year, and it’s typically falling around the 2.5 feet to the left of the mound and 5.5 feet high. Mike Fast, PITCHF/x guru, took a look at the difference between his 2007 and 2011 arm angle back in August, and the lower slot is a significant drop. As we’ve seen with Ervin Santana and C.J. Wilson, there are some release point changes for each pitch. Although Williams doesn’t purposefully use multiple release points, different pitches are released at different heights. As expected, the highest is the curveball in blue, the changeup, four-seam fastball, and slider are released at a pretty consistent pace in the middle, and the two-seam fastball is the lowest.
Here we have a visualization of how each pitch breaks from the pitcher’s release point on the right to home plate on the left. I should mention now that the pitch labeled FA for fastball appears to be a four-seam that he mis-threw a few times. The first picture is a bird’s eye view of the trajectory. From the right handed batter’s side, we can see how similar the changeup in purple and four-seam fastball’s horizontal break is. While the two-seam fastball follows with slightly more break, it’s surprising how much similar horizontal movement it has compared to the four-seam fastball. We’ll go deeper into that later. We can see the break of the curveball and the dramatic break of the slider/cutter following, which appears to have some very big cut away from right handed hitters.
In the second graphic we have a trajectory of the pitches from the 1st or 3rd base side. If you compare the four-seam fastball to the two-seam fastball, you can see the difference in vertical break and the sinking action that he gets with his two-seamer. With the pitch in green hiding behind the pitch in purple, you can see how his slider/cutter and changeup appear on almost identical vertical breaks, and with similar velocity, the hitter is going to have to pick up on horizontal break to tell the difference. Finally, we can clearly see the high release point of the curveball, and of course we can see the biggest vertical break from this pitch.
Here we have pitch break based on vertical and horizontal movement from the catcher’s perspective. The origin on this graph is a pitch with no irregular vertical or horizontal movement; imagine a no-spin pitch simply conforming to gravity. As expected, the two-seam fastball breaks into the right handed hitters, but it does so at a very high rate of 10.8 inches. When compared to the four-seam fastball, which breaks at a surprising 9.00 inches in, I suspect that he’s able to get so much horizontal movement with his lower arm slot, but we’ll verify this later. As pointed out before, you can also see the vertical sink that the two-seam fastball has in comparison to the four-seamer. The changeup is thrown in right between the two fastballs, but you can also see how its horizontal movement is very similar to the slider/cutter. Now we can also see why the slider/cutter is a mix of both, while the break away from the right handed hitter is more similar to that of a slider, the vertical movement is more similar to a cutter. Likewise, the pitch was thrown at 87.3 mph last year, which is more typical of a cutter when compared to his 91.3 mph four-seam. The curveball’s movement down and away from right handed hitters is pretty clear, but the -5.76 inch vertical movement is actually less of a break than the average, which ranked at -6.0 inches.
Finally we have our velocity versus spin angle chart. While we can clearly see the differences between our curveball and changeup, this chart is mainly to analyze the faster pitches. The average spin angle of the slider deviates at a similar rate to how a slider is thrown, but also sits around the same spin angle of a cutter. The spin angle of the four-seam fastball and two-seam fastball are also surprisingly similar. The reason the two-seam fastball sinks is due to the high spin angle that leads hitters to roll over pitches, but the spin angle also forces the pitch to move into right handed hitters. Williams appears to put a high spin angle on the four-seamer as well, and if we look back to the release point, we can see that throwing the pitch at a slightly lower angle likely allows him to get the same vertical movement of the two-seamer, but without the sinking action. While the typical two-seam fastball has a 220-240 degree angle, William’s has the same angle on his four-seam at 243, and his two-seamer has even more at 261.
Where He Throws It
We’ll start with his pitch locations to right handed hitters. The four-seam fastball we a lot of break in to righties is the pitch he throws in most, such a movement and location could certainly jam a hitter. The two-seam fastball also has that movement, but it’s located in the strikezone more often, and I would suspect that he does this to encourage the batter to make contact on the sinker and produce a groundball. It surprised me that he threw so many curveball inside the strikezone, but it’s success is probably from catching hitters off guard rather than being unhittable. While most of the changeups are down and in the strikezone, probably looking for whiffs, he threw the slider/cutter down and away. As we saw before, the slider/cutter moves away from the right handed hitter, and thus a pitch down and away at 87 mph must be awfully hard to make good contact on. This was the pitch he threw most, the slider was thrown at 51.9%, the four-seam at 28.9%, two-seam 9.2%, changeup 6.7%, and curveball at 3.3%.
Here against lefties we see that he was much less likely to pitch in and try to jam them. Of the few slider/cutters that he threw, they were mostly down and in to do just that. Against lefties he’s more of a fastball/changeup type pitcher, and you can see that he attacks them with a four-seam fastball away that moves away. The changeup is in the same location as he looks for the swing and miss. Williams isn’t afraid to throw the two-seamer in or out to lefties, but he usually keeps the ball low attempting to draw a groundball. Again his curveball is frequently thrown for strikes, so I suspect that he’s looking to surprise hitters with the pitch. Selection-wise, he uses his four-seamer 37.5 % of the time, his changeup 26.7%, his two-seamer 16.2%, slider 14.3%, and curveball 5.4%.
When He Throws It
|Count||Four-Seam (R)||Two-Seam (R)||Slider/Cutter (R)||Changeup (R)||Curveball (R)|
The chart above shows William’s pitch selection on different counts against righties. Unlike most pitchers who like to establish the four-seam fastball or two-seamer early in the count and use the slider/cutter as a strikeout pitch, the right handed pitcher uses his slider/cutter in most early counts. Behind in the count, he does use the four-seam and two-seam more often, but even at 2-1 he has the slider/cutter at 60.0%. When he’s ahead in the count he starts to mix in his change-up for 20.8% whiffs, and on his 1-2 count he finally throws his curveball 20% of the time and draws a 16.7% whiff rate. On 0-2 Williams throws his four-seam 45.5% of the time, which I suspect is more of a setup pitch rather than a strikeout pitch. Oddly enough, his slider is both an establishing pitch and strikeout pitch, and he was able to draw a 16.6% whiff rate on it despite how many times he throws it.
|Count||Four-Seam (L)||Two-Seam (L)||Slider/Cutter (L)||Changeup (L)||Curveball (L)|
Against lefties, Williams establishes the four-seam fastball early in the count. His changeup selection is perplexing though, although he garners a 13.1% whiff rate on the pitch, he throws it very often in early counts or behind in the count. As the pitch count falls in the hitter’s favor, he is more likely to throw the two-seam fastball as well, throwing it 50% of the time in a 3-1 count. When he’s ahead in the count he continues to attack with the four-seamer and changeup, but he does have some tendencies. With a 1-1 or 0-1 count he throws the slider/cutter more often into lefties, which only has an 8.9% whiff rate, so I suspect he’s looking to jam them. Again, in a 1-2 count he finally breaks out his curveball and throws it 41.4% of the time with a 29.4% whiff rate. He also throws the changeup 45.5% (!) of the time on a 3-2 count, which is not a good habit when hitters catch on to the numbers.
Although he’s lowered his arm angle, increased his velocity, and tightened up some of his pitches, he still draws the same results. Williams is primarily a groundball pitcher, who drew them at a 50% rate in 2011, flyballs at 33.6%, and linedrives at 16.4%. The pitcher has low linedrive numbers throughout his career, normal BABIP numbers, his BB/9 is at a career 3.57, and his whiff rates are impressive, so there must be something that caused him to falter over his career. Indeed, outside of AT&T Park, Williams struggled to limit homeruns. In 2011 he continued to struggle in small ballparks, posting a 2.55 ERA at home and a 5.12 ERA on the road. He also had a bizarre reverse split where right handed hitters hit .305/.387/.524 against him and lefties hit .235/.275/.353. My best bet is that his low arm slot allows right handers to see his release point better than lefties. I also suspect that he could produce better strikeout numbers if he took a more conventional approach on pitch selection in counts. Throwing a fastballs so often in 2 strike counts isn’t the most efficient approach when you have such a high whiff rate on your slider/cutter and curveball.
Against The Yankees
Jerome Williams has yet to face the Yankees in his career. Of the current players, he’s faced Andruw Jones 17 times and held him to a .176 batting average, but Jones won’t be playing. Raul Ibanez was hitless in his 2 at bats, and Eric Chavez has 2 hits in 7 at bats. No regular starters have seen the pitcher yet, meaning Andy Pettitte‘s 1 at bat is more than most of the lineup.
Williams has been a very interesting pitcher to analyze with his odd breaking pitches and arm slot. While it seems the Yankees should beat up on a back end starter, its a hard call on this one. The pitcher dominated lefties last year, and his reverse split means he could have an advantage against 6 lefties in today’s lineup. On the other hand, he struggles to keep the ball in the park, and with the power hitters on the lineup and Yankee Stadium to deal with, it might not be easy to limit the longball. In the end, it’ll be up to some lefties in the lineup to hit his fastball and changeup (I guess you can count Teixeira out for this one), and for the righties to deal with the fastballs in and slider/cutter away. The Yankees will probably take advantage of Williams in his first start back, but I wouldn’t be too surprised if he pitches well.
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