Mac Williamson Might Just Save the Giants

Some kind of cliff is almost certainly coming, but the Giants figure they could still have another run. For 2018 — and, right now, all that matters is 2018 — the Giants ought to be competitive. Far more competitive than they were last summer. You know the criticisms, though. The Giants are old. They might not have enough youth. And they also might not have enough power. That’s something they’ve worked to address, and their actual power is somewhat depressed by their own home ballpark, but recent Giants lineups haven’t instilled much fear. The club has been done no favors by Hunter Pence’s apparent decline.

Just the other day, 27-year-old righty Mac Williamson hit this home run.

On its own, that’s impressive. Righties don’t hit home runs to that area in San Francisco, particularly at night. But if you know anything about Williamson, you know he’s always had power. Every so often, Williamson would run into a ball and obliterate it. The issue, as it frequently is, was consistency. Williamson didn’t do that often enough. How many hitters do that often enough?

So let’s no longer look at this on its own. Since being recalled from the minors, Williamson has started five games. He homered in the first one. He homered in the fourth one. And he homered in the fifth one. Something might be brewing, here. Because Williamson isn’t just a player doing well. He’s a player doing well after overhauling the very core of his game.

Mac Williamson is a swing-changer. He’s a swing-changer similar to other, previous swing-changers — Williamson is someone who could sense that he was stuck. No longer young enough to be a prospect, Williamson could start to see the approaching end of his career. No one who watched a round of batting practice could question his strength, but one could definitely question his ability to tap into it on a regular basis. Some players might stubbornly stay the course. Williamson went in search of help. The help he found might be familiar to you.

After working this winter with the same private hitting instructor who made such a difference with the Dodgers’ Justin Turner, outfielder Mac Williamson has reworked his swing and become a slugging machine in the Cactus League.

That private hitting instructor is Doug Latta. Williamson was apparently inspired to seek him out after observing teammate Tim Federowicz. Latta quickly identified issues he wanted to correct, and if you’ll allow me to just fast-forward for a second, here’s a quote about Williamson I just found in a new article by old friend Eno Sarris:

“You know who he reminded me of? [Justin] Turner,” said Nationals Manager Dave Martinez.

Martinez has watched Williamson homer against his team twice in two games. I’m not sure how much he knows about Williamson’s story, but the Turner comp is telling. That’s the name that immediately came to his head. Now, Justin Turner is not a particularly large man. Mac Williamson, meanwhile, is both a Giant and a giant. But Latta has molded them to look pretty similar. We’ll look at a few visuals later on.

First, a table. Williamson has obviously barely played this year in the majors, but before recently being promoted, he was also tearing up the PCL. So, just for the sake of understanding how much better he’s hit, check out these stupid numbers.

Mac Williamson
Year Level(s) PA SLG K%
2015 AAA – MLB 261 0.416 24%
2016 AAA – MLB 353 0.466 25%
2017 AAA – MLB 455 0.419 27%
2018 AAA – MLB 69 0.948 12%

The combined slugging percentage is absurd. The combined strikeout rate is absurd. Let’s take these one by one. Here’s what Williamson’s time against advanced competition looks like, in 15-game rolling-average slugging percentages:

Williamson is tapping into his power like never before. Of course it’s a small sample, and of course Williamson won’t finish with a slugging percentage close to four digits, but this is something that would be hard to fluke. Here’s a similar plot, but for strikeout rates:

Williamson has had a few dips in the past, but this is his best-ever combination of power and contact. This doesn’t mean that Williamson is definitely amazing now. These are just positive early signs. If Mac Williamson were indeed the newest successful swing-changer, this is how we’d expect him to perform. He’d look like a different hitter, the way Justin Turner did, and the way J.D. Martinez did. It’s encouraging when initial data supports the process.

As a reminder, Williamson has always been strong. I’ll pull from Baseball Savant, here. Over the brief Statcast era, going back to 2015, more than 600 players have hit at least 100 batted balls. Williamson ranks 13th in the rate of batted balls hit at least 110 miles per hour. He’s between Miguel Sano and Jorge Soler. Williamson has topped out around 116, which is an elite-level exit velocity. The bat speed has always given Williamson a promising foundation. The idea here is for him to make more of it. Williamson can hit the ball harder than even Turner can. Even a modest improvement could be sufficient to turn Williamson into a weapon.

Now for the visuals. Here’s current Mac Williamson, from the front:

And here’s Justin Turner, from the front:

Here’s current Mac Williamson, from the side:

And here’s Justin Turner, from the side:

There are little differences. Turner still has a more aggressive leg kick. Williamson might bring his hands back more than Turner does. But these are inarguably similar swings, that appear to be informed by similar principles. We wouldn’t expect Williamson to look exactly like Turner, given their different bodies and strengths. But Dave Martinez wouldn’t have had to think for very long to come up with a similar swing. Williamson. Turner. It’s all right there. And you can see how Williamson has evolved over time.

Some changes are probably too subtle for regular TV feeds to pick up on. Like, say, any changes in approach. That’s all in the brain! TV can’t see into the brain (yet). But the bigger stuff is clear. Here’s a Williamson homer from later last year:

Here’s a Williamson homer from earlier last year:

Screenshots:

It was during last season — not after it — that Williamson first tried lowering his hands. But there was more to come.

Now Williamson is more upright, with his most aggressive leg kick. This is all something he’s still trying to get dialed in, after so many years of swinging in a different way, but the new swing is bearing fruit. That only promotes it further. When players try to rewire their own muscle memory, old habits frequently return upon encountering times of struggle. Williamson hasn’t struggled. He’s been given ample reason to believe that his new swing might have truly unlocked his considerable offensive potential.

We spend so much time around here trying to identify the newest breakouts. We’re not alone in that regard — new breakouts are interesting. New anythings are interesting. More often than not, I think, we end up looking hasty. Turns out, it’s incredibly hard to perform as an excellent player in the major leagues. As such, no one can say yet that Mac Williamson is in the process of breaking out. There’s a certain threshold of doing enough for long enough, and Williamson has a ways to go. But, look at what we have. We have a clearly, abundantly talented baseball player. We have a new swing that has already yielded overwhelmingly positive dividends. We have a swing coach who’s aided something just like this before. There’s reason enough to pay attention to this story. Mac Williamson might not save the Giants. On the other hand, what if he did? He occupies a position of need, and he’s attempting to break through at precisely the right time. The Giants have needed someone exactly like this. Mac Williamson probably knows it.





Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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thesportsbrah
4 years ago

Jeff’s got the best topical cream and I just rub it all over my body.