Sunday Notes: Gavin Williams Lets His Fastball Do the Talking

Gavin Williams came as advertised when I saw him pitch earlier this month. The 24-year-old rookie right-hander’s fastball topped out at 99.3 mph, while his slider sat in the mid-80s and occasionally topped 90. Allowing one hit and a lone run over five rain-delayed innings against the Minnesota Twins, Williams was all about power.

He also came as advertised when I spoke to him on the day preceding his outing. I was told that the 6-foot-6, 255-pound Cleveland Guardians hurler is a man of few words, and that was pretty much the case. While accommodating, Williams was anything but verbose. No matter. I largely got what I was looking for: a self-appraisal of what he brings to the table.

“Most people know me for my fastball, really,” the righty replied when I asked for a self scouting report. “That’s the main thing people know me as, and it’s what I know myself as.”

The Fayetteville, North Carolina native first hit triple digits during his freshman year at East Carolina University, and as meaningful as that milestone was to his identity on the mound, he recognizes that retiring big-league hitters takes more than pure velocity.

“I don’t think 96 to 100 is that big of a difference,” Williams said. “If it’s down the middle it can get hit. Putting it where you want to is a bigger thing. It also matters how it moves.”

Williams gets good ride — “anywhere between 16 and 18 vert” — and he also possesses elite perceived velocity. Per Statcast, he ranks in the 99th percentile for extension, an attribute that only began augmenting his heater this season.

“It has changed big time from last year to this year,” explained Williams, who debuted with the Guardians on June 21 and has a 3.43 ERA and a 4.22 FIP over 76 big-league innings. “Last year it was 6-5 extension, and this year it is more like 7-5. We fixed some things mechanically. I’m staying more connected to the rubber now. I’m not cutting myself off; I’m staying more direct to the plate.”

Williams answered “absolutely” when I asked if he identifies as a power pitcher, and Carl Willis used the same term when appraising the highly-regarded youngster. According to Cleveland’s pitching coach, what the hard-thrower mostly needs is more repetitions against baseball’s best hitters.

“He’s got the power, and he spins the ball well, so t’s just a matter of gaining more experience,” said Willis. “With experience comes consistency. A pitcher with good stuff can out-stuff a hitter in the minors, but t’s a lot more difficult to do that at this level. There are some things you just can’t replicate in the minor leagues. The more major-league hitters he’ll face, the more comfortable he’ll get, and the more consistent he’s going to get. He’s got a chance to be a really good pitcher up here.”

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Keith Drumright went 3 for 4 against Luis Leal.

Mark Bellhorn went 8 for 11 against Jimmy Haynes.

Kevin Bass went 8 for 11 against Rich Gossage.

Steve Sax went 9 for 18 against Ben McDonald.

Piano Legs Hickman went 9 for 28 against Highball Wilson.

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Doug Clark had 2,384 professional hits in a playing career that spanned the 1998-2015 seasons and included stops in Korea, Mexico, and several minor-league outposts stateside. One of them stands out above the rest. On June 28, 2006, Clark stroked a single while wearing an Oakland Athletics uniform.

Seventeen years later, he remembers his lone big-league hit like it was yesterday.

“It was in San Diego,” recalled Clark, who is now the hitting coach for the Portland Sea Dogs, Boston’s Double-A affiliate. Frank Thomas was on the [injured list] at the time. We’d gone to Colorado and San Francisco, and I’d had some pinch-hit at-bats and come up empty. Then, in San Diego, Joe Blanton was on the mound for us and was struggling. [Manager] Ken Macha told me that his spot was coming up second, and if he gets out of the inning he’s done. So, I ran down to the tunnel.

Bobby Kielty was one of my teammates, and he was down there feeding the tee, feeding me soft-toss, boom boom boom. We knew each other from Triple-A, and we were talking about it. First hit is special, right? It was, ‘Here we go, here we go; base hit up the middle.’ Boom boom boom.

Clay Hensley was on the mound. Nobody was on. Mike Piazza was catching. I step up to the plate. First pitch, a two-seam and I swing over it. Second pitch, another two-seam and I swing over it even more. Third pitch is a two-seamer that sticks middle and I clock it on the barrel. Line drive to center field. Mike Cameron is the centerfielder. He comes running in and it looks like he’s going to get it, but it drops in. I round first base….”

At this point in the telling, emotion kicks in. Clark pauses for a few seconds to compose himself before continuing.

“Thinking about it gets me going,” admitted Clark, who went 1-for-11 in a pair of big-league cups of coffee. “To give that ball to my dad, to my mom, to live that moment… that’s what I want these guys to feel. It’s a big reason I’m coaching. I mean, when you’re rounding first base after that first one, it’s like everything flashes in your head. It’s special. It really is.”

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A quiz:

Pete Rose played in 3,562 games, the most in MLB history. Which player ranks second all-time in games played?

The answer can be found below.

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NEWS NOTES

Daniel Nicolaisen has resigned from his position as St. Louis Cardinals assistant hitting coach and will now serve as an assistant coach with the University of Mississippi’s softball program. Nicolaisen spent three years in the Cardinals organization.

The Sabermetrics, Scouting, and the Science of Baseball conference (aka Saberseminar) is not only a can’t-miss event for analytics nerds, it is also a charity event. This summer’ get-together raised $53,600, $48,500 of which went to the Alliance to Cure Cavernous Malformation.

Marc Topkin, Andy Freed, and the late Dave Wills will be formally inducted into the Sports Club of Tampa Bay Hall of Fame tomorrow (Monday, September 18). Joey Knight wrote about the well-deserving trio at Tampabay.com.

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The answer to the quiz is Carl Yastrzemski, who played in 3,308 games. Henry Aaron ranks third, with 3,298 games played.

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As regular readers of this column know, I’ve recently asked a number of MLB managers which teams have most impressed them this season. Aaron Boone was the latest to field that question, which I prefaced by saying that the Atlanta Braves have been a popular answer.

“The Braves are great, yes,” the New York Yankees skipper replied. “But Baltimore, and what they’ve become over the last year-plus, kind of coinciding with Adley Rutschman getting called up… they’re really good. They have a lot of other young impact players, too. And Tampa with what they’ve been able to do; they’ve been through a lot of injuries this year and have survived, have navigated through it. I also came away really impressed with the Twins. A lot of people think, ‘Oh, they’re going to win the American League Central,’ but I think they go into the playoffs with a real chance. They have starting pitching, and their position-player group, especially if they can get a little health going at the end of the year, is pretty good. I think they’re more dangerous than people might give them credit for.”

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The 2023 FanGraphs Staff Predictions were published on March 30, and I was anything but Nostradamus with most of my picks. One in particular stands out for its inaccuracy. Not only did I have the St. Louis Cardinals winning the National League pennant, I had them going on to top the Twins in the World Series. That obviously won’t happen. At 65-83, the perennial contender has been one of the most disappointing teams in baseball.

My failed prognostication aside, why have the 2023 Cardinals underachieved to the extent that they have? I recently asked that question to Jack Flaherty, whom St. Louis dealt to the Orioles at the August 1 trade deadline.

“There are a lot of answers to that question,” responded the right-hander, who had been in the Cardinals organization since 2014. “But sometimes things just don’t work out. You have all the pieces, a lot of guys returning… I mean, I didn’t pitch great. I was up and down. But again, sometimes things just don’t work out, no matter how good the team is. That’s baseball. That’s all sports, honestly. It happens all the time. For whatever reason, it doesn’t work out.”

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FOREIGN AFFAIRS

The Hanshin Tigers clinched their first NPB Central League pennant since 2005 with a 4-3 win over the Yomiuri Giants on Thursday. Kazuma Okamoto hit his league-best 39th home run — he’s since notched number 40 — for the losing side.

Nippon-Ham Fighters outfielder Chusei Mannami hit both a leadoff home run and a walk-off home run in the Hokkaido-based club’s 3-1 win over the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks on Saturday. The only other NPB batter to bash both a leadoff and a game-ending round-tripper for his team was Alonzo Powell, who did so with the Chinuchi Dragons in 1993.

Shota Imanaga leads all NPB pitchers with 163 strikeouts. The 30-year-old Yokohama BayStars left-hander is 7-3 with a 2.71 ERA over 136 innings.

Atsuki Taneichi is 10-5 with a 2.88 ERA and 146 strikeouts in 128 innings for NPB’s Chiba Lotte Marines. The 25-year-old right-hander’s K total is tops in NPB’s Pacific League, right in front of Yoshinobu Yamamoto’s 145.

The LG Twins boast the KBO’s best record at 72-47. Erstwhile MLB outfielder Austin Dean is slashing .311/.370/.492 with 18 home runs for the Seoul-based club.

Si Hwan Roh leads all KBO hitters with 30 home runs. The 22-year-old Hanwha Eagles third baseman is slashing .301/.391/.557.

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Danny Coulombe is flying under the radar as an Oriole. To relatively little fanfare, the 33-year-old southpaw has come out of the Baltimore bullpen 54 times and is 5-1 with a pair of saves and a 2.38 ERA. In last week’s Sunday Notes column, Coulombe was called the club’s most-underrated player by an O’s scribe.

His name had appeared in previous Sunday Notes columns, including one that ran two years ago this month. Then with the Minnesota Twins, the erstwhile Texas Tech Red Raider told of how he’d been making regular visits to FanGraphs while taking an online project management class at Grand Canyon University. With that 2021 conversation in mind, I recently caught up with Coulombe for an update on his educational pursuit.

“I finished the degree,” the veteran reliever told me. “I’d studied finance and business at Texas Tech, and decided that at this point of my life I needed to do that. The degree was in Business Management.”

As noted in the 2021 column, Coulombe tackled an important baseball issue during his studies.

“I wrote a paper on how to shorten games and make the game better,” he explained. “The biggest issue in baseball was dead time, and as we’ve see this year, the pitch clock has created less of it. When they tried it in the minor leagues, I think it saved about 20 minutes. I was actually a little shocked when they implemented it up here, but it’s worked well. I think MLB did a pretty good job.”

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FARM NOTES

Andrew Cossetti finished the regular season with a .287/.426/.534 slash line, 15 home runs, and a 163 wRC+ between Low-A Fort Myers and High-A Cedar Rapids. The 23-year-old catcher was selected in the 11th round of the 2022 draft by the Minnesota Twins out of St. Josephs University.

Alan Roden is slashing .320/.425/.465 with 10 home runs and a 152 wRC+ between High-A Vancouver and Double-A New Hampshire. The 23-year-old outfielder was taken in the third round of the 2022 draft by the Toronto Blue Jays out of Creighton University.

Alex Cornwell is 7-3 with a 2.87 ERA, a 3.19 FIP, and 102 strikeouts to go with just 23 walks in 119-and-a-third innings between High-A Peoria and Double-A Springfield. The 24-year-old southpaw was selected in the 15th round of the 2021 draft by the St. Louis Cardinals out of the University of Southern California.

Jose Varela went 5-1 with two saves, a 2.49 ERA, and 71 strikeouts in 47 Dominican Summer League innings. The 18-year-old right-hander from Wichita, Texas was signed by the Houston Astros as a non-drafted free agent in July 2022.

Starlyn Caba slashed .301/.423/.346 with 28 walks and just 16 strikeouts over 164 plate appearances in the Dominican Summer League. The 17-year-old, switch-hitting shortstop was signed out of Bonao, Dominican Republic by the Philadelphia Phillies in January.

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Jacob deGrom thinks he’s a shortstop, and he always has.”

That sentence leads a chapter in Jonathan Mayo’s new book, Smart, Wrong, and Lucky: The Origin Stories of Baseball’s Unexpected Stars, and as the MiLB.com writer goes on to explain, deGrom became a pitcher rather reluctantly. While at Stetson University, the two-time Cy Young award winner actually walked away from his summer ball team — one managed by World Series-winning manager Davey Johnson — because he wasn’t getting an opportunity to log at-bats as an infielder. Only through cajoling was Stetson’s head coach able to get the two-way player to take the mound more than occasionally as a collegian.

The right-hander, whom the New York Mets took in the ninth round of the 2010 draft, logged four wins, two saves, and a 4.44 ERA in 83-and-a-third NCAA innings. As a hitter, he slashed .255/.299/.300 in 330 at bats. As Mayo also chronicled in his must-read book, deGrom hit his only collegiate home run off of Chris Sale.

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

At NW Baseball History, Amanda Lane Cumming wrote about Bill Caudill and the 1980s Seattle Mariners bullpen cart.

The Baltimore Orioles honored Adam Jones prior to Friday night’s game at Camden Yards. Dan Connolly has the story at SportsNaut.

The Score’s Travis Sawchik wrote about how the knee-down catching revolution changed catching without downgrading defense.

MLB Pipeline’s Jim Callis put together an all-breakout prospect team for 2023.

The Athletic’s Brittany Ghiroli interviewed former Chicago White Sox Director of Player Personnel David Wilder, who spent two years in federal prison due to a bonus-skimming scandal in the Dominican Republic. (subscription required.)

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Zach McAllister, whom the New York Yankees drafted and signed in 2006, made his Yankees debut this past Tuesday. Per the Elias Sports Bureau, the 17-year gap between being drafted and debuting with the Yankees is the longest in franchise history.

Tampa Bay’s Colin Poche has been credited with 12 relief wins this year, the most in the majors. Kansas City’s Carlos Hernández and Minnesota’s Griffin Jax have each been charged with 10 losses as a relievers, the most in the majors.

Firpo Marberry became the first pitcher in MLB history to record at least 20 saves in a single season when he logged 22 for the Washington Senators in 1926. The right-hander from Streetman, Texas led the American League in saves six times.

Luis Arraez has a .351 batting average and a 132 wRC+.
Isaac Paredes has a .249 batting average and a 137 wRC+.

Mike Trout has 368 home runs in 6,521 plate appearances. Ralph Kiner had 369 home runs in 6.256 plate appearances.

On today’s date in 1999, Dante Bichette and Todd Helton both left the yard twice as the Rockies pummeled the Los Angeles Dodgers 18-10 at Coors Field. Larry Walker and Ben Petrick contributed to Colorado’s six-dinger onslaught.

Dave Kingman went deep for the New York Yankees on today’s date in 1977, giving him home runs with four different teams on the season. The slugger also homered that year for the California Angels, New York Mets, and San Diego Padres.

Ernie Banks became the first Black player in Chicago Cubs franchise history when he made his MLB debut on today’s date in 1953. The Hall of Fame shortstop/first baseman played with the Negro National League’s Kansas City Monarchs prior to signing with the Cubs earlier that month.

Players born on today’s date include Bob Dillinger, a third baseman who led the American League in stolen bases in 1947, 1948, and 1949 while playing with the St. Louis Browns. The University of Idaho product swiped 67 bags with the Western League’s Lincoln Links in 1939.

Also born on today’s date was Sheriff Blake, who pitched for five teams, primarily the Chicago Cubs, from 1920-1937. The right-hander from Ansted, West Virginia went 17-11 with a 2.47 ERA with the Cubs in 1928.





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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MikeSmember
5 months ago

It is weird that Kingman played for 4 teams in 1977. But it is even weirder to me that he never had any other season where he played for more than one team. He played 16 seasons and was only traded in-season in one of them. You would think a guy with his profile might have been in demand late in the season by a team in contention and looking for power at least once, especially in an era where there weren’t many guys like him.

sadtrombonemember
5 months ago
Reply to  MikeS

Let’s look at his career.

Dave Kingman shows up pretty high on the K%+ lists–192%+ for his career. This was especially pronounced earlier in his carer, when he was running Early on in his career, that limited his value and probably limited his perceived value beyond that too since teams were a little more freaked out by strikeouts then as opposed to now. In 1975, his K%+ was 238; it was 223 in 1976. And he had brought his K’s down quite a bit from his partial seasons in 1973 and 1974 (he was striking out a lot then for 2023, much less 1973).

In 1977, as noted, he played for four teams. In 1978, possibly freaked out by his experience, he insisted on a no-trade clause in his next contract, which the Cubs were happy to give to him for the first half of his contract (not sure when it ended). In 1978, the year after that 4-team experience, he became Dave ******** Kingman, but he had no-trade protection in the first few years, so he couldn’t be traded without his consent during his best seasons. Otherwise he probably would have, the Cubs weren’t super great then.

He was traded to the Mets once he was eligible and the Mets…were also bad. He was good in 1981, but that was the year of the strike, though, and he only hit .221 so who knows what people were thinking, and then he was bad again in 1982 and 1983 and was hitting about .200. He was good for the Athletics in 1984, but probably his reputation was sticky at that point, and he went back to being bad in 1985 and 1986.

So it is kind of a surprise he didn’t get traded mid-season at least once. 1984 stands out at the most likely candidate, with 1981 just behind it. But the years when he was having the classic “good season for bad team” performance were the years when he had a no-trade clause.

PC1970
5 months ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

2 other things-

He was a terrible defensive player.

He was a noted jerk.

I could see a team in the pennant race figuring that he would give back as many run as he created defensively & that he would be a clubhouse issue, especially if he didn’t get to play.

Francoeursteinmember
5 months ago
Reply to  MikeS

I would love to see Kingman’s statcast page