By Mike Steffanos
Dave Williams was drafted out of high school by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the seventeenth round of the 1998 draft. Although never considered a big prospect, Williams made it up to the major leagues by age 22, starting 18 games for the Pirates in 2001. He began 2002 in the starting rotation, but hurt his shoulder and underwent season-ending surgery for a torn labrum in July. He didn't pitch again until the following June, and didn't notch any major league innings at all in 2003. (Note -- see correction at bottom)
Williams spent most of 2004 in the minors also, but finally returned to the Pirates to pitch out of their bullpen in August. After spending a couple of weeks on the DL with a rib cage strain, Williams returned to start six games in September. In 2005, he made the Pirates out of spring training and spent the entire year in the rotation, although he did miss most of September with another rib cage injury.
That winter he was traded to the Reds for Sean Casey. As desperate as Cincinnati was for pitching last season, Williams managed to pitch badly enough in eight starts to earn a ticket out of town. He was traded to the Mets along with cash for a minor league pitcher. The Mets sent him directly to Norfolk where he missed some time with injuries, but then returned to pitch effectively in Triple-A. A mid-August call-up to the Mets got off to a fine beginning as he went 3-0 with an ERA just over 3 in his first four starts. He tailed off some after that, but had pitched well enough to earn a contract and compete for a job in 2007.
Here are Williams' lifetime major league numbers:
|Major League Stats -- Dave Williams|
|Year - Team||Age||Starts||Innings||Hits/9||K/9||BB/9||HR/9||ERA||AVG||SLG|
|2003||24||Did not pitch in majors|
|2006 NY Mets||-||5||29.0||12.1||5.0||1.2||1.6||5.59||.333||.521|
Just looking at the raw numbers, several things jump out. Before this season, Williams always had good numbers as far as giving up hits, averaging less than one per inning. The high number of home runs against, however, speak to a pitcher who makes more than his share of bad pitches. The walk rates were a tad high for someone who isn't an overpowering hurler, but that was one thing that he successfully addressed after coming over to the Mets. Williams was extremely aggressive in the strike zone, and should continue in that approach going forward. I thought the aggressiveness was the best thing he brought to the table as a Met.
If there's one other thing that's obvious from both the numbers and the brief career history that I outlined, it is that durability is not a strong suit for Williams. His career high in major league innings was the 139 from 2005, and he has missed time with various injuries from minor to severe every year.
Williams features a fastball that sits around 90, but he has a deceptive motion that makes it seem a little faster. He has a very good changeup that sets up his fastball, but he is somewhat prone to making mistakes with it. He also has an effective breaking ball that he doesn't always control. His splits actually show a slightly better record against right-handers than lefties. He pitches much better with the bases empty than with men on. I'm not sure whether that speaks to difficulty pitching out of the stretch or a lack of concentration in those situations.
Williams can be a very effective pitcher if he would learn to limit his mistakes. If he can cut down on the gopher balls, get his hits back down to where they were before last season while cutting down his walks, he has as much of a chance as anyone of taking the fifth starter job. I honestly liked watching him pitch last year when he was working quickly and attacking the strike zone. It was a nice change of pace from some of the others on the staff, and it gives me hope that he can help this team as a starter or replacing Darren Oliver in that important swing man role.
As much as I like him, though, I have to be realistic. There is a reason why the pitching-starved Reds gave up on him and why the Mets considered not tendering him a contract this winter. Although only 28 going into the 2007 season, he has enough service time to earn a $1.2 million contract for 2007. Williams needs to take a step forward and prove that he can be more effective than the talented young pitchers in the Mets organization who would be making a quarter of that if they were on the major league roster. He has to be that pitcher he was in his first four starts with the Mets, and not the one who was absolutely pasted by Florida in his last start. He needs to be consistent rather than great, and he also needs to stay on the field. Looking back at his record, I have real questions about Williams' durability.
Even though the Mets did tender him a contract, I wouldn't think that Williams has a guaranteed job with them at all in 2007. He'll have to earn a spot out of spring training. Provided he is fully healthy, I believe he will. I think Williams is right there in the mix to seize the fifth starter's job this spring with his experience, but the durability question make me believe that the Darren Oliver role would make more sense -- provided one of the younger pitchers steps up and earns a starting job. My best guess is that he will be a swing man, with 8-10 starts and the rest of the time in long relief.
Note (4/30/07): The first paragraph is incorrect. I received an email from Shane, a high school teammate of Williams, who informed me that Dave played one year of college ball before being drafted by the Pirates. Shane says:
If you want to accurately document his career then you need to add that he was scouted by the Florida Marlins as a Senior in high school but turned them down for college. Then as a freshmen in college was drafted by the Pirates.
Thanks to Shane for the heads-up. He also offers the following personal opinion on Dave Williams:
The funny thing about the internet is that it gives a lot of information but it is information that has blinders on. Yes, I agree his numbers don't really reflect a great or even a good career. You have to look a little farther into his numbers though. He was on a team that repeatedly lost around 100 games a year. He had no run support and he had a shoulder injury that many pitchers never recover enough to make it back to the major leagues. People should really look at what he has accomplished with what he had to play with and not base everything on what his numbers are.
This concludes our 2007 Starting Rotation Previews
Thanks for joining us in our look at the eight pitchers most likely to be slugging it out for the final four rotation slots below Tom Glavine. I'll write one more piece summing up the potential starters, and then we'll be taking a detailed look at the bullpen.
2007 Starting Rotation Previews:
Dave Williams (This Article)
Rotation Preview Conclusions
2007 Pitching Previews: Summing It All Up