Brewers RHP Devin Williams leaving hitters dumbfounded with his changeup
The pitch invites the batter to hit it. It comes at them looking like a strike, triggering the mechanism that makes the batter begin his swing. But they only find air, shaking their head as the pitch that looked so tantalizing when it left the pitcher’s hand is safely in the catcher’s mitt.
That is what Devin Williams, the budding superstar relief pitcher for the Milwaukee Brewers, does to opposing batters with his changeup. Ian Happ and Anthony Rizzo of the Chicago Cubs were his latest victims during the eighth inning on Friday at Miller Park. Happ went down swinging on two changeups. Rizzo swung feebly on a 2-1 changeup before striking out on another in the dirt. Only Kris Bryant managed to make solid contact off Williams, hitting a two-out triple on a sinker, as the right-hander helped the Brewers to a 1-0 victory over their NL Central rivals.
Williams’ changeup is quickly emerging as one of the biggest weapons in the game. He’s thrown the pitch 158 times so far this season. Opponents still don’t have a hit off of it. Of 41 at-bats that ended with Williams throwing a changeup, 28 resulted in strikeouts. More than half of his pitches are changeups, including seven of 12 against the Cubs. The changeup ranks in the top one percent in both horizontal and vertical movement in the league. The pitch is a perfect complement to his four-seam fastball, which averages more than 96 mph; his changeup, which looks the same coming out of his hand, is 12 mph slower on average.
Most batters are getting their first look at Williams and his changeup in 2020. He’s still a rookie, having appeared in only 13 games last season. In 18 innings so far this year, he’s given up one earned run, a solo home run by the Pirates’ Colin Moran all the way back on July 27. He’s made 14 consecutive scoreless appearances since then, giving up only three hits in 15.2 innings. He’s striking out 18.5 batters per nine innings, best in the league. Just three balls have been hit off him with an exit velocity of more than 100 mph, including Bryant’s triple. Opponents have an average exit velocity against him of 82.2 mph, fourth-lowest in the league.
It is Josh Hader who’s supposed to be the unhittable strikeout artist in the Brewers bullpen. And while Hader has continued his All-Star form in 2020, the emergence of Williams gives the Brewers a formidable combo in the final two innings. Opposing teams better get to their staff in the first seven innings, because these two aren’t giving up anything.