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Breakfast with Benz

Tim Benz: Pirates' Trevor Williams deserves more praise for 2nd-half success

| Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2018, 6:24 a.m.
Pirates pitcher Trevor Williams delivers during the first inning against the Reds Monday, Sept. 3, 2018, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pitcher Trevor Williams delivers during the first inning against the Reds Monday, Sept. 3, 2018, at PNC Park.

It was just before midnight on Labor Day. I checked MLB.com's front page.

Nothing.

No mention on the ESPN.com baseball front page either. Or the Sporting News.

Plenty of stuff about Joey Votto swapping a shirt with some Cincinnati fans in the stands, though.

Nothing about Pittsburgh Pirates starter Trevor Williams, however.

There should've been. Within baseball circles, Williams' post-All-Star break success should be a bigger story nationally than what it has been. The 26-year-old's numbers aren't just an interesting item in Pittsburgh; they deserve some national headlines.

• Williams has a 0.72 ERA since the All-Star break over eight starts. Jake Arrieta's second-half mark of 0.75 is currently the best in MLB history.

• Over his past nine starts, Williams has 0.66 ERA. That's the best over such a span in team history.

• On July 6, Williams' ERA was 4.60. It's all the way down to 3.15. That was ninth in the National League, by the time he left the mound Monday.

• Since his July 11 start against Washington, the right-hander has allowed just four earned runs.

• Williams is in the top 10 when it comes to OBP-against and OPS-against in the National League. He ranks 11th in batting average against and slugging against.

Yeah. Aside from that, he hasn't done very well of late.

Yet Williams' marvelous run has barely gotten a mention outside of Pittsburgh.

Even around Western Pennsylvania, Williams' stellar stretch has been buried under headlines about missing running backs, dismissed backup quarterbacks, a loafing outfielder and a local college football rivalry.

Williams has dazzled without being dazzling. He doesn't strike out a lot of hitters. His strikeout-per-nine-innings rate is 6.17. That's not even in the top-30 of the NL. His fastball isn't very fast. It averages 91 mph.

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle suggested that Williams' lack of flash is why there hasn't been more praise of his game.

"A guy like him is going to have to do it longer than anybody else," Hurdle said. "The things people are hunting that are visual aids, high velocity, spin rates. If you don't have those things, it seems like you have to do it longer. You have to prove yourself more.

"It's pitchability. It's pitch execution. He's hitting spots. He's throwing his fastball where he wants. He's changing speeds. And it's really hard to hit. He's getting it done the old-fashioned way. He's flat out pitching."

One thing Williams has done well to overcome a lack of velocity is to essentially fake it.

"When you throw that fastball where you want it to be, you can speed it up by throwing it into guys," Williams explained. "You can slow down the fastball in their perception by throwing it away. We move the fastball around and make my 91 look like 95 (inside) and then make my 91 look like 87 (away). We can use that to our advantage."

I buy all that. That's all true. But Kyle Hendricks of the Cubs followed a similar mentality when he had the league's lowest ERA in 2016. He got a lot more attention for it. Like Williams, Hendricks is not exactly a glory hound.

As opposed to Hendricks, Williams plays on a small market team that was — yet again — effectively eliminated from playoff competition by Labor Day.

On Monday, Hurdle disagreed when I suggested that may be the case. But come on. If Williams is putting up numbers like these with the Yankees, do you think he may be getting a little more hype?

"That's not what I pitch for," Williams dismissed. "I pitch to win ball games in a Pirates uniform."

It's likely that Williams will get four or five more chances to do that between now and the end of the season. If those outings are similar to the last nine, then he should get a little more recognition for them than what he has gotten so far.

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