By Jason Shetler
While Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage receives plenty of accolades, and deservedly so, Jim Benedict also played an instrumental role in turning around pitchers such as Charlie Morton, A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano, Edinson Volquez and J.A. Happ.
In October of 2015, Benedict joined the Miami Marlins to become their Vice President of Pitching. Shortly after, the Pirates obtained Trevor Williams as essentially compensation for losing Benedict. Williams was considered a Top 10 prospect for the Marlins, albeit in a weak system.
Last season, Williams did terrific work in the AAA Indianapolis rotation, as he put up a 2.53 ERA, while holding opponents to a .242 average. His big league debut came as a September call up, pitching three innings of relief to pick up the victory. Following the game, him and his dad embraced with a hug, in one of the most emotional player moments at PNC Park.
Williams entered Spring Training in a battle for supremacy over the fifth starter spot. Tyler Glasnow eventually was named the final starter. However, with the Pirates sending Rule 5 pick Tyler Webb back to the New York Yankees, Williams was awarded a spot in the bullpen to pitch long relief.
The unexpected occurred during the first week of May when it was announced that Jameson Taillon had been diagnosed with testicular cancer. Williams took Taillon’s place in the rotation, making his first start on May 8th at Dodger Stadium. The outing did not go well, allowing eight runs (six earned) in three innings of work. Since then however, Williams has performed well, posting an ERA of 3.94. The control has been superb, as his BB/9 is 1.7, which would be tied for fourth best in the National League, if he qualified for enough innings as a starter. The better control can be contributed to throwing the four-seam fastball 53% of the time, a 12% increase from last year. According to FanGraphs’ Pitch Values, Williams’ sinker has been a more effective pitch for him this season. Along with the low walk figure is a low number of long balls, as he has allowed only five home runs since being a starter. With the demotion of Tyler Glasnow, as well as the ineffectiveness of Chad Kuhl, the work Trevor Williams has provided in the Pirates rotation is a much needed shot in the arm.