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Gavin Williams: Champ or Chump for Fantasy Baseball?

Gavin Williams - Fantasy Baseball Rankings, Draft Sleepers, Waiver Wire Pickups

When a top prospect gets called up, his roster rate typically climbs into the stratosphere. If that prospect is a pitcher with a 3.35 ERA through 37 2/3 IP and an elite pedigree, we'd expect it to approach 100%. Yet Gavin Williams of the Cleveland Guardians is only rostered in 25% of Yahoo! leagues. What gives?

The answer is a simple one. He only has one win and a 19.7 K%, so he isn't contributing much fantasy value besides ERA. Furthermore, his 5.00 xFIP and 4.74 xERA suggest that continued ERA help is far from assured. Fantasy managers are looking beyond the surface stats and evaluating Williams based on his performance.

However, they may be losing the forest in the trees. Both scouts and his MiLB performance suggest that Williams should get many more strikeouts, making it more likely for his peripherals to move toward his ERA than the other way around. Let's talk about it.

Editor's Note: Our incredible team of writers received 13 award nominations by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association including Baseball Writer of the Year, Football Writers of the Year, Golf Writer of the Year and many more! Be sure to follow their analysis, rankings and advice all year long, and win big with RotoBaller! Read More!

 

The Arsenal of Gavin Williams

Williams features a four-pitch mix: fastball, slider, curve, and change. His fastball stands out as the top offering in his repertoire, averaging 95.5 mph and touching 99 at times as a Guardian. Williams consistently throws it for strikes with a 59.4 Zone%, and its 11.2 SwStr% makes it good for Ks. Its spin rate of 2,204 RPM isn't special, but 98.1% of that spin directly contributes to movement. That active spin rate ranks 58th among all MLB pitchers.

The best secondary offering in Williams's repertoire is his slider, but he doesn't use it like a traditional slider. Instead, the pitch has a 56.1 Zone% and 15.4 SwStr%, giving him another option to get batters out in the zone. The pitch's chase rate is 35.2%, so it cannot be used as a traditional "put away pitch" that batters chase. Still, it's a good pitch.

Williams throws a curve that wants to be a chase pitch with a 31.6 Zone%, but its 8.2 SwStr% and 32.8% chase rate are both too low for that role. He also throws a change with a 54.5 Zone% and 9.1 SwStr%, but its 13.3% chase rate is abysmal.

The total arsenal is unique in that Williams generally tries to beat batters in the zone rather than getting them to chase, and the upside to that approach should be low walk numbers. His 10.8 BB% is surprising since he can throw three of his four pitches for strikes. The downside should be homers and hard contact since most of his pitches are in the hitting zone, but his 8.9% HR/FB hasn't been an issue. Small samples can be strange.

 

The Scouting Report on Gavin Williams

The numbers above suggest that Williams has two MLB-caliber pitches (fastball, slider) and two substandard options (curve, change). Scouts strongly disagree with that assessment though, with many seeing all four pitches as at least MLB average.

For instance, MLB Pipeline sees Williams as the top prospect in Cleveland's system and tenth overall. His fastball grades out as a 65 on the 20-80 scouting scale, while his slider, curve, and change are all 55. Throw in 50-grade control and Williams appears equipped for immediate MLB success. His scouting report adds that his "tight, mid-80s slider lands in the zone" while his "upper-70s curve has good shape and depth."

FanGraphs isn't as enamored with Williams, ranking him sixth in Cleveland's organization and excluding him from the top 100 entirely. However, the reasons are an extensive injury history as an amateur and a relatively violent delivery that increases future injury risk: not his talent. His fastball gets a 60 grade now and in the future, his slider is a 55 today but 60 in the future, and his curve is 50 today and 55 in the future.

His change is a 40 today but 45 in the future, giving Williams three above-average offerings and a fourth, average-ish one. That's more than enough to succeed in the major leagues and the kind of talent fantasy managers searching for a spark should be betting on.

 

The MiLB Resume of Gavin Williams

There can sometimes be a disconnect between what the scouts say and a player's performance on the field, but Williams was dominant throughout the High Minors. He first reached Double-A in 2022, pitching to a 2.31 ERA in 70 IP for Akron. His .217 BABIP might seem like a small sample fluke, but his 48.5 FB% and 22.5 IFFB% suggest that Williams had a knack for inducing weak pop-ups and limiting BABIP.

Williams also posted a scintillating 29.1 K% against a 9.2 BB%, suggesting that his performance wasn't all about contact management. You would think numbers like this would've earned Williams a promotion to Triple-A (Columbus), but the Guardians sent him back to Akron to begin the 2023 season.

Williams responded by making a mockery of the league with a 0.63 ERA in 14 1/3 IP. His BABIP fell to .200 and was supported by a 64.3 FB% and 50 IFFB%. His K% surged to an outstanding 37.7, and his BB% fell to 5.7. He didn't allow a single homer. The sample was tiny, but it forced the team to promote him to Triple-A.

Triple-A has been a nightmare for pitchers this year, but Williams posted a 2.93 ERA over 46 IP with Columbus before making his major league debut. His .247 BABIP was backed by a 37.8 FB% and 18.9 IFFB%, and his 33.3 K% was impressive even if his 11.5 BB% was a little elevated.

All told, Williams is a proven strikeout artist with a knack for pop-ups, allowing him to control the contact quality against him in a way most pitchers cannot. Williams is generating plenty of flies with a 41.7 FB% as a Guardian, but his 2.2 IFFB% is very low. The entire resume suggests a high-spin fastball that hasn't appeared in the majors yet.

 

The Verdict on Gavin Williams

Williams hasn't looked great as a big leaguer, but both scouts and his minor league performance suggest that he's much better than what we've seen thus far. His next two starts are projected to be @HOU and vs. TOR, two formidable lineups that might make it difficult for him.

However, the Guardians play in a division full of awful teams, so a softer schedule should lie ahead. Williams is a Champ who should be rostered now to make a difference down the stretch.



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