Williams: Numbers Affecting Players' Approach

Players care too much about launch angle and exit velocity, and it's affecting their performance, Bernie Williams said

Tiki and Tierney
July 12, 2018 - 5:29 pm

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Four-time World Series champion Bernie Williams dropped by Tiki and Tierney on Thursday to discuss his life, career, and the defensive shift, among other topics.

Williams, a switch hitter, didn’t have to worry about the shift, but Brandon Tierney wondered if players should bunt to dissuade teams from doing it. You don’t want to deviate from your style, sure, but the shift is crushing batting averages left and right.

"I think it's basically something that's happened with the advent of this new way of baseball that's happening right now,” said Williams, a five-time All-Star and career .297 hitter. “When I was playing, (numbers were) something to be studied, but (we didn’t) really dwell (on) it too much. It was more of an after-the-fact kind of thing that you tried to study tendencies and things like that.”

That, however, is no longer the case.

“I think numbers right now are influencing the way that players (approach the game),” Williams said. “They're too concerned about their exit velocity, their launch angle – all of those things – and thinking that maybe we can sacrifice a couple of strikeouts if I'm going to hit a home run at the end, as opposed to being a good hitter from your first at-bat in the game. I think more of the players now are emphasizing more on hitting the ball out or nothing.”

Tiki and Tierney wondered if Major League Baseball should outlaw the shift or change it in some way.

"No, I don't think so,” Williams said. “I think that's what makes the game so magical. In my estimation, the fact that you can actually make an adjustment to combat that – if you're not willing to do it, you don't have to do it. I think people are maybe not as willing to make adjustments as hitters. They'll just say, 'If I hit it right at somebody in the shift, that's fine, but I know that at some point I'm going to have an opportunity to hit the ball out’ – and that's what counts right now."

In other news, Williams weighed in on the Yankees’ reported interest in Manny Machado. It would be great to have Machado, yes, but not if you have to give up young players like Miguel Andujar, 23, or Gary Sanchez, 25. There’s also no guarantee that Machado would re-sign with the Yankees in the offseason.

"Well, that is an issue,” Williams said. “Not knowing if (Machado is) going to re-sign, it is an issue. The other issue is, to be able to play in New York, you need to be a special athlete. Having to deal with not only playing on the field, but all of the distractions that come with being a New York professional athlete. A lot of people that come in with great pedigrees from other cities may have a little difficulty playing here in New York because of all of that. So far, Machado has been able to play in Baltimore, where obviously he is the man. But they're kind of in a different (situation).”

And not just because they’re the worst team in baseball.

“Once you come into New York, things are going to be a lot different,” Williams said. “He might not be the guy that they will expect him to be, the man, like Stanton and maybe Judge. We have a lot of people in that lineup, which makes it sort of questionable. Why would we want to add that guy? But any time you have an opportunity to add a once-in-a-generation player like him, you have to at least give yourself an opportunity to discuss it."

Giancarlo Stanton is a prime example of the challenges of playing in New York. He hit .218 in April and .264 in May but .298 in June and is hitting .362 in July. For the season, he is hitting .276 with 22 home runs, 54 RBIs and a .348 OBP.

"I don't think it was the pressure,” Williams said of Stanton’s early season struggles. “I think with players like that, it doesn't matter how good you are. Once you come into a new team, you want to prove to everybody (how good you are). I think you probably fall into the trap of trying too hard. Maybe trying to hit a home run every time you come to bat, and to put that extra amount of pressure on you, could be detrimental. Once he finds his stride and he starts getting comfortable in his situation, knowing that he doesn't necessarily need to be the guy like he was before, he can delegate."