Williams wins 2nd NL Reliever of Year Award

November 29th, 2023

MILWAUKEE -- After a one-year hiatus, the Brewers have reclaimed their hold of the Trevor Hoffman National League Reliever of the Year Award, with  announced as the winner on Wednesday night.

Williams’ win marked the second time in his career he’s won the honor, and the fifth time in the past six years that a Milwaukee reliever has won the award named for a former Brewers reliever, Hoffman. 

Josh Hader won it in 2018, ‘19 and ‘21. Williams won in 2020, the year he also won the NL Rookie of the Year Award, and after the Mets’ Edwin Díaz claimed the honor last season, it’s back with the Brewers thanks to Williams, who logged 36 saves with a 1.53 ERA in his first full season as Milwaukee’s closer.

“Being the guy everyone looks at is a little different role than I’ve been in in the past,” Williams said at the start of the year. “But I’m looking forward to it.”

The right-hander made the most of the opportunity, leading NL relievers in opponents’ batting average (.129) while ranking second in fewest hits per nine innings (3.99), third in ERA and strikeouts per nine innings (13.35) and fourth in WHIP (0.92). Along the way, Williams was named to the NL All-Star team for the second straight season, though he didn’t pitch in Seattle because he was in a stretch of heavy usage.

Known for his physics-defying changeup dubbed “The Airbender,” Williams took on an even higher profile after the Brewers traded Hader to the Padres at the 2022 Trade Deadline. Since then, Williams has MLB’s fifth-best success rate among pitchers with at least 20 save opportunities (88.2 percent) and the seventh-highest strikeout rate among pitchers who have worked at least 50 innings (37.4 percent).

In other words, he more than met the challenge of a higher-profile role.

Williams has met challenges before. The Brewers’ top pick in the 2013 Draft (he went in the second round out of Hazelwood West High School outside St. Louis; the Brewers didn’t have a first-round selection that year), Williams underwent Tommy John surgery in 2017 and was still struggling to regain his feel on the mound at the start of 2019. There were times he seriously considered quitting baseball.

But one night in Double-A Biloxi, having moved to the bullpen, he unleashed a fastball that changed everything. Suddenly working with better velocity in short stints, Williams made the All-Star Futures Game that year, then earned a callup to the Majors for an Aug. 7, 2019, debut against the Pirates. Incredibly, it was only 105 days from the night Williams tried throwing as hard as he could in Biloxi.

“I think your body has a governor, like on a car,” Williams said. “It only lets you go this fast, but you can go faster. It’s like you have to break that governor mentally. I unlocked that, and it’s what got me here. I’m not throwing 98, 99 mph anymore right now, but I would say I’m definitely a better pitcher right now than I was then.”