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Is Justin Williams Seizing the Third Outfield Spot?

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MLB: Washington Nationals at St. Louis Cardinals Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Even though Justin Williams’ numbers are not great so far this season, the St. Louis Cardinals’ outfielder has hit the ball very well. Williams’ .231/.333/.385/.718 slash line does not show how hard he has hit the ball this season. The 25-year-old is in the top 8% of the league in average exit velocity (94.0 mph) and the top 7% of the league in barrel rate (19.2%). Because of this, he has hit the ball hard in nearly 62% of his at-bats. For someone who only has a wOBA of .296, this is very encouraging.

One of the problems with Williams is that he strikes out too much, as he has a strikeout rate of 28.9%. This is most due to his 34.8% whiff rate, which is more than 10% higher than the league average of 24.4%. Thus, while WIlliams has been hitting the ball hard, he has not been hitting it enough. Another problem is his inability to make consistent contact against non-fastballs. The left-handed hitter has a whiff rate greater than 50% against both breaking balls and offspeed pitches. This means that he must get most of his production against fastballs.

While this is a problem, Williams has crushed fastballs, recording an average exit velocity of 95.4 mph and an xwOBA of .414. The problem is that he has been unlucky as his wOBA of .279 against the pitch does not accurately reflect how hard he has been hitting the ball.

As a hitter, you have the hit the ball hard and hit it often in order to have success. Williams has done one of the two, but needs to work on making more contact. Regardless, his on-contact results should improve soon if he continues to hit the ball hard. This is not only good for Williams, but also good for the Cardinals. Harrison Bader should return from injury within a couple of weeks, and at that point, the Cardinals will need to figure out the third member of the outfield besides Bader and Dylan Carlson.

That spot could go to a combination of players, including Tommy Edman, if the Cardinals want to keep Matt Carpenter in the lineup. However, if Williams can keep hitting the ball hard, and if his numbers improve, he could find himslef penciled into the outfield as a regular starter. This would be a huge benefit to the Cardinals if Williams could seize the job, because the Cardinals have struggled to get production out of their outfield since last season.

With the way that Justin Williams is hitting the ball, he could be the answer for the Cardinals, and this would give the lineup more certainty and improved production.