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Mac Williamson and the curse of coincidence

One of the most powerful hitters in the organization keeps getting hurt right when he’s about to carry the team.

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MLB: San Francisco Giants at Arizona Diamondbacks Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

Mac Williamson is unlucky. The past two seasons of his career have been dominated by airline and bus miles and trips to the doctor’s office. The Giants have complicated matters by fearing sub-30 year old outfielders. The lack of playing time and yo-yoing of so many young outfielders during the Brian Sabean era has never been more readily apparent than in the treatment of Mac Williamson.

(deep breath)

One thing you’ll notice about the second part of the list (besides how I messed up sizing it) is how the Giants really didn’t want to keep Williamson on the major league team. Of course, the argument they made is that he didn’t have enough experience and they preferred he played every day rather than ride the bench.

You have to wonder what all that up and down movement did to his head, too. Last season wound up being a lost one. In nearly 100 triple-A games his line was .244 / .301 / .423 (the 25 BB: 100 K ratio really jumps out), and his line in limited time with the big league team (which lost 98 games, remember?) was... well... it was a line that would warrant the lack of faith the Giants have seemingly had him in throughout his career:


73 PA
16 H
3 HR
5 BB
25 K
.235 / .288 / .397 (.685)

Am I being too hard on the Giants for not giving a young player a chance to work through his struggles? I don’t think that’s what happened here. You’ll recall 2016 was the offseason where they signed Denard Span to a 3-year deal to improve their center field defense and moved Angel Pagan to left field. They preferred to risk money and a roster spot on Span, who was recovering from hip surgery than on Mac Williamson, a capable outfielder with a higher offensive ceiling. Just not the experience.

But this isn’t about the Giants’ bizarre obsession with throwing money after questionable 30-somethings, this is about how Mac Williamson has had the bad fortune of both being drafted by the Giants and getting hurt every time he’s started to play well. When he gets his chances, he hits into misfortune as often as he does a hot streak.

Mac Williamson had to change his swing and wait for the Giants’ offseason additions to and plans for the outfield to falter for them to even consider calling Mac Williamson back up to the major leagues. He needed to make a strong impression this season or else his career with the team would be over. And let’s figure his future career would’ve taken a major hit, too. A 27-year old outfielder finally discarded by his first organization after years in the minor leagues doesn’t really get the chance for a huge free agent payday.

Anyway, he carried over his tremendous play to start the AAA season and made a strong impression right out of the gate:

2018: 5 games
19 PA
3 R
6 H
3 HR
0 BB
3 K
.316 / .316 / .789 (1.105)

An extremely small sample size, of course, but you heard the sound off the bat, you saw where he was hitting those home runs. The swing adjustment worked. He had arrived. This was it. Everything looked good...

That was 23 days ago. And it was only yesterday that we got any sort of encouraging sign or update on when he might return. And just a couple of hours ago we got the even better news that he’s finally about to begin his rehab assignment. Yet, this latest setback wasn’t the first time a strong run of play has led to a long run of time on the disabled list.

June 21, 2016 / San Francisco Giants recalled RF Mac Williamson from Sacramento River Cats.

Here was his line after that call-up:

28 games
82 PA
10 R
19 H
5 HR
13 BB
16 K
.279 / .402 / .529 (.932)
.298 BAbip

The best part of this spurt came once he began playing every day. From July 16 to July 31, he posted a .300 / .417 / .633 line with 9 hits (3 home runs and a triple) in 39 plate appearances and 6 walks to 9 strikeouts. Everything looked good...

August 2, 2016 / San Francisco Giants placed RF Mac Williamson on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to August 1, 2016. Left shoulder strain.

If I recall correctly, this happened when he dove to catch a line drive and sort of belly flopped on the field. Another case of Mac playing well and playing hard, only to get hurt.

The assumption was that the Giants would be excited to have Williamson back after this injury...

September 1, 2016 / San Francisco Giants activated RF Mac Williamson from the 15-day disabled list.

But they were in the midst of a playoff push, so, for no reason at all they decided he couldn’t contribute and relegated him to a part-time September call-up.

12 games
14 PA
0 R
1 H
0 BB
8 K
.071 / .071 / .071 (.143)
.167 BAbip

Everything looked bad, and then...

September 27, 2016 / San Francisco Giants placed RF Mac Williamson on the 60-day disabled list.

This led to last year’s lost season and the need to change things up to salvage his career.

So why does this keep happening? The overwhelming evidence suggests three key things: 1) the Giants don’t trust sub-30 year old hitters and will give them a comically short leash 2) Mac Williamson plays his best when he starts every day 3) he tends to play with such confidence that he is more likely to injure himself.

Maybe fate doesn’t want him in the spotlight. Maybe he’s meant for a great purpose beyond baseball. He’s had enough success to keep suggest he should keep going, and responding so well to something like changing his swing suggests that he’s cut out for this line of work.

Coincidence can feel vindictive, though, when it appears to be working against us. Somebody or some thing must have it out for us. That’s a perfectly human thought to have. But baseball is a humbling sport populated with superstitious people. It’s very likely Mac Williamson just takes everything that’s happened to him all in stride and thinks, “Thems the breaks” rather than fixate on the idea of a grand conspiracy against him.

And yet, I imagine his own team isn’t helping matters.

Oh, Andrew Trollerly. I love it when a journalist knows how to tweak the right muscle group when massaging the fan base with news. The Giants are going to give Hunter Pence every chance to make a comeback this season and what might ultimately upend Williamson’s season is the very thing he used to get this latest and possibly final opportunity with the Giants.

This isn’t Mac Williamson being hoisted on his own petard because he wasn’t targeting Hunter Pence, but in another way, that’s exactly what’s happening here, because Mac Williamson is the player who put Hunter Pence on the hot seat. It seems incredibly fitting for the Giants and Mac Williamson to have this be the complication in their relationship.

Can you imagine if Pence beats Williamson back from the disabled list and starts hitting like Gorkys Hernandez which keeps Williamson down in AAA for a good chunk of the season? Knowing what we know about the Giants, Pence would need only to hit at that level to be deemed “back” and “important” to the lineup. And because Austin Jackson, Gorkys Hernandez, and Gregor Blanco aren’t going anywhere for the entire season and the roster will stay at 13 pitchers for the next 6-8 weeks, there simply won’t be room for Williamson.

If that happens, do the Giants even consider Williamson a starter next season after Pence leaves? Does he get traded as a third player in a big deadline deal? It’s easy to catastrophize the situation when you consider everything we know about the Giants’ front office and recall every move they’ve made from the past twenty years.

It’s not a coincidence that Hunter Pence has decided to adopt Mac Williamson’s approach. Everything else involving Mac Williamson’s career does seem to be predicated on that notion, however. If we’re being generous to the universe, that is.

No. Wait. The Giants are out to get him.