I'm not sure if the curious case of Sam McWilliams went over my head or under my radar last spring, but I would slap my hand down on a stack of bibles and swear I never heard of the guy until this story popped into my timeline. I'm only sorry there wasn't a French horn involved. That anyone ever expected big things of McWilliams last spring, well, total news to me. That it didn't happen, I guess that's not as big a news bulletin, considering I never expected it to.
A year ago, Sam McWilliams was in major-league camp for the Mets, who won a bidding war for the then-25-year-old minor-league free agent, awarding a big-league deal and a record $750,000 contract to a pitcher who had yet to make his debut in the majors.
McWilliams, who had an 8.18 ERA in Triple A in 2019, was lauded as a new-age success story, as a guy who transformed himself with advanced analytics and Trackman, a high-tech device that records the speed, spin and shape of every pitch. He was on the cover of Sports Illustrated as the poster boy for the next wave of pitchers in baseball, a symbol of what savvy front offices like the Rays — where McWilliams spent 2019— and modern data could unearth.
Until all that information started making his head swim and clouded his mind. McWilliams, over coffee in Arizona earlier this month, said he dealt with a case of the yips in 2021 that caused him to dread playing catch and have no clue where the ball was going once he released it.
“I don’t really like using that word,” McWilliams said of perhaps the most feared four-letter word in baseball, “but yes (the yips) is what it was.”