Matt Adams came to Spring Training in 2014 with a slimmer physique and then quickly jumped out of the gate swinging for the St. Louis Cardinals. His success led to a semi-controversy between who should get playing time between Adams, Allen Craig and Oscar Taveras. Between Adams' early jump on the season, Taveras' growing pains and Craig's horrendous start to the 2014 season, Adams became the guy who had to have the playing time. The fans and most writers were trumpeting Adams entry into stardom. Was it too early?
The issue was solved with the Cardinals shipping Craig to the Red Sox as part of the Lackey deal. Adams was the guy who won the job and got the playing time. I have to admit here that I am still a big-time believer in Allen Craig and feel that his struggles this year are due to lingering issues with his wheels. If he can get his legs under him again, 2014 will be the fluke and not the two previous seasons.
Making that admission, perhaps it is fair to say that I am looking for flaws in Matt Adams' game. I certainly am not "glad" that he has struggled in the second half (as we will see in a moment). But it is fair to state that my initial assessment of the situation appears to be the correct one.
A player's season and success or lack of it should represent the entire season. If you look at the entire pizza, Adams' numbers look pretty savory. He has a healthy 125 wRC+ to go along with his triple slash line of .303/.333/.481.
However, you expect offense from your first baseman and Adams ranks a solid 14th among 23 qualifying first basemen in offensive runs. He is tenth of the 23 in fWAR because his defense has been solid.
The bulk of Matt Adams' runs credited to him result from the early part of the season. In his last 35 games, his triple slash line is: .241/.307/.370. He has hit only two homers in those 35 games and partly as a result, the Cardinals continue not to have any kind of consistency with their offense.
Increased playing time has not improved Matt Adams' success against left-handed pitching. He has a .607 OPS against lefties this season which is just seven points over his career .600 mark against southpaws. If Adams is your stud in the middle of the lineup, he is vulnerable to lefty match-ups late in the game with the game on the line. That could be a major factor in why he has a .647 OPS in "late and close" situations.
Another thing that is puzzling is that Matt Adams is pretty terrible in road games. And this has gone on his whole career. It's not like he is playing in Coors Field. His road OPS for his career is .720 while at Busch Stadium he has compiled an .892 OPS. This year, that split is even more dramatic. In road games, Adams has a .695 OPS and at home, it is .933. Thus, in half of the Cardinals' games, he is often a non-factor.
The other thing that concerns me about Matt Adams is his lack of plate discipline. Throughout his minor league days and into the early part of his MLB playing time, his walk percentage was weak at around 7% or so. This year, that rate has sunk to 4%.
Adams' rate of swinging at pitches out of the strike zone (O-rate) is 42.7%. That is the highest among first basemen and fourth highest among all qualifying players no matter their position. It is easily the highest of his three year career and defeats gains made in that area last season.
Adams also has the highest line drive rate of his career and that is a good thing. But you wonder if that is a blip and if that is what you want from what is supposed to be your bopper where fly balls would better serve his power.
I admit my bias for Allen Craig. If he can get his wheels back healthy again, the Red Sox are going to have a steal. I believe he is a much better and more patient hitter than Matt Adams and could potentially have just as high or higher a slugging percentage. I do not believe that Craig's season in 2014 show a guy as he is. He did that in 2012 and 2013.
The Cardinals put their stock in Matt Adams. While that may have been the right call for 2014, we will have to see how it plays out over the next several seasons.