Waiting for the regression of Matt Adams

After the 2013 season, it seemed impossible that Allen Craig would be an afterthought this season as Matt Adams has taken over the darling position as the Cardinals favorite flavor on offense. And rightly so. While Craig has had a hard time getting going this season, Adams has taken the world by storm by batting .325 with .532 slugging percentage and an impressive .376 wOBA. But there are things about some of Adams’ underlying stats that make one feel uneasy that he can maintain that kind of production.

First, the admission has to be made that Adams has shown no signs of slowing down. In fact, the opposite has been true. Every month of his season thus far has been outstanding. So this isn’t some kind of hot streak come lately. He has been the team’s most consistent offensive presence all season. But again, things don’t look right behind his success.

The first problem to be had with his statistics is his plate discipline. He has none. Adams has walked nine times all season for a paltry 2.8% walk rate. He is tied for second of all qualified players as having the lowest walk percentage. And it has come natural as his O-swing rate of 43.7% ranks him third among all qualified players for swinging at pitches out of the strike zone.

It would seem likely that as the season goes on, pitchers would exploit his swing tendency and get him to chase more and more of their pitches instead of his. Why any pitcher would throw him a strike is beyond imagining. In fact, this is Adams’ third season and he has never been as swing happy as he has been this year.

Secondly, he leads all of baseball (qualified batters) in BABIP. So more of his batted balls are falling in for hits than anyone else in baseball. His .376 figure with that statistic is not in line with what he did his first two seasons but it should be stated that he is one of those guys whose BABIP rates have always been above the norm.

Part of what is fueling his high average on batted balls is his line drive rate. So that accounts for part of his success. His 24.9% line drive rate is 19th in baseball. If he keeps that up–and it is much higher than his career average–then he can maintain his high average. But his .280 BABIP on ground balls and .214 batting average on fly balls are much higher than the league average.

Two more things bug me a bit about his success rate. Matt Adams still doesn’t handle left-handed pitching very well. As he has more success, he will face more lefties. His .598 OPS against lefties this season is only two points higher than his career average of .596. Should the Cardinals continue to run him out there against southpaws?

Lastly, Adams has a huge home/road split difference. The big first baseman has a .980 OPS at home this season and only .773 on the road. While that is consistent with what he has done for his career, you would think, since St. Louis is not in the Rocky Mountains, such a split would level off after a while.

Matt Adams has been a huge plus for the Cardinals thus far this season. He has taken over from Craig as the most talked about member of his team as an offensive player. The belief here is still that Craig is the better bet moving forward for the team in years to come and in the second half.

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