Cardinals first baseman Matt Adams entered 2014 with some lofty expectations. In a part-time role in 2013, Adams displayed all the skills that pointed to him being a potentially elite option at first base. He hit for average, added plenty of power and walked at an acceptable rate. First base was a deep position, though, leading to the RotoGraphs experts ranking Adams 17th coming into the season. That proved to be perfect. Adams actually finished 17th among first baseman in the End of Season Rankings. There were plenty of reasons to be concerned about Adams entering 2014, so let’s take a look at what went wrong.
The two things that would have concerned me about Adams heading into 2014 was his strikeout rate and his BABIP. Adams whiffed 25.1% of the time during 2013. Players who swing and miss that much don’t typically hit for a decent average. That’s where his BABIP steps in. Adams had a .337 BABIP, hinting that, maybe, regression was coming. His home run rate was pretty high, but, even with decline, Adams would probably still be a decent power guy. He also developed some poor platoon splits.
Those were probably the main take-aways of the rankers coming into the season. Let’s take a look at whether those things came true.
The first two issues wound up not being a problem in 2014. Adams cut his strikeout rate by nearly five percent. While striking out in over 20 percent of your plate appearances isn’t the best, it’s much better than 25%. The BABIP success also continued. Adams’ BABIP even jumped by a point, finishing at .338 in 2014. Adams’ career BABIP over about a season and a half is .336. There’s still potential for that to drop in 2015, but he’s shown the ability to hit for a higher-than-average BABIP over the past two years.
The big area where Adams saw some decline was with his home run rate. After posting a 21.8% home run rate in 2013, Adams fell to just 8.7% in 2014. Though some regression was expected after his 21.8 figure, this seems extreme. Adding to that, Adams put more balls in the air in 2014. His line drive and fly ball rate was up, while his ground ball rate dropped. Problem was, Adams wasn’t hitting the ball as far. His average fly ball distance declined from 289.41 in 2013 to 274.27 in 2014, according to BaseballHeatMaps.com. Adams also saw his infield fly ball rate jump to 8.1%, perhaps indicating that Adams wasn’t squaring up as many of his fly balls this year.
The platoon issues also stuck. Adams was even worse against left-handers in 2014. He was able to match his 2013 home run output against southpaws, but it took him twice the amount of at-bats. In 130 plate appearances, Adams hit just .190/.231/.298 against lefties. A small sample, to be sure, but it’s not out of line with what he’s shown in the past.
The home run decline is probably the biggest concern moving forward. While Adams may be benched against left-handers, he’ll still see a ton of righties, and he destroys right-handed pitching. But if he can’t rediscover his power stroke, it’s going to be hard to rank Adams as a top-10 option at an already deep position. There’s some hope that his home run rate evens out in 2015, and owners are rewarded with 20+ home runs for the first time. Even if that’s the case, it’s tough to recommend him as the type of player you reach for at such a deep position.
Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.