Last night, the Cardinals game against the Reds stretched into extra innings, with the teams tied at 3. And then extra-extra innings. Matt Adams hit a solo home run in the 14th to put the Cardinals ahead; the Reds came back and tied it 4-4 in the bottom of the inning. Two innings later, Matt Adams came to bat again and hit ANOTHER solo home run. Carlos Martinez managed to lock down the win a half-inning later.
This was a pretty unique feat. Adams enters the Records-We-Made-Up-Because-That-Was-Weird Book as the only player to hit two home runs after the 14th inning. In a less bizarre record, he was the seventh major league player to hit two home runs in extra innings.
That was a pretty impressive performance in a seemingly-unnecessarily long and drawn-out game. Adams was worth about half the win on his own, notching a .525 win probability added for his two homers. The Cardinals pitching was pretty much the other story of the night in terms of performance, putting in a .764 WPA performance, with strong 2-inning relief appearances from Martinez, Tyler Lyons, and Trevor Rosenthal.
The non-performance story of the night was also Matt Adams-related, if indirectly. In the fourth inning, first baseman Allen Craig hit a bouncer on the infield. An errant throw by Joey Votto let Craig reach base. As Craig turned to figure out where the ball was and/or avoid the umpire blocking his path, his ankle bent in a way that is not conducive to the continued functioning of ankles. Craig left the game and is returning to St. Louis to have his ankle assessed.
To the extent I have any skill at reading between the lines of reportage, it sounds like the intial reports on the twisted ankle runs towards the more serious variety of ankle sprains. "Concern is high," tersely tweeted Derrick Goold last night/this morning.
I can't give you any clues to the fairly important question of whether Craig will be out for a few days or a few weeks or something more serious. To the extent that Matt Adams was not already Plan B to Allen Craig at first, I think last night's performance virtually assures us that Adams will see the vast majority of time at first in Craig's absence, be it long or short.
The Cardinals do have other options of various degrees of orthodoxy: Yadier Molina could rest his knees for a few games playing first while Johnson catches; Brock Peterson could get his big chance for a few games; David Freese could start a few games at first; or you could even move Matt Holliday to first and get some of the more athletic youngsters out in left field. But I don't think any of those plans are all that appealing compared to letting Adams finally get an extended chance at first base.
So, it is time to talk about Matt Adams.
Adams's major league profile looks mostly like the player his minor league record hinted at. After 322 major league PAs, we don't know everything about him, but we know something about him.
Matt's primary skill has always been power. In the majors, he hasn't flashed the absurd power he showed off as a minor league slugger. In 2013, he has a good, though not astonishing, .208 ISO, even counting last night's performance. He has hit an amazing number of home runs; of his 57 hits this year, almost 1-in-5 have been homers.
The biggest change in his major league numbers is a loss of contact skill. In the minors, he was a consistent .300 hitter, often far exceeding the .300 benchmark. In the majors, he has a more modest .260 average. Even as his power mostly survives, his hit skill has struggled to keep up.
One of the big critiques of Adams while coming up is that he didn't walk enough, showing poor patience at the plate. Many people, including me, were skeptical of whether he would succeed against tougher pitching. His walk rate so far is 7.6% in the majors, which is pretty much what he was doing in the minors. That's not great, but it doesn't represent a huge setback in patience and does not suggest a big loss in patience or inability to cope with MLB breaking pitches.
Matt is also a hitter first, not a defender. He has decent instincts as a defender at first. I've seen him do a great job of picking bad throws out of the dirt. All the instincts in the world won't make up for the limited range that his body implies. He's poorly rated as a first baseman and probably deserves it.
Taking all this into consideration, he's a big step down from Allen Craig. Craig tends to hit and field like a 3 WAR first baseman. Adams is probably a 1 WAR first baseman, whose power drags him up to a 109 wRC+. Not a bad guy to keep on your bench, but not somebody who ought to be taking up a starting role long term. Over the course of a month, that's not a big setback; maybe 3 runs difference? But every bit counts.
I like Matt Adams. I'm glad he's on our team. If you put him in a home-run derby, he might do as well as anyone on the team. But I think he's a role player; he's a photo negative of Shane Robinson, in a way. He's good for a pinch start. He's good on the bench. He's good to have when someone twists his ankle. I don't think he's a full-time MLB first baseman, though.