Matt Adams is in a very secure position with the Cardinals in 2015. The Cardinals as well as the rest of baseball are starving for power, and Adams provides it, leading the team in slugging percentage at .457. Adams is still young and cheap at 26. As a pre-arbitration player, he makes near the minimum salary. Adams plays first base, and there is no prospect pushing him for time. Mark Reynolds could eat into some plate appearances versus lefties but he is no threat for his job full-time. Matt Adams has a lot of security in 2015, but Adams needs to produce this season to make himself a core player.
Adams is by no means a bad player, but he has yet to show himself as a consistently good player either. In half a season's plate appearances in 2013, Adams hit 17 home runs and had a wRC+ of 135, but could not come up with a similar encore last season. Like many Cardinals, Adams' offense took a step back in 2014. In his first full season in the majors, Adams hit .288/.321/.457 with a 116 wRC+. Those are decent numbers and some of the better numbers on the team, but he ended up with fewer home runs in twice the plate appearances. The problem with Adams' production is not really his hitting numbers, which are solid, but the position he plays that brings him down.
As a first baseman, the numbers expected from Adams are greater than around the rest of the diamond. When taking into account defense and the position he plays, Matt Adams came through with a 1.9 fWAR and a 2.2 bWAR in 2014. Adams plays an adequate first base, but he is hurt because first base is a position that demands offensive production. When comparing Adams' numbers to the league stats for a non-pitcher, he comes off quite well.
The downgrade Adams receives in wins above replacement numbers are due, not to simply the perception of greater offense, but historical norms from the position. Look at Adams' numbers compared to league production from first basemen as a whole last season.
The big advantage Adams has in batting average is blunted by his lack of walks and low on-base percentage. Despite his solid hitting, Adams is essentially an average player. Getting average production out of 23rd round draft picks is great for the Cardinals, and those types of success stories are part of the reason the Cardinals have won so much in the past few years, but being average actually makes him the Cardinals weakest starter.
As strange as it sounds, Adams is projected to be the worst of the Cardinals starters in 2015. According to the ZiPS projections, the Cardinals are projected to have an above average player at every single position including all five members of the rotation with the exception of first base.
Rough depth chart for St. Louis Cardinals with projected WAR c/o @DSzymborski. Full post tomorrow at FanGraphs. pic.twitter.com/zIq0RQHIs4— Carson Cistulli (@cistulli) December 28, 2014
Those numbers are rounded (go to this link for the full projections), but give a general idea of the Cardinals' expectations in 2015. PECOTA projections from Baseball Prospectus are now out and the Cardinals are projected to win the NL Central handily because they have solid players throughout the field without any major weaknesses.
ZiPS is not the only projection system that has Adams below average in 2015. Steamer and Baseball Prospectus do not see a great year for Adams, either.
All three projections have Adams falling slightly short of last season and ending up a below average player. It is possible Adams will perform better if he is limited to plate appearances against right-handed pitcher. In 406 plate appearances against righties last season, Adams hit .318/.349/.505 with an outstanding wRC+ of 137. Limiting his appearances against lefties would definitely boost his numbers, although improving against southpaws is also an option. As Joe wrote earlier in the offseason:
Going forward against southpaws, Adams needs to cut down his swing rate on pitches outside of the zone, with an increased focus on breaking balls because even when he does make contact, it's not statistically productive. As shown by the ISO graph and the two postseason homer videos, Adams can be quite a threat against lefties when he swings at pitches in the zone, and even the best pitchers fling a mistake up there every once in a while. Whether he needs to go a full month of live action without swinging at a single outside breaking ball or just attempt to shoot those pitches to left, I don't know, but he's a professional hitter with professional teammates watching professional video, so I have faith that adjustments can be made. His swing puts him in a position to have success against both righties and lefties. Now, it is time for his approach to help close the gap between his splits.
Ben provided an excellent supplement to that post explaining why Adams might not be as bad against lefties as he has shown thus far. Adams can improve his numbers and beat the projections. Maintaining his high BABIP and increasing his walks even a little would mean a big improvement for Adams over last season. Either improving against lefties or taking those plate appearances away are also options.
Adams is going to be a valuable player because of the way he hammers righties. Beating expectations in 2015 will be very important for Adams in determining his future with the Cardinals and as a baseball player. This season will be a big one for Big Mayo as he tries to take a step forward and show that he is more than a platoon player and that he can potentially emerge as part of he Cardinals' core.