Two plus seasons into his big league career with the St. Louis Cardinals, Matt Adams's splits against left-handed pitching have been nothing north of abysmal. In 203 plate appearances, Adams is slashing .197/.227/.326 with a K rate of 30%, an ISO of .130, and a wRC+ of 51. The drop-off from his right-handed slash line is stark: -.109/-.121/-.177. He strikes out 10% less against righties, and his wRC+ against is more than two and a half times higher at 137. This is not very promising on the surface, and though I don't think Adams will necessarily begin tearing the cover off the ball against lefties, there is reason to believe there will be at least some normalization of his lefty versus righty splits.
In 2011 and 2012, while in Double-A and Triple-A, respectively, Adams collected 220 at bats against left-handed pitching and mashed his way to a slash of .295/.359/.523 with an ISO of .228. Adams, a 23rd round draft pick in 2009, turned a corner in 2011, showing that he was also able to hit at the higher levels after dominating lower-level pitching. In short, he climbed the organizational ladder by hitting—regardless of the handedness of the opposing pitcher.
Brian Hopkins, an area scout for the Cardinals at the time of the 2009 draft, is the man who "found" Adams, and this is what he had to say about him in an article by Rob Rains back in 2013:
"What set him apart for me was that he was more of a hitter than a power guy," Hopkins said. "He was a hitter, with power. He had the strength but he also had a really compact swing. He had a really good overall approach at the plate. I don’t know if I saw him face a pitcher who threw harder than the mid-80s, but he had the bat speed, a good compact swing and very good plate discipline. Pitchers tried to make him chase stuff all over the place and he wouldn’t do it."
Hopkins's last sentence is very telling, but given the fact that Adams was a future pro playing against Division II competition, it makes complete sense. Of course he wasn't going to chase pitches because he knew he would eventually be given a pitch to launch on that was inside the zone. As we all know by now, Adams has been a free swinger during his relatively short stint with the big league Cardinals. His 5.5 BB% is plenty indicative of that. Heck, his minor league walk rates peaked at 7.8% back in 2011 with Double-A Springfield. Though his free swinging tendencies will likely never significantly change now that he is a 26 years old and heading into his fourth big league calendar year, there are positive adjustments he can make that will undoubtedly benefit his hitting line without even necessarily affecting his BB% all that much.
On pitches outside of the strike zone with a lefty on the mound, Adams swings 39.4% of the time (237/602), whiffs on 44.7% of those swings (106/237), and yet, when he does make contact, his batting average is a minuscule .124 (14/113). Inside the zone against lefties, he is hitting a much more respectable .281 (32/114). Batting average only tells us so much, though, especially when looking at the team's supposed power-hitting first baseman. Well, if Adams is able to fine-tune his eye for the strike zone, he should be in good shape, as shown by his ISO graph versus lefties in his MLB career:
Inside the zone, his ISO is excellent at .246. On the other hand, outside the zone, his .035 makes Jon Jay and his 2014 ISO of .075 look like a power hitter.
Memorable postseason moments versus left-handed pitching
NLDS-winning HR versus National League Cy Young and MVP Clayton Kershaw
Was this one of the worst curveballs Kershaw has ever thrown? As you can see over at BrooksBaseball, the horizontal movement showed that the pitch actually backed up (horizontal movement of positive 0.53 versus his career average of negative 2.69), and the location was down the middle, belt high—essentially on an imaginary tee. Thus, yes, this pitch was definitely a hanger, but given the circumstances (down two in the seventh inning of a pivotal NLDS game), the home run is no less meaningful and shines a bright light on Adams's confidence going forward. Plus, as mentioned in my previous article discussing this home run, it was the very first home run Kershaw has ever given up to a lefty on his breaking ball. What does that mean? Not all that much, but it blows my mind considering he has pitched in 211 games in his career.
NLCS HR versus World Series MVP Madison Bumgarner
Unlike the home run versus Kershaw, the curveball from Bumgarner was actually pretty good, and he just barely missed Buster Posey's target. Though it clearly caught too much of the middle of the plate, it was down in the zone with nearly six inches or horizontal movement.
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.
Thus, in my opinion, the Cardinals front office should not worry about acquiring a right-handed hitting platoon for Adams. If they want the security of having one, they have one in Xavier Scruggs. If they don't have faith in Scruggs, then, as many people have suggested for years, they can give Yadier Molina some time at first base. Personally, I don't think we will need to see much of either next year because Adams's lefty splits will improve. He's a proven hitter, and in the end, hitters will hit.
Credit to BrooksBaseball, MiLB.com, and Fangraphs for some of the data used in this post.