Don't look now, but forty-seven team games into the 2016 season, left-handed hitting first baseman Matt Adams leads the St. Louis Cardinals (among those with at least 100 plate appearances) in wRC+ at 153. This is especially impressive considering Aledmys Diaz's torrid start to his big league career (144 wRC+ in 166 PA; Diaz has predictably cooled down of late) and Stephen Piscotty's steady performance from day one (149 wRC+ in 202 PA). Now, given that Adams has split playing time with Brandon Moss and at times, Matt Holliday, he is significantly behind both Diaz and Piscotty in total plate appearances, but still, one must be pleased with the first baseman's performance at the plate given that some (myself included) believed he was not even worthy of a 25-man roster spot early in the season.
2016 Statistics (Via FanGraphs)
Excluding PA, each statistic included in the table above would qualify as a career high for Adams. The increase in on-base percentage is largely due to an increase in walks (to 7.5% from his career average of 5.7%) and a higher batter average (.316 versus .279 for his career). The .245 ISO tops even 2013, the year in which he mashed 17 home runs in only 319 plate appearances. As the title suggests, though, we are obviously dealing with a small sample size, and given past performance and future projections, it is a near certainty that each will drop as the season progresses. Regardless, let's take a closer look at just how Adams has been able to succeed thus far in 2016.
Powering the Ball to All Fields (Via baseballsavant.mlb.com)
As you can see, of Adams' six home runs this season, five have technically gone out the opposite way, with this pinch-hit blast off John Lackey on Monday night being essentially to straight away center field. In an injury-shortened 2015, Adams' had zero home runs the opposite way. Further, he had one in 2014, zero in 2013, and one in his brief debut in the 2012 season. Thus, in his first 1,159 MLB plate appearances, Adams managed only two opposite field home runs compared to five already in 2016. This, combined with the barrage of yellow dots up the middle and on the left side of Adams' spray chart shows that the 27-year-old is having no trouble driving the ball to all fields. In fact, on balls staying in the ballpark, Adams actually has nearly as many line drives to left field (seven) as he does to right (eight).
2016 Pitch Heatmap (Via baseballsavant.mlb.com)
Considering where Adams has been pitched this season, it makes sense that there has been a focus on driving the ball out to left. Yet, this appears to be positive representation of Adams' development as a professional hitter because throughout his career (2013, 2014, and 2015), he has been attacked away by opposing pitchers, but he has never shown even a semblance of the opposite-field success he has already experienced in 2016.
To be frank, Adams has been one of the few bright spots on an otherwise middling team. Yet, despite his small-sample-sized resurgence at the plate, Adams still should not see consistent at bats against left-handed pitching (career wRC+ of 54 versus LHPs). That being said, when a right-hander is on the mound, Adams has proven to be an ideal candidate for the starting lineup, just as John Fleming wrote over the offseason. Thus, considering the majority of starting pitchers are right-handed, I believe Adams should find his name in many starting lineups going forward, preferably in the five spot.