Braves: Which Matt Adams will we get in 2020?

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As our own Chase Irle reported, the Braves signed a familiar face Monday evening in 31-year-old Matt Adams. Here at SportsTalkATL, we just looked at available left-handed hitters, and Adams should fill that role rather well.

However, as well as Adams performed for the Braves during a small period back in 2017, the man they call Big City isn’t necessarily that same guy. Although, just like any signing, especially one that features a player past his prime, the Braves are hoping Adams can contribute in some fashion during the 2020 season. 


Best-case scenario 

Standing 6’3″, 245 lbs., Adams, who was taken in the 23rd round by the Cardinals in 2009, packs a big punch from the left side of the plate. For the majority of his big league career, he has done a serviceable job at making contact, especially against right-handed pitchers.

Over eight major league seasons, Adams has slugged 118 home runs — or 23 per 162-game season — and posted a .261 AVG, thanks to a better-than-you-may-think approach. Granted, Adams is a big guy, and frequently is quite the free swinger; but only twice has he put up an unsightly strikeout rate — his first season in the majors (26.4 K%) and the 2019 season (34.5 K%). For his style of play, as a big corner-power-hitting type, Adams has a decent approach, which has allowed him to hit .273 (117 wRC+) against right-handed pitchers during his career. His success versus righties, especially given how many right-handed aces reside in the NL East, is why the Braves are again interested in his services.

Which brings us to that 100-game stint back in 2017, when Adams hit .271 with 19 homers and 58 RBI while in Atlanta. From Day 1 of that season, Adams was one of the better hitters in the Braves lineup, and then in June, he turned it up a notch. After maintaining a solid .269 AVG with three homers through the first few months (March thru May), Adams carried the Braves’ offense on his back to the tune of a .314/.377/.657 slash-line with ten home runs and 25 RBI in June. By the time Freddie Freeman returned from his injury on July 4, Adams was too hot to bench, and the Braves were forced to keep him at first base. 

During that stretch of the ’17 campaign, Adams helped lead the Braves to several different wins, including a walk-off homer in the 12th inning of a tied game versus the Reds on June 3, a solo-homer in the late innings of a May 23 matchup with the Pirates, and a big 2-run homer off Jeff Samardzija and the Giants that wound up being the difference on June 21. 

Adams also hit six other late-inning home runs, featuring crucial blasts off guys like Kenley Jansen and Greg Holland, as well as early-inning long balls off Stephen Strasburg, Gerrit Cole, Amir Garrett, and Tyler Glasnow. When it comes to facing a tough right-handed pitcher, Adams is your guy. 

So, where’s the risk? Well, given he was signed to a minor-league deal, there’s hardly any risk at all, but only time will tell whether or not Adams can be the same player he was several seasons ago.


Worst-case scenario 

Set to turn 32-years-old next month, Adams’ WAR total has fallen in each of the last three seasons, with his 2019 campaign featuring a below-replacement performance (-0.1 fWAR). Some of that is due to him always rating somewhat poorly on defense. However, Adams has also experienced quite a decline recently at the plate. His overall strikeout-rate increased by over 10% from 2018-19, reaching 34.5% last year, but he also struggled to do what he has always done best: crush right-handed pitching. 

The trend hasn’t looked too good for Adams over his last two seasons. In fact, that 2017 campaign was Adams’ most-recent year in which he held his own versus righties (.295 AVG). 


Adams vs. RHP (2018-19)

  • 2018: .242 AVG, 22.1 K%
  • 2019: .230 AVG, 35.2 K%


If that type of performance versus righties continues for Adams, his time in Atlanta will be very short, for his ability to mash that flavor of pitching is the sole reason he’s still employed. 

And unfortunately… the projections don’t look too good for Adams. According to ZiPS (via FanGraphs), Adams’ 2020 season is expected to look like his 2019. The projection system has Adams slated to play in 43 games and hit just .219 while striking out in 30.4% of his at-bats. And while ZiPS doesn’t break down his splits, it’s obvious his current decline will have continued for him to post such poor overall numbers.


Adams’ 2020 ZiPS

43 G, .219/.280/.447, 7 HR, 30.4 K%, 7.2 BB%


And there’s already evidence that things are beginning to get more difficult for Adams at the plate, given his overall contact-rate fell by over 6 percentage points from 2018-19, including a 5% drop in his contact-rate on pitches thrown in the strike zone. Even worse, per FanGraphs‘ Pitch Values, Adams struggled against essentially every pitch thrown his way in 2019, save for the slider, though his success versus that pitch was mostly propped up due to him slugging six homers in just 59 PA (I’m not sure I’d call a .182 AVG vs. sliders as successful). 

So despite the memories we have of Adams tearing it up in 2017, it’s possible that he’s far from being that guy in 2020. And considering he’s expected to be used primarily as a pinch-hitter for the Braves, Adams will have very few chances to succeed. When looking at his numbers as a non-starter, it isn’t easy to feel too optimistic. In 296 plate appearances as a substitute, Adams has slashed just .239/.274/.443 during his career, to go along with 15 home runs.

But all-in-all we knew the Braves were probably going to sign another bat, and given what was available, Adams was certainly one of the better left-handed hitters to choose from. And you never know, maybe that Braves’ uniform will bring back some mojo for Adams. 

Photo: Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire


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