The Freddie Freeman-less world that the Braves will find themselves in for the next two months is definitely a sad one, make no mistake about that. On the heels of Freeman’s injury, the James Loney signing did not inspire much confidence: Loney was last a playable major leaguer in 2014, and hasn’t been a starter caliber playing since 2013; he also was hitting for a sub-100 wRC+ in AAA for the Tigers despite a 21 percent walk rate prior to his acquisition.
To attempt to rectify the first base situation in a way that did not require Jace Peterson to man the position, the Braves have acquired Matt Adams from the Cardinals. The return, Juan Yepez, is something best left for something else to analyze. Losing Yepez doesn’t harm the farm system much, if at all, though the common narrative (and one I agree with) is likely to be consternation and confusion as to why the Braves traded anything at all for a player of Adams’ caliber, especially given the unlikelihood of the Braves vying for a playoff spot in 2017 and the fact that Freeman could still return this season and log eight more weeks of playing time.
Before I get into how this could work for the Braves, just a few things about Matt Adams to set the groundwork. For one, if you have a mental image of Matt Adams, you’re probably most of the way there. He’s a big guy, listed at 6’3” and 260 pounds, and was touted as a powerful hitter after he hit 22 homers in A-ball, 32 homers in AA, and then 18 homers in 276 PAs at AAA prior to his callup to the Cardinals in 2012.
Unfortunately for Adams, that pop hasn’t quite translated to the major league level. He did knock 17 big flies in a half-season of plate appearances in 2013, but then followed that up with just 15 bombs during a full 2014 season. His ISO sits at .183; so far in 2017, first basemen have put up an ISO of .215. The power he does have has helped him to put up an above-average career batting line of .271/.315/.453, good for a 110 wRC+, but that’s really all of the value he provides. He’s slow on the bases, and could be pretty good as a defender around the first base bag, but not in a way that salvages his value from the massive negative value adjustment that comes from fielding first base in the first place. Put those things together and his 4.0 fWAR in 1,539 career PAs, which translates to 1.6 fWAR per 600 PAs, is fairly self-evident and intuitive.
In short: he’s a pretty good backup first baseman, and that’s exactly the role he’s been acquired to play — backing up first base because of Freddie Freeman’s soul-piercing, woe-inducing injury.
So, about this whole “How Matt Adams could work out for the Braves” thing...
I’m thinking it’s a formula that looks like this:
First, you take Matt Adams. As said, Matt Adams is a slightly-above average hitter in his career. That consists of being even better against righties (122 career wRC+) and a complete inability to hit lefties (59 career wRC+). So, grab Matt Adams, and sprinkle him over the eight or so weeks of PAs at first base that the Braves have available, reserving those PAs that would come against a left-handed starter.
Second, consider the way that SunTrust Park has played so far, especially with regards to right field. These stats don’t look very impressive, but:
- Right now, SunTrust Park has allowed the 7th-highest OPS among major league ballparks, adjusted for player quality.
- Lefties have hit 22 homers (out of 42 total) at SunTrust Park so far this season. They are homering once every 3.8% of PAs. Meanwhile, righties are homering at SunTrust Park only in about 3.3% of PAs, while, leaguewide, the homer-to-PA proportion is about 3.2%. So, SunTrust Park is yielding homers to lefties with about 19% increased frequency (0.6% is about 19% of 3.2%) compared to all hitters and all parks. Matt Adams, is, of course, a left-handed hitter.
Third, subtract, reduce, or boil away the fact that Matt Adams has, in his career, pulled only 27% of his fly balls. Do the same to the fact that his pull rate, overall, has decreased since 2015: it was at 35% last year, and has fallen to an abysmal 28% this season. He’s going to need to start pulling the ball again in the air for this to work.
Mix those together, let the SunTrust Park launching pad voodoo magic do its business, and maybe we get, if we squint... 3.5 PAs per game x 50 games until Freeman returns x an overall 5% HR/PA rate, and you get nine homers in two months. Sure, that’s not that impressive: Freddie Freeman had 14 in about six weeks. But maybe that’s enough to make Matt Adams look good to a contender, even as a bench piece, right around the Trade Deadline, which is when Freeman is slated to return.
Would you trade something better than Juan Yepez for a left-handed bench bat with an above-average homer rate? Well, you’re reading this article, so I may have convinced you the other way. But, could you see it happen? I think I could, and that may be what the Atlanta Front Office is banking on.
Word of advice, though: I hope they find a platoon partner that can hit lefties pretty well if Matt Adams is indeed getting all the other playing time at first base. Otherwise, well, cover thine eyes.
Also, as a parting shot: if you find it very confusing that the Braves have made a marginal upgrade during the 2017 season to shore up a position of need after an injury, but are continuing to carry Emilio Bonifacio on the roster, well... so do I, friend, so do i.