St Louis Cardinals

Was the Matt Adams trade a mistake for the Cardinals?

ATLANTA, GA - JUNE 11: Atlanta Braves first baseman Matt Adams (18) looks on during the MLB game between the Atlanta Braves and the New York Mets on Sunday, June 11, 2017 at SunTrust Park in Atlanta, GA. The Mets beat the Braves 2-1. (Photo by David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire)
(Photo by David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire)

Matt Adams’ career in a St. Louis Cardinals uniform ended not with a bang, but with a whisper.

On May 19, Adams came into the game against the San Francisco Giants as a pinch hitter, and promptly made an out. The Cardinals lost 6-5 that day, but the team was still above .500 at the time, and were maybe convincing themselves that they had a shot to be a contender.

That meant Adams was surplus to requirements. The team didn’t know where to play him, given Matt Carpenter’s presence at first base. Adams was a bit of an embarrassment defensively in left field, and managed a mere 95 wRC+ in 53 plate appearances. In the weeks leading up to May 19, manager Mike Matheny was fond of rolling out Tommy Pham in left and keeping Adams on the bench. With Randal Grichuk still kicking around at the time, what use did the Redbirds have for an unathletic, light-hitting first baseman looking lost in the outfield?

The Braves were more than happy to retain Adams’ services, when Freddie Freeman’s injury constituted an emergency need of a first baseman. A trade was made, and Adams was sent packing to Atlanta.

A funny thing happened on the way to SunTrust Park: Adams started raking. In his four weeks in a Braves uniform, Adams has dragged his wRC+ up to 132. He’s bashed nine home runs in 114 plate appearances with the Braves. Adams has turned his season around in a hurry.

Which leads one to speculate: Did Cardinals GM John Mozeliak make a mistake in shipping Adams south?

Given what Mozeliak and Matheny had to work with on May 19, it’s hard to see how keeping Adams was a wise choice. Mozeliak had tried to trade him in the offseason to no success. Meanwhile, Pham had run a .384 Expected Weighted On-Base Average (xwOBA) in a comparable number of plate appearances to Adams. Adams’ expected production on contact sat at .327, slightly above the league average. Pham was making way better contact, and wasn’t a defensive liability.

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 12: St. Louis Cardinals left fielder Matt Adams (32) fields a fly ball in the fifth inning against the Washington Nationals on April 12, 2017, at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire)

(Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire)

How have Adams and Pham compared since May 19? They’ve essentially switched bodies. Pham has cooled off, running a .320 xwOBA in 98 plate appearances. Adams has carried a .386 figure in 118 trips to the plate.

We’re essentially evaluating these two players in discrete seven-week and four-week chunks. That hardly seems like worthy sample sizes to pit them against. Once we look at their production in aggregate, Pham has hit for a .343 xwOBA and a 122 wRC+. Adams has earned a .368 xwOBA and a 132 wRC+.

They’ve been pretty similar so far this season, as far as overall offensive production is concerned. Add in defensive value and baserunning and both have accrued roughly the same wins above replacement, as well.

On the one hand, this bolsters the argument for cutting Adams loose. He still had value as a trade chip, and if he wasn’t able to add anything above and beyond Pham’s abilities, there wasn’t much point in keeping him around, especially since his ouster freed up a spot on the 25-man roster.

On the other hand, one could argue that Adams wasn’t a Hanley Ramirez-sized disaster out in left, and maybe he and Pham would have made a solid platoon. Given that they have practically identical overall offensive production, and that neither has impressed against same-handed pitching, maybe a platoon would have been the right call.

Maybe. If one were to argue for a platoon with Adams and Pham, then one must be resigned to closing off that potentially-open spot on the 25-man. However, it is much easier to see that Pham can still hit right-handed pitching, the roster has more flexibility, and the outfield is much less crowded at Busch Stadium these days. Yes, Adams has had a great four weeks. Cardinals fans shouldn’t kid themselves that he would make left field a brighter spot for the next 14.


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