Can Matt Adams Maintain Fantasy Baseball Relevancy When He Returns from the DL?

Matt Adams lost his power stroke somewhere in his new approach to beating the defensive shift. Will he find it before it's too late?

As a talented prospect working his way through the Cardinals farm system, Matt Adams was a slugging machine. In his first 10 plate appearances in the big leagues, he lived up to the hype, smacking three homers, two doubles, three singles and earning one walk.

All signs pointed to the Cardinals striking gold after selecting Adams in the 23rd round of the 2009 MLB Draft. But have they actually struck gold?

Adams is a big-bodied pull-hitter whose solution to last year's mid-season deploy of the defensive shift was simply to crush the ball over the right field wall. Easy enough, right?

In 2013, his first full season in the Majors, 14 of his 17 home runs were ripped to right field. The other three were hit somewhere between straight-away center field and right-center. Here are some more batting splits from his 2013 season:

L to left (opposite)1702.347.469.1220.0%
L to center27311.329.488.1599.1%
L to right (pull)401438.4711.012.54170.0%

Once teams started picking up on his pull-hitting tendencies, they began overloading the right side of the field. They would position three infielders to the right side of second base every time he stepped to the plate. The shift led to a drop in his batting average from .316 to .258 during the second half of last season. But even after the defensive shift became routine, Adams still maintained his power, hitting three more home runs after the All-Star break than he hit in the first half of the season.

He finished his rookie campaign batting .284 and slugging .503. He had a 21.8% home run to fly ball rate that ranked him 11th in the Majors for players with at least 300 plate appearances. Filling in for the injured Allen Craig, Adams played 25 games last September, hitting .315/.344/.609 with 8 bombs.

This season, his numbers reflect his newly acquired approach to the plate in an attempt to beat the defensive shift by taking the ball to the opposite field. Through 202 plate appearances, here are his batting splits for this season:

L to left (opposite)2702.519.712.1920.0%
L to center15110.349.488.1405.3%
L to right (pull)2125.356.576.22011.8%

A much different result than we saw in 2013. Seeing nearly 70% of his plate appearances from the cleanup spot, he's batting a solid .325, spraying the ball all over the field. But he only has three home runs and 17 RBI to show for it. His isolated power and slugging percentage are also down a significant amount from last season, 71 points and 29 points, respectively.

Who would've imagined the cleanup hitter for a top-tier offense would be hitting .325 with subpar counting stats?

This might be satisfactory for real life baseball purposes, but it's not the reason owners reached for him in the middle rounds of fantasy drafts. And as far as fantasy first basemen go, power is a necessity.

There are also major concerns with how poorly he's performing with runners in scoring position. In 100 at-bats this year with the bases empty, he's batting .370 with a 27.4% line-drive percentage and a 15.8% strikeout percentage. In 49 at-bats this year with ducks on the pond, he's batting .184 with a 14.6% line-drive percentage and a 20.4% strikeout percentage. It has to kill fantasy owners seeing him leave all those RBI chances out there to dry.

Singles aren't worth a darn for fantasy owners when they come from a 6'3", 260-pound cleanup hitter they call "Big City," who can barely snag second on a passed ball (he actually recorded his first career stolen base in May - but I still don't believe it). Especially when he isn't even getting these measly hits with runners in scoring position. As fantasy owners, we don’t want home runs and RBI, we need home runs and RBI!

Since being placed on the 15-day disabled list due to tightness in his left calf, the Cardinals promoted their highly touted outfield prospect, Oscar Taveras. Taveras brings a young, energetic mentality to the club, as well as some raw power. His promotion has been anticipated for quite some time now, and he came through in memorable fashion with a solo blast in his second Major League at-bat.

With the ability to shift Allen Craig from right field to first base, there will probably be some sort of platoon between Adams, Craig and Taveras when Adams returns. Craig is finally starting to find his offensive groove, which could threaten future at-bats for Adams. In Craig's last 14 games, he's 18 for 55 (.327) with 2 home runs, 12 RBI and 5 walks.

The good news for Adams owners is he rakes against righties. Here are his 2013 and 2014 splits against right-handed and left-handed pitchers:

vs. LHP52310.231.654.192.282-1.3790.00
vs. RHP2671441.295.876.225.38114.11470.38

vs. LHP4102.150.371.050.166-4.7-10.08
vs. RHP161315.370.924.175.39710.51570.14

After returning from the disabled list, Adams will most likely fall back into a role similar to last season. I'd imagine Cardinals skipper Mike Matheny will get him in the lineup as much as possible when a right-handed pitcher draws the start. When he's not penciled in at first base, he'll be their go-to late inning pinch-hitter. If Adams doesn't find his power stroke soon though, he may see more starts out of the five or six-hole.

If Matheny manages their time properly, there should be enough at-bats to go around. Given Craig's injury history, the trio play as a safety net for each other in case something were to happen to any of the three.

Teams are going to continue to shift against Adams. And don't get me wrong, so far he has been successful against the shift by going the other way with the ball. That's the trade-off, and opposing teams will settle with the Cardinals power hitter slapping singles to left field as long as it keeps him from post-yack strolls around the diamond.

As frustrating as Adams' lack of power has been, I would keep him rostered in standard leagues. His nERD (numberFire Efficiency Rating Derivative) score is currently 1.14, which ranks him 67th in the player power rankings. The algorithms project a fantasy score of 2.68 for the remainder of the season, putting him 90th in the projected fantasy rankings for all players and 24th among first basemen.

So to answer the question, yes, he will be fantasy relevant upon his return. Now, if only he can find a healthy medium between his new "take-the-ball-the-other-way" approach and his former "pull-the-you-know-what-out-of-it" approach, he may be able to earn his way back into the everyday cleanup spot and put up the numbers owners expected on draft day.