One of the biggest questions for the St. Louis Cardinals to answer over the off-season is: Who is the real Matt Adams.
Is the big first baseman the relentless slugger he seemed to be during the second half of the 2013 season? Or is he the apparently confused hitter who struggled to find his power stroke for much of 2014?
Adams seemingly sacrificed power for average in the first half of the Redbirds' recently-concluded season. Facing countless defensive shifts designed to take away his pull field, Adams repeatedly slapped the ball to the third base side. Even when the defense played him straight up, he still seemed intent to hit the ball the other way.
It's great to be able to hit the ball to all fields. But it seemed that Adams was unable to turn on inside pitches when he made like Dixie and looked away, looked away.
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Conversely, in the second half of the season it seemed Adams decided he was going to try to pull the ball again in effort to hit more home runs. His batting average fell from .329 before the All-Star Game to .235 afterward. But the power didn't come. He hit 11 homers in 81 games before the break and only four in the 61 he played afterward.
In the playoffs when opponents returned to shifting against Adams, there were several spots where the Cardinals needed a baserunner late to try to tie a game. Adams was either incapable of or unwilling to shift gears and hit the ball the other way. Why work on it half the year if you're not going to use it when you need to?
Adams became a full time player when first base partner Allen Craig was dealt at the trade deadline to the Boston Red Sox, leaving the Cardinals without a suitable right handed platoon option. Overexposed, Adams hit .190 with three homers and 15 RBI in 130 plate appearances.
He hits home runs in streaks and has covered large stretches of season in which he's hit well over .300. Can Adams put it all together and become a high average hitter capable of hitting 30 homers a season?
That's something the club needs to know because he's really the only suitable clean-up man on the roster. Jhonny Peralta, who hit 21 homers over the regular season, sagged terribly when he was asked to be the number four hitter late in the season and in the playoffs. He hit .118 from the four hole during the playoffs.
Even when Adams was hitting for average, he wasn't driving in many runs. In 563 plate appearances he only drove in 68.
The Cardinals, to be successful in 2015, need several players who underachieved in 2014 to play up to their potential. But none of them could make a bigger difference than Matt Adams being the straw that stirs the drink.
Do the Redbirds really believe he's that guy? Or will they go out to find someone else to fill the clean-up role?