St. Louis Cardinals Secret Weapon: Matt Adams Pinch Hitting

Matt Adams had a terrific year for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2016 as a pinch hitter. Was it a one-year wonder or have the Cardinals stumbled upon a secret weapon?

For two straight years, when we’ve see Matt Adams pinch hitting, damage is done. Pitchers beware: the St. Louis Cardinals’ first baseman is better coming off the bench than he is in the starting lineup.

Over the past two seasons, Adams has seen his name in the starting lineup lessen. This was partly due to some struggles at the plate. Following the very successful 2013 and 2014 campaigns, Adams saw his batting average drop about 40 points in 2015. He was slightly better in 2016, but still not nearly as productive as he was previously.

Thankfully, Adams seems to have found his niche. The Cardinals used him regularly as a pinch hitter in 2016. The results were magnificent.

Adams pinch hit a total of 38 times in 2016. The result was a .324/.316/.703 slash line. He also added 3 home runs and 13 RBI. Compared to his statistics as a starter, which included a .246/.319/.459 slash line, the Cardinals may have stumbled upon the best way to use Adams going forward.

This wasn’t a one year anomaly either. Adams hit .375/.375/.563 as a pinch hitter in 16 plate appearances during the 2015 season. The sample size, while smaller, still suggests Adams can be consistently reliable in this role.

One area to pay attention to in Adams’ pinch hitting opportunities is how few walks he has received. Over the past two seasons, through the 52 plate appearances, he has yet to draw a base on balls.

It’s quite interesting to see someone come off the bench so impatient and still succeed. Adams’ aggressiveness apparently seems to be paying off.

The pinch hitting success extends back even further than just 2015. Adams is a career .330/.352/.600 hitter with 7 home runs in 105 plate appearances when pinch hitting. He has driven in runs consistently in this role with a total of 28 RBI thus far in his career.

The 2013 campaign was the beginning of Adams pinch hitting regularly. This was due to the Cardinals not having a roster spot for him to start regularly. Allen Craig was a productive first baseman. They couldn’t move Craig either, as the corner outfield spots were occupied by Matt Holliday and Carlos Beltran. So, to get Adams’ big bat more opportunities, he became the primary left-handed bat off the bench for St. Louis.

Adams made the most of these pinch hitting duties. He smacked 3 home runs and drove in 9 in his 38 opportunities during the 2013 season. He finished the year with a pinch hitting slash line of .314/.368/.600. Unlike the most recent two seasons, it didn’t completely annihilate his totals as a starter. However, it was still better.

We will probably see Adams continue to receive significant pinch hitting opportunities in 2017. Matt Carpenter is the planned starter at first base which puts Adams on the bench to start the season.

Of course, the Cardinals could always trade Adams. It feels inevitable that he does land in the American League as a DH within the next few seasons. His potential seems too high to just sit on the bench for the purpose of pinch hitting.

In the meantime, it’s not so bad since Adams has shown his best at-bats come late in the game, fresh off the bench. He’s a dangerous weapon the St. Louis Cardinals have lurking on the bench and not one they should move on from quite yet.

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