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Willy Adames is performing better than you think

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The Rays shortstop is poised for a second half leap.

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Oakland Athletics Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

When the Rays traded David Price to the Detroit Tigers at the 2014 trade deadline, some Rays fans knew that Willy Adames was the headliner of the deal, and that he would be the shortstop of the future.

Fast forward to 2018, and we got a glimpse of that future. In roughly half a season worth of games, he was an above average major league hitter (109 wRC+), and an average-ish defender (depending on what metric you look at). His ‘18 performance netted him 1.3 fWAR, which projects well above the 2.0 WAR standard over an entire season; respectable for a rookie.

This season has been a little different.

Even though Adames has already surpassed his ‘18 WAR value in 6 fewer games, he appears to have taken a step back at the plate, and his defense, though improved in terms of advanced metrics, seems to be held back by his proclivity to bounce throws to first.

But with a little digging in, it’s clear to me that Willy is doing just fine. Furthermore, I expect him to be one of the better performers for the Rays in the second half — especially at the plate.

Willy’s offense

Though his offense seems to have regressed on the surface (97 wRC+ in 2019), that number is dragged down by a couple of things. First, his rough start:

Willy Adames before and after May 1

Timeframe BA OBP SLG wOBA wRC+
Timeframe BA OBP SLG wOBA wRC+
Before .200 .265 .300 .249 54
After .277 .343 .461 .342 117

Since that May 1 cutoff, his 117 wRC+ ranks him 10th among big league shortstops.

Second, Willy has had some strange splits:

Willy Adames wRC+ splits

Split Home Road vs. LHP vs. RHP
Split Home Road vs. LHP vs. RHP
wRC+ 49 137 32 128

Looking at Adames’ splits from last year (83 wRC+ against LHP and 120 against RHP), it’s reasonable to buy him as a reverse splits hitter in that regard, if you’re really looking for a narrative, but it’s tough to imagine a 32 wRC+ mark can continue.

What’s even more unlucky has been his split against lefties at home.

More Willy Adames splits

Split Away vs RHP Home vs RHP Away vs LHP Home vs LHP
Split Away vs RHP Home vs RHP Away vs LHP Home vs LHP
wRC+ 156 97 108 -68

HOLD RIGHT THE HECK UP. A -68?!

That can’t be right. Except it is.

Let’s dig into that more.

More Willy Adames Splits

Split BA OBP SLG BABIP wRC+
Split BA OBP SLG BABIP wRC+
Away vs R .316 .396 .551 .368 156
Home vs R .286 .330 .396 .403 97
Away vs L .250 .316 .462 .294 108
Home vs L .025 .093 .025 .038 -68

So clearly, Adames can hit both lefties and righties, and that last mark is an outlier.

Further, his Statcast metrics also suggest he has taken a step forward at the plate in ‘19.

Willy Adames Statcast

Year EV HH% LA Barrel% xBA xwOBA
Year EV HH% LA Barrel% xBA xwOBA
2018 86.5 29.6 8.6 6.6 .225 .293
2019 88.1 38.2 9.1 8.9 .245 .318

Now that we know that Willy Adames can hit, what explains his bizarre at home vs lefties split? Let’s look at the specific outcomes.

More Willy Adames splits

Split BB% K% LD% GB% FB%
Split BB% K% LD% GB% FB%
Away vs R 9.8 21.4 17.6 50.0 32.4
Home vs R 6.2 28.9 27.4 48.4 24.2
Away vs L 8.6 25.9 25.0 38.9 36.1
Home vs L 7.0 32.6 23.1 57.7 19.2

What we’re looking for in these particular splits is significant variation against lefties at home. Looking at what Willy can control, he’s striking out a little more, and he’s hitting a few more gound balls.

Could that be because he’s faced better lefties at home? Perhaps. Does it justify a -68 wRC+? Just one hit over 43 plate appearances? Absolutely not.

If the issue is something Willy can control, it’s his approach at the plate. If it’s something out of his control, it’s either environmental (the batter’s eye vs LHP for Willy?) or it’s just plain dumb luck.

With that said, let’s look at those same splits through the lens of what he can control.

Willy Adames approach splits

Split Swing% Contact% SwSrt%
Split Swing% Contact% SwSrt%
Away vs R 48.6 70.4 14.4
Home vs R 48.8 68.5 15.4
Away vs L 46.3 74.0 12.0
Home vs L 43.6 67.0 14.4

Huh!

Again, while there is some to suggest that he deserves worse results at home, and specifically against lefties at home, it’s hard not to be baffled by the extreme lack of parity here.

If it is in fact luck related, we can expect a positive regression any time now. If there’s something else at play, such as something structural that is distracting his eye when facing lefties, that’s a much more complex riddle to solve.

Conclusion

Willy Adames is an above average hitting shortstop with a glove that is also trending in the right direction. Thanks to a few flukey splits, however, his 97 wRC+ looks unimpressive.

Since May 1, though, his 1.6 fWAR (when his bat started to come around) projects him out to be comfortably in the in the 4-5 win range over the course of a whole season. He’s also just 23 years old.

Additionally, we can’t expect Adames to continue to hit to a -68 wRC+ against lefties at home. Whether you think he’s a reverse platoon splits hitter or not, nothing suggests he won’t bounce back in the 2nd half of 2019.