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Willy Adames: The Deep Dive

Jake McKibbin



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For the second instalment in this series, let's delve a little into Willy Adames underlying numbers, to try and see where he's been developing, and where there is growth still to come:



When he first joined the Brewers in 2021, Adames posted a .285/.366/.521 for an .887 OPS, crushing fastballs all over American Family Field, but we should keep in mind that he had far lower expected stats with an xBA of .236 and an xSLG of .435, which would lead to an expected OPS of something more in the .750 range. 

His biggest issue was that, despite being 72nd percentile for hard hit balls, and a median chase rate at the MLB level, he was in the ninth percentile for whiffing, swinging and missing on 32.6% of pitches. The slider caused him the most trouble (he was heavily targeted with the fastball-slider combination) with which he missed a whopping 41.3% of the pitches, including a lot of pitches down and away (21% to be specific). He also seemed to struggle with pitches that cramped him for room, struggling to barrel the ball when pulling the hands in, creating a lot of low exit velocities, with only four barrelled balls all year in the inner part of the plate. Pitches up and in are statistically his weakest going by average exit velocity, with a mere 78.9mph, mostly as soft popups, but even pitches down and in resulted in a heavy ground ball rate.

On the plus side, he was exceptional at getting the ball in the air through the middle and upper parts of the strike zone, with average launch angles between 20-25 degrees in each of these 6 zones. In all three zones over the middle of the plate, middle-away, and up-and-away, he averages a hard hit ball with exit velocities of 95+ mph. He hit 18 of his 25 homers in the middle-middle, and middle away zones alone, as well as having high xSLG and BACON numbers for the up-and-middle/up-and-away zones. 

To summarise, Adames had areas of the zone where if he got his pitch, he would be able to impose himself on the pitcher, areas where he could elevate the ball nicely into the outfield. Yet in other zones he just couldn't find the barrel of the ball, combined with a propensity to whiff at any pitch that wasn't at his belt buckle.



How did Adames try and address this in 2022? Given he was in the 9th percentile of whiff rate in 2021, he did manage to boost it to the 24th percentile in 2022.  He was targeted down and away even more often, 24% of the time in fact, however he did reduced his whiff rate in this zone from 66% to 51%, a sizeable difference, and a large reason why his run differential vs the slider increased by 19 points. His BA against the slider did improve slightly, in part because when he connected on this pitch, he hit it hard, with a slugging percentage of .525. His biggest issue was that he started whiffing more around the upper part of the zone, much more consistently. This would go some way to showing why his run value on the fastball came down by 10 points, as well as his xBA and his xSLG each by .030 points. 


In each major league season, Adames has increased his barrel rate, to the point that last year, at 13%, he was in the 90th percentile of MLB, and his average launch angle of 18.9 degrees follows the same trend, demonstrating a real talent for getting the ball in the air consistently with hard contact. He had the 15th best barrel rate in MLB last year! He managed this more through an ability to loft the ball more, making use of his harder contact to find the outfield on a more consistent basis.



Adames has some obvious weaknesses it seems, from his vulnerability at the top of the zone in 2022, to his enduring struggles with picking and laying off the slider. So how can he try and make that next step?

Well for starters, Adames doesn't do a great job of laying off the slider down and away, and he could be more selective with this pitch. He barrels up balls middle-away, and down over the heart of the plate quite regularly, so if he can be more selective in picking the slider, and even trying to avoid the low and away section inside the strike zone in the early counts, we could see him reach deeper counts, get ahead in counts a little more often, and apply pressure to the breaking pitches.

The other way is a psychological one. Adames is a player who thrives on energy, enthusiasm, and the big moment. His focus and performance seem to step up dramatically when there's a big moment, or a chance to drive in runs. When you've got 600+ plate appearances in a year, it's difficult to be fully in the moment for each one of them. Have a look at these stats from 2021 and 2022:



There is too much data in the above to deny that Adames feels better in the bigger moments of the game, in both his eye at the plate, to his power numbers, and the Brewers need to find a way to tap into this more often. Corbin Burnes often talks about having his process when he walks up to the mound of making each pitch a solitary event, developing a set process and reviewing his efforts based on his execution. Adames could work with a psychologist to find a method of sharpening his focus in each occasion at which he reaches the batter's box, as well as potentially moving him slightly down the order in the hope he'll have more men on base in front of him when he comes up to hit.

The Brewers as a more "three true outcome" oriented team last season probably didn't help this, but with a hope that Winker with his high OBP, Yelich with his high OBP, and potentially Frelick too, could set the tone at the top of the order and give Adames those RBI opportunities, we may see a spike in Adames plate discipline and performance this coming season.


Let me know what you guys think!




Recommended Comments

Thank you for this interesting report.  It seems to me that moving him down in the order is a great idea.  These aren't small sample sizes and that OBP with runners on base and in scoring position for both years is a significant statistic.

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20 hours ago, LakeshoreLarry said:

Thank you for this interesting report.  It seems to me that moving him down in the order is a great idea.  These aren't small sample sizes and that OBP with runners on base and in scoring position for both years is a significant statistic.

Hi Larry, good to hear from you! It does seem to large a sample size to be an anomaly, and in this instance, I'm assuming we all know that even in our day to day jobs, we find some tasks and situations more stimulating than others. It just so happens Adames seems to have a spike in his focus and attention when big game moments come around

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