Along with Heath Bell, Padres reliever Mike Adams forms one of the best closer and set up man tandems in the National League. That tandem was on display last night against San Francisco, as Bell and Adams combined for a +.247 WPA in the 8th and 9th innings of a victory, a victory that came despite the fact that Jonathan Sanchez and Sergio Romo combined to throw 8 innings of one-hit ball.
Adams’s early career with the Milwaukee Brewers was unremarkable. In 2004, his first season, he posted a decent 3.71 FIP in 53.0 IP, but was quickly derailed by injuries in 2005. He played for four different teams in 2006 and didn’t even pitch professionally in 2007.
Adams then resurfaced with San Diego in 2008, and he did so in style, posting a 10.19 K/9 and a 3.13 FIP. In 2009, he improved upon all his already solid numbers, posting a 10.95 K/9, a meager 1.95 BB/9, and a microscopic 0.24 HR/9, good for a 1.66 FIP and 1.3 WAR as a setup man.
After watching Adams pitch last night, his career resurgence isn’t surprising at all – his stuff is ridiculous. Adams posted a 10.1% swinging strike rate in his decent 2004 season, and finally returned to that level in 2008, with an 11.0% rate. That rate jumped again in Adams’s fantastic 2009, all the way up to 14.4%. His combination of a mid-90s fastball with effective breaking pitches makes for a formidable opponent for hitters.
The most remarkable change in Adams’s career is the dramatic increase in swings drawn on balls out of the zone. In his first 55 innings, Adams only drew a “chase rate” of 14.8%. Now, Adams ranks in the top 25 relievers in the game, drawing chases on nearly 30% of balls out of the zone. Despite actually throwing fewer pitches in the strike zone, Adams has managed to increase his strikeouts and decrease walks and solid contact allowed with deceptive pitches.
There is a definite chance that Heath Bell will be on his way out of San Diego by this season’s trading deadline. If so, the Padres won’t see much of a drop off from the closer position, as Adams has taken his stuff to a new level in San Diego.