One Weird Thing About Matt Adams

The Nationals just used Adam Lind as a bat-first, left-handed first baseman and bench bat. Lind turned in a 127 wRC+ against righties. His career wRC+, overall, is 111. Against righties, it’s 126, and against lefties, it’s 56. The Nationals turned down Lind’s $5-million option for 2018, making him a free agent. There was a $0.5-million buyout, meaning it was basically a $4.5-million decision.

The Nationals have now signed Matt Adams as a bat-first, left-handed first baseman and bench bat. It’s a $4-million deal, with an additional $0.5 million in incentives. In other words, it could be a $4.5-million decision. Adams just turned in a 126 wRC+ against righties. His career wRC+, overall, is 111. Against righties, it’s 123, and against lefties, it’s 58. Matt Adams is…this is the same profile. Basically the same profile for basically the same money. The Nationals dropped Adam Lind to pick up another Adam Lind. The one upside about Adams is that he’s five years Lind’s junior. I assume that’s what made the difference, even though Lind was already the familiar one. Smart business. Tough business.

There’s not much that needs to be said about a part-time player. It’s certainly funny that Adams has the same career wRC+ as Eric Hosmer, given their divergent contract expectations, but Hosmer has been better lately, and Adams needs to be strictly platooned. Hosmer, as you could imagine, projects to be better moving forward. Still, I want to highlight one aspect of the comparison. Hosmer and Adams are both first basemen. How about their defense?

Hosmer has a very good defensive reputation. He’s won four Gold Gloves, and he has a 57 overall rating in the historical Fan Scouting Reports. Since 2011, 39 different players have played at least 2,500 innings at first base. Hosmer’s rating is tied for fifth-best, with Anthony Rizzo and Mark Teixeira.

Adams does not have a very good defensive reputation. He was briefly tried in the outfield, but the less said about that, the better. He’s never won a Gold Glove, and he has a 37 overall rating in the historical Fan Scouting Reports. That rating is tied for 27th-best, or 12th-worst. The fans think that Adams has been below average. He definitely lacks Hosmer’s general athleticism.

And yet! If you sort by DRS over a common denominator, Adams ranks eighth, and Hosmer ranks 30th. If you sort by UZR over a common denominator, Adams ranks 10th, and Hosmer ranks 33rd. If you blend the two, then Adams ranks 10th, and Hosmer ranks 32nd. According to the advanced defensive numbers, there’s a significant difference between Matt Adams and Eric Hosmer, in Adams’ favor. He rates as the better defensive first baseman. Against what I assume would be all odds.

I’m not saying that anything is gospel. There are legitimate complaints about the advanced defensive metrics these days, in particular among infielders. We can’t just outright dismiss the eye test, and we can’t dismiss that the baseball industry holds Hosmer’s first-base defense in such high regard. But still, after all this time, there’s an explanation that’s missing. The best numbers we have say that Adams is considerably better than Hosmer is. The numbers are far from perfect, yet they also can’t be trashed. Perception is a hell of a thing.

Anyway, Adams will be a backup, behind Ryan Zimmerman. He will probably be fine.

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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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Johnny Dickshot
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Johnny Dickshot

Adams was a catcher in college and has a good arm and good hands. Defense at 1B was never Adams’ problem. Hosmer has better foot speed, is skinnier, and has some GGs, which likely explains the FSR.