Yesterday, the Dodgers announced that they have signed right-handed relief pitcher Mike Adams to a minor league contract:
Today, the #Dodgers signed RHP Mike Adams to a minor league contract with an invite to Major League camp. Adams will wear #0.
— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) March 1, 2015
Adams, 36, was once one of the game’s elite relief pitchers. Between 2009 and 2011, Adams’ 37 ERA- in 177-1/3 innings was best among major league relievers (yes, even better than Mariano Rivera). His 59 FIP- was not nearly as shiny, but was still the sixth-best in baseball, and still one spot in front of Rivera. He never quite got the recognition he deserved, partially due to the fact that he was never a closer. As an interesting side-note, when the Padres traded Adams to the Rangers in 2011, they received Joe Wieland in return.
Adams started to decline after that trade, as his body started to fail on him. After the 2011 season, he had surgery for a sports hernia. He was able to post over 50 innings in 2012. He pitched well (76 ERA-, 80 FIP-) but didn’t live up to the lofty standards of the previous three years. After that season, he had surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome, the same rib-removing procedure which Josh Beckett had in 2013.
Following the 2012 season, the Phillies signed Adams to a two year, $12 million contract. The contract was a disaster, as Adams pitched just 43-2/3 innings over the course of those two seasons. Adams suffered from an incredible run of injuries in that span, including a torn shoulder labrum (for which he underwent surgery), fraying in the same labrum, a torn rotator cuff, a mid back strain, biceps irritation, and another sports hernia.
The series of injuries has lowered Adams’ velocity. At his peak, Adams threw a bit harder than 93, and that was down to 91 last season. He still relies primarily on a cutter and a fourseam fastball, but has increased the use of his sinker since his peak years. He also mixes in a slider and a change, though the combined usage of those off-speed pitches was just 20% last season.
On the surface, it looked like Adams was closer to his 2012 form between injuries last year. His 79 ERA-, 78 FIP-, and 85 FIP- were quite good, and probably more than what the Dodgers are hoping for in 2015. However, a look deeper finds some causes for concern. Adams’ 7.0% swinging strike rate was the lowest of his career, even worse than his disastrous 2013 season. His peak seasons had swinging strike rates over 12%. His 10.13 K/9 and 26.6% K% were boosted by a very high 47.6% looking strikeout rate. The Dodgers have Yasmani Grandal behind the plate, which can help Adams maintain a high looking strikeout to some degree, but it’s still likely to fall towards the league average rate of 25%. Adams will need to cut down on his walk rate (3.86 BB/9 last year) in order to remain useful if his strikeout rate does drop.
Even with the caveats and the injury history, it’s hard to not like this a little bit. Adams struggled in 2013 and had some red flags in 2014, but it’s an NRI. If the injuries pop back up or he’s not good, he’ll be cut or sent to AAA. I certainly trust the new front office to make that decision better than the old one. He’s not a better Jansen replacement than Chris Hatcher, but he follows the recent front office pattern of signing guys with significant injury histories and at least some amount of upside. For a non-roster invite, that’s all you can really ask for.