Matt Adams In Left Field: An Intriguing Idea, But What the Hell Took So Long?

It’s that time of spring training when tedium sets in. Bored players, staff and media are itchy to head out of Florida. Fans want to throw a homecoming party. Everyone is anxious to commence playing or watching real baseball and get this 162-game exploration underway.

Adams has a career .483 slugging percentage vs. RH pitching.

So when Cardinals manager Mike Matheny told Jupiter-station media members that he wanted to take a look at Matt Adams in left field, it was good news. Odd news — more on that in a bit — but good news for one reason: finally, after chewing on the same old topics and narratives, we have something fresh to discuss. 

This was a gift from Matheny.

I suppose I should thank him — thanks, Mike — but I do have a few thoughts:

1. It may lead to absolutely nothing, but this is an intriguing idea and worthy of consideration. Adams lost 30 pounds over the offseason. He is notably slimmer and more agile. He deserves a lot of credit for working so hard to improve his athleticism. And by reshaping his physique and increasing his mobility, Adams has a chance to try some some new things that can enhance his value … like learning a new position.

Left field isn’t as physically challenging as most spots on the field; it is where many teams use their slowest, range-restricted fielders. In his last three seasons as a Cardinal, Matt Holliday was a minus 10 in Defensive Runs Saved. The Cardinals lived with the poor defensive range to keep Holliday’s bat in the lineup. But GM John Mozeliak had other ideas after a disappointing 2016 season: strive for a more athletic team and upgrade the defense. And left field was one of the biggest problems in ’16 … collectively Cardinals’ left fielders were a minus 10 in Defensive Runs Saved. That’s brutal.

So why would it make sense to give the untested Adams — a catcher as an amateur, and a first baseman in pro ball — a spin in left field? Answer: it’s because it’s spring training … and who cares? Spring training is when you experiment. Adams in left field may turn out to be a terrible idea, but I don’t think any of these Grapefruit League games count in the regular-season standings.

Adams — the heavier version — was quick around the first base bag. He was an underrated defender. Mopes often stick a stereotype on big fellows; a large man can’t possibly be fleet of foot, can’t possibly move well, can’t possibly be an above-average fielder. Yeah, except that Adams was (and is) an above-average first baseman. Over the past three seasons Adams was credited with a combined +13 Defensive Runs Saved. He ranked 5th among MLB first baseman in 2014, and was 15th last season. (Adams was injured for much of 2015 and wasn’t ranked.)

Understand what I am saying here: it’s worth taking a look at, simply to give the Cardinals more roster flexibility, additional corner-outfield depth, and provide more at-bats for Adams. He bounced back for a .471 slugging percentage in 2016, and has a beefy .483 career slugging percentage against RH pitchers.

I am not saying Adams should platoon with Randal Grichuk in left. I am not saying Adams will glide into the position without a hitch or pratfall, as if he’s zoomed in left field his entire baseball life. I’m not even saying Adams will approach competence out there. I have no idea what Adams would do in left. Hopefully he would not run into harm, or Dexter Fowler. But it is spring training. A time to tinker, to experiment, to fiddle with something new, to ponder the unconventional. If Adams gives left field whirl — and doesn’t actually whirl out there — maybe he’d be usable on occasion. But if Adams tries to play left field and is goofy and helpless and a menace to himself and teammates … well, forget about it. But let’s find out when the games don’t count.

I was never opposed to the idea of Holliday playing first base. I was against the idea of Holliday switching to first base — an entirely foreign position to him — in the middle of a baseball season when he had no time to really learn the position and get a handle on the necessary fundamentals. It was pointless to set up Holliday for failure. How would that possibly help the team? The Cardinals and Holliday did it the right way. He worked on first-base fielding fundamentals during the offseason before 2016, and got a chance to play there fairly regularly in exhibition games.  Holliday could at least function at first base (regular season) without embarrassing himself. The point is, Holliday was given time to prepare.

Speaking of which …

2. What the hell took so long with Adams?  Why now? It makes no sense. Why not try Adams in a new and unfamiliar habitat earlier in the spring? The Cardinals played their first exhibition game Feb. 25. Through Sunday, they’d played 23 official games. But there have been split-squad games. And the back-field games — with minor-league Cardinals, young Cardinals and some veterans — working on various projects. Going into Monday, the Cardinals had only 11 exhibition games remaining on their schedule. Yeah, I know that Adams has been shagging fly balls in left field for a while. But he did this on his own. Matheny took notice and evidently has been thinking about this over a period of time.

But shagging fly balls doesn’t compare to live action. And if the manager wanted to see what Adams could do in left field — if this was a real possibility or a half-mad fantasy — it was imperative to get started on this a helluva lot sooner than the third week of March. Adams doesn’t have much time to prepare (in LF) for the regular season. The season-opener is less than two weeks from now. And you can’t just throw Adams out there to learn on the fly in regular-season games. The Cardinals wasted an awful lot of time that could have been used to polish Adams’ readiness for a new position.

3. If the goal is to get Adams’ bat in the lineup more often … is there a federal law that prohibits first baseman Matt Carpenter from playing some games at third base and/or second base? I know that Mozeliak and Matheny have talked about installing Carpenter at first base and leaving him there instead of moving him around. And that’s understandable.

But we’re not suggesting that Carpenter play first base for a week, then go to third base for five days, then come back to first for three days, then slide over to second base for four days, then go occupy first base again, then trek across the diamond to take over third base … and … well … you get the point. I’m talking about Carpenter playing either third or second base once a week (twice at the most) in addition to his scheduled days off at first base. Wouldn’t that be an easier way to get more ABs for Adams?

This left field idea isn’t nuts.

But the Cardinals should have acted on it a lot sooner.

Thanks for reading …


More: Miklasz – Heading Into Final Two Weeks Of Spring Training, Here’s My Cardinals’ Check List

  • LawrenceKScardsfan

    Interesting idea indeed. However, Bernie, I like your idea of having Matt play a little third even better. I don’t believe quick feet around the bag makes you an outfielder where often you must run and run quickly to deprive someone of a line drive hit or make a catch of a ball that could be at the fence. Of course, third requires more mobility than 1st base, but not tremendously more. And I do like Adam’s defense. So I’m intrigued.

    Regards the desire for the season to commence, my DVR is already packed on weekends with NCAA basketball games. After March Madness concludes works fine for me….

    • Tom Ryan

      Carp has actually played some OF for us, too, no harm in letting him do that again at times.

    • geoff

      By Matt at third do you mean Matt Adams or Matt Carpenter?

      • LawrenceKScardsfan

        I was thinking Matt Adams. Carp had his problems at 3rd last season. I think this is why the Cards are opting for Peralta to begin with and possibly Gyorko as a replacement vs. moving Carp to 3rd and letting Adams handle 1st base.

  • rightthinker4

    Bernie, I don’t want to see Adams or MCarp in the outfield. Cardinals have plenty of outfielders. Adams is a first baseman, and pretty decent defensively. He will get an occasional start there and
    pinch hit. That’s the role he will fill on this team.

  • JeremyR

    The thing is, the narrative from the Cardinals (and the media has swallowed it) is that last year was all the fault of the bad defense, not the pitchers, not the manager, not the GM for assembling a bad team, but just defense and bad luck (which somehow didn’t seem to affect Carlos Martinez)

    Yet despite this drumbeat, they basically did nothing in the offseason to improve the defense, despite the constant use of it as scape goat. But the modest improvement was, as you say, to replace Holliday with Grichuk and move Carpenter to 1b, where his bad defnese will be less of a liability.

    Putting Adams in LF or having Carpenter play anywhere but 1B basically goes against everything the Cardinals and the media have been saying all offseason and why this years team won’t be again completely dominated by the Cubs from start to finish.

    It’s a farce, but it’s the farce they’ve pushed to try to get tickets sold. At least until August or so and the team is in third place.

  • Bernie, maybe you could go down there and apply for an OFR’S position too, since they seem intent on do anything but what they need to do. That is acquiring a decent 4th OFR. This need was present last season too, but Mozeliak sat around watching the situation disintegrate and playing with himself like he usually does.

  • DaLode

    Most position players are generally proper athletes and despite where they normally play ‘should’ have the capability of playing decently at another. See Ken Boyer starting in CF from 3rd and Joe Torre from catcher to starting at 3rd. Neither one let the side down when moved for the betterment of the team. Boyer’s team finished 2nd that year and Torre became an MVP. It’s not like they’re pitchers. It’s not like they expect Adams to be the starting left fielder. It makes sense. They should have started trying this weeks ago. That’s what spring training is for.

  • geoff

    Adams trying to play in left can’t hurt anything. If you put Carpenter out in left, he can’t be any more of a defensive liability than he is at third, or at second where he is even more of a defensive liability. As you said Bernie, left field is where baseball teams have hidden a good bat. The Cardinals are no exception, look back a few years Lonnie Smith, Holliday, Brock, Coleman, were pretty bad in the field but they could play offense really well. One of the things the puzzles me is why these fringe players aren’t wearing coaches out trying to get instruction on how to play at every possible spot on the field. Not that you want to have a mess like last year with guys moving all over the place but, it is a long season and being versatile player cannot hurt, especially if you are a fringe player trying to make or stay on a roster. If the Cardinals get to a point where Carpenter is the every day second baseman, they are in some trouble, if we are to believe that defense is first and foremost. By the way, here is my hair-brained thought on the Molina contract question. Give him the same extension you gave Matheney, pay him whatever money he wants, then when the player contract is over slide him right into Matheney’s spot. I have tried to stay awake for some of the WBC, (which is on way tooooooo late) Yadier Molina is even better than we in St Louis think he is. If you saw what he did last night against the Netherlands, you know what I am talking about.