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The Chance Adams reclamation project

The Yankees announced their 40-man roster moves on Wednesday and Chance Adams managed to survive their cuts. The once highly-acclaimed prospect has not lived up to expectations since his outstanding 2017 campaign in the minors (2.89 ERA, 3.76 FIP, 4.06 xFIP in 115 1/3 innings at Triple-A).

Adams followed up his 2017 breakout with a mediocre 2018 season that saw him post a 4.78 ERA, 4.87 FIP, and a 4.23 xFIP in 113 Triple-A frames. He also pitched in three major-league games, posting a 7.04 ERA, 8.77 FIP, 6.05 xFIP, and a 6.05 SIERA in 7 2/3 innings.

2019 was just as bad, as Adams posted a 4.63 ERA (5.07 FIP, 5.51 xFIP) in 81 2/3 Triple-A innings and an 8.53 ERA (6.53 FIP, 5.69 xFIP, 4.90 SIERA) in 25 1/3 major-league innings. With one minor-league option remaining, the 25-year-old righty is entering a make-or-break 2020.

Things are different, however, for Adams this upcoming season. He’ll get to work with new Yankees’ pitching coach Matt Blake who is directly responsible for the success of current Indians arms Shane Bieber, Aaron Civale, Zach Plesac, and Jefry Rodriguez.

The 33-year-old Blake is regarded as a coach that’s heavily reliant on analytics and a progressive believer in biometrics. The Yankees are hoping that Blake’s analytical and technological approach can help the Yankees’ pitching staff, including Adams.

Someone that Blake has previously worked with that has a similar profile to Adams is Aaron Civale, who I previously mentioned benefited greatly from his work with Blake. Civale made his major-league debut with the Indians in 2019, posting a stellar 2.34 ERA, along with a 3.40 FIP, 4.61 xFIP, and a 4.74 SIERA.

Both Adams and Civale are low-velocity, high-spin-rate right-handers. Adams has 32nd-percentile fastball velocity, 87th-percentile fastball spin, and 94th-percentile breaking ball spin. Civale has 18th-percentile fastball velocity, 85th-percentile fastball spin, and 96th-percentile breaking ball spin.

Chance Adams
Aaron Civale

Something that can’t be a coincidence is that those four pitchers that worked with Blake all had pretty solid breaking balls in 2019. Bieber throws a fantastic slider (1.85 FIP, .242 xwOBA) and knuckle-curve (1.55 FIP, .226 xwOBA), Plesac throws a slider (2.77 FIP, .264 xwOBA) and a curveball (4.65 FIP, .301 xwOBA), Rodriguez throws a curveball (2.84 FIP, .223 xwOBA), and Civale throws a slider (2.76 FIP, .254 xwOBA) and a curveball (2.53 FIP, .210 xwOBA).

Sure, Adams didn’t have the sharpest-looking slider on the surface (6.2% SwStr%, -1.2 pVAL (value of pitch), but the analytics tell a different story, as it had a 0.73 FIP and a .225 xwOBA (.360 wOBA), so a lot of unluckiness went into his slider struggles. However, it doesn’t matter how you look at it, his curveball was horrific (11.18 FIP, .455 xwOBA).

Adams only threw his slider 18% of the time, so maybe Matt Blake has him throw it more. Also, Adams’ slider was his least-barrelled pitch in 2019, only being barrelled 8.3% of the time (66.7% weak contact rate). The Yankees have always loved sliders, so it will be interesting to see if Blake continues that trend during his time in the Bronx.

Civale, who I previously mentioned has a similar fastball spin rate as Adams, was a sinker-heavy (35%) and cutter-heavy (30%) pitcher in 2019. His sinker had a 2.86 FIP and a .272 xwOBA (.256 xwOBA on contact) and his cutter had a 3.88 FIP and a .293 xwOBA.

A huge difference between Civale and Adams is Civale is a ground-ball pitcher (40.5% GB%, 37.4% FB%) and has a 38.4% hard-hit rate, but Adams is a fly-ball pitcher (30.7% GB%, 39.8% FB%). Maybe adding in a cutter can help Adams improve his numbers, as that would help him bring down his fly-ball rate and improve his ground-ball rate. I’d rather him not add a sinker because sinkers are bad.

Adams’ starting pitching career is probably not still in the cards with the Yankees, so a similar role to Luis Cessa might be in order, meaning he’d only need two pitches and a cutter and slider mix would do wonders for Adams. Maybe a tweak in mechanics could also help his command (10.1% BB% between MLB/AAA in 2019)?

I’m just excited to see what Matt Blake can possibly offer Adams. There’s two possible scenarios for Adams: He either improves under Blake’s instruction and becomes an arm of value or he doesn’t and the Yankees decide to cut bait. Hopefully, it’s the former.