The team's highest-profile free agent addition will be called upon to hold down the eighth inning--a role he filled better than anyone in the game before struggling with health concerns last season.
2012 season: 5-3, 3.27, 61 games, 52.1 IP, 56 H, 17 BB, 45 K
ZIPS 2013: 3.05 ERA, 56 IP, 49 H, 17 BB, 55 K
Bill James 2013: 4-2, 2.55, 55 IP, 45 IP, 15 BB, 55 K
Let’s stipulate one thing at the outset: the $6 million Mike Adams will pull down in each of the next two seasons is a hell of a lot of money for a reliever who isn’t closing games, and particularly for one whose 2012 numbers, while certainly decent, weren’t outstanding. That big number, along with the knowledge that Ed Wade is back on the payroll, might trigger anxieties amongst all of us who remember Rheal Cormier and Tim Worrell and Roberto Hernandez and so, so many other essentially fungible relievers made rich men during Wade’s tenure as General Manager.
Then you look at what Adams did in the previous three full seasons, and your eyes extrude from your head a bit:
1.42 ERA, 182 games, 177.1 IP, 106 hits, 45 BB, 192 K, 0.852 WHIP, 267 ERA+
That’s just freaking sick. Over more than a full season’s worth of games, he was 167 percent better than the league average reliever. Want to talk WAR? Adams was worth nearly six wins above replacement over those three seasons… as a setup man.
Next, consider how the Phillies as a team performed last season during the eighth inning, which Adams is likely to own in 2013: 162 IP (makes sense), 4.67 ERA, .263/.351/.440, 24 HR allowed, 80 walks, 179 strikeouts, collective 123 OPS+. By most measures it was the worst inning for the team’s pitching, and cost them upwards of a half-dozen wins.
Here’s what Adams has done in the eighth inning through his career: 228 IP, 1.82 ERA, .189/.250/.279, 11 HR, 63 walks, 223 strikeouts, collective 83 OPS+
Actually, I might be underselling Adams’ 2012 performance. Through his first 60 appearances, he had a 2.79 ERA. In his last, he surrendered three solo homers, raising his season total to 4. At that point, he couldn’t really feel his own hand.
This is probably the real reason the Phils were able to get Adams for a price that’s clearly a bargain compared to his performance history: the reliever suffers from Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TOC), defined as "a rare condition that involves pain in the neck and shoulder, numbness and tingling of the fingers, and a weak grip." Adams never went on the DL, but by the end of last season he felt like he was throwing a shot put rather than a baseball.
Is he in the clear health-wise? While TOC is rare for the general population, it’s not an unusual ailment among pitchers, and by and large the recovery rate is very good. Matt Harrison, a former Adams teammate on the Rangers (who as a team had fluky high incidence of TOC even before Adams got diagnosed), has re-emerged as a high-level performer. Phillies training camp invitee Aaron Cook was diagnosed nearly a decade ago and went on to perform well for the Rockies before succumbing to an unrelated lack of pitching talent. Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter first learned he might have TOC in 2008, opted against surgery, and went on to have three outstanding seasons before missing almost all of last year. This spring the injury was bothering him again, and his career might be over.
Adams claims to be feeling great this spring and has impressed teammates and coaches thus far. When he’s right, he’s got the classic power reliever repertoire: mid-90s fastball, slider that breaks in on left-handed hitters, complemented by an occasional curveball and changeup. Add that the plan to deploy Adams in the eighth inning pushes the Phils’ talented but less consistent or still-developing bullpen arms—Antonio Bastardo, Phillippe Aumont, Justin De Fratus—into lower-leverage roles, and you can see why the team made this move. He should be one of the more interesting Phillies to watch this spring and beyond.