It is just baffling that a pitcher who looked so promising as recently as 2017, when he had a 2.89 ERA (3.76 FIP) in 115.1 Triple-A innings, is now 25 years old and has accumulated -0.5 fWAR in his career.
For Chance Adams, the last two seasons have been forgettable, to say the least. He spent almost all of 2018 in Triple-A with mediocre results (a 4.78 ERA, 4.87 FIP and 4.62 BB/9 in 115.1 frames) and his 7.2 innings in the majors weren’t better. He had a 7.04 ERA and a 8.77 FIP, with 4.70 BB/9 and 3.52 HR/9 in pinstripes.
This season was equally bad, since he finished with a 4.63 ERA (5.07 FIP) in 81.2 Triple-A innings and an ugly 8.53 ERA (6.53 FIP) in 25.1 frames with the Yankees.
What happened with one of the brighest and most promising pitching prospects in the Yankees’ system? Is there any hope for him?
An early-career decline
In 2015 and 2016, Adams toyed with hitters in the low-minors, putting sub-3.00 ERAs and averaging over 11.00 K/9 at almost every stop. When he arrived in Double-A, his K/9 came down to earth and settled in the 9.00 range, but he still put up shiny ERAs.
But in 2017, despite finishing with the aforementioned 2.89 ERA in Triple-A, his BB/9 started trending up, his K/9 marks began to decline, and his homers allowed were on the rise. From that season on, his command has deteriorated and his performance has suffered. At the time, the most likely explanation was that he was facing advanced, more difficult competition.
Contributing to his struggles is the fact that his stuff was affected after having surgery to remove bone chip from his pitching elbow before the 2018 season.
After operating between 93-95 mph in 2015 and 2016, he lost a couple of ticks in his fastball and now sits in the 91-92 range. His slider isn’t as sharp as it used to be, and his curveball and changeup are nothing special. In 2019, all of his pitches were net negatives according to FanGraphs’ Pitch Value chart.
A discouraging plate discipline profile
A fly-ball pitcher with command issues is not a very enticing combination, especially in the Bronx. According to FanGraphs, his GB/FB was 0.77, a result of allowing almost 40% of his connections in the air and just 30.7% on the ground.
Adams’ plate discipline profile is also below average. FanGraphs states that the average O-Swing% of a pitcher is 30%, the F-Strike% is 59,% and the SwStrk% is 9.5%. Adams’ 27.2 O-Swing% mark in 2019 is below average, as is his 53.2 F-Strike% and his 7.7 SwStrk%. It is hard to retire hitters consistently if a pitcher is constantly falling behind in the count and his stuff can’t fool anybody.
A make-or-break season
The 2020 season is a make-or-break year for Adams. He has one last chance, if you will. A new pitching coach, Matt Blake, is in town, and he brings a wealth of pitching knowledge. He is familiar with technological resources that can help the right-hander turn his career around.
Adams presents an interesting challenge for the newly-minted coach. How should he approach him? Will he have him change the grip on any on his pitches? How about the release point? The windup? Will there be any alterations to the pitch mix? Will he make a tweak in his mechanics to see if he can gain an extra tick on his fastball or two?
Just because he seems to be a promising pitching coach doesn’t necessarily mean that Blake will have all the answers. His work with Adams, and whether it will pay off or not, remains one of the most interesting storylines to watch for next spring and beyond.
Of course, this exercise is all speculation and may not even take place, since it is not a given that Adams begins 2020 in a Yankees uniform. But as long as he is with the team, the pitching coach and the rest of the staff will work together to see if he can be a successful major leaguer.