Ah, yes, the classic ‘Rays trade a player and he becomes a star.’
Willy Adames was the key piece in the deal that sent David Price from Tampa Bay to Detroit at the 2014 trade deadline. Then, the 18-year-old shortstop was in Low-A but was already anointed the organization’s shortstop of the future as soon as he arrived in the Rays farm system. Just four seasons later, Adames displaced premium defender Adeiny Hechavarria and accumulated a more than respectable 1.4 fWAR in his 85 game rookie sample.
Since then, he has been good but not great, posting slightly above league average offensive production while grading well on the defensive side of the ball. In the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, he posted his best offensive campaign to date with a 124 wRC+ mark. However, career highs in both BABIP (.388) and K% (36.1%) signaled that rough times may be ahead.
That’s exactly what happened in 2021, as Adames was slashing a pedestrian .197/.254/.371 line, good for just a 76 wRC+. As expected, Adames was not able to sustain his high BABIP, and since he also was not able to curb his strikeout rate, his offense cratered. With a slew of prospects waiting in the wings, Adames became an expendable piece.
The Milwaukee Brewers, a contending team with a noticeable hole at shortstop and depth in the bullpen, swooped in, acquiring the 25-year-old. Since the trade, Adames’s offensive output has improved as he has slashed a much better .265/.337/.446 netting a 116 wRC+. It’s still a shade below his 2020 production, but he has reduced his strikeout rate from 35.9 percent before the trade to a much better 25.0 percent since.
While it may seem like small sample theater, it is possible that Adames may finally reach his offensive potential. The reason I say this is because throughout his career, Adames has had some strange offensive splits, particularly of the home/road variety
At home for his career, Adames has been a 77 wRC+ hitter. On the road, he has been a 132 wRC+ hitter. The writers at DRaysBay have written about this ad nauseum. Even stranger are his platoon splits combined with his home/road splits. Versus left-handed pitchers, Adames is a 52 wRC+ hitter at home and a 108 wRC+ hitter on the road. Versus righties, he is an 88 wRC+ hitter at home and a 142 wRC+ hitter on the road.
It is reasonable to buy Adames as a reverse platoon splits hitter. Even though they are few and far between, they exist, but it is even more rare to be a reverse platoon splits hitter as well as a reverse home/road splits hitter.
It’s possible that something at Tropicana Field was obstructing his vision in a way that was not obstructing other right-handed Rays hitters. If that is true, then Adames may have been seen as a change of scenery candidate by the Brewers. For a team in the thick of the National League Central race, an unlocked Willy Adames could be the key acquisition to put them over the top.
Brian Menéndez is a contributing writer for Beyond the Box Score, as well as a senior writer for DRaysBay. Additionally, he has been featured in FiveThirtyEight and The Hardball Times. You can find Brian on Twitter at @briantalksbsb.