I mentioned it briefly in the Cubs Bits this morning when I got myself down a rabbit hole, but I wanted to share a little more on Cubs reliever Jason Adam.
Although he allowed a flare double and then a walk last night, he proceeded to strike out the next three batters in nasty fashion:
— Marquee Sports Network (@WatchMarquee) September 11, 2020
And that’s been just about par for the course for Adam this year. Through 9.0 innings, Adam sports an eye-popping 40.0% strikeout rate, the 10th highest in baseball among relievers with at least 9.0 innings of work. His expected ERA – based on Ks, BBs, contact quality – is the best on the Cubs this year. Small sample, absolutely. Stellar performance so far? Yup.
With a funky short-arm delivery, a fastball that gets up to 96 mph with a 97th percentile spin rate, a sharp slider, and a nasty curveball (plus a playable changeup), Adam truly has everything you’d want in a setup man. The command could definitely improve, but there is a point at which your stuff is so good that impeccable command is asking too much. Sometimes a guy like Adam can just let it all out, and let those pitches eat, making up for the walks with the strikeouts, and making up for the missed spots by otherwise being hard to barrel.
So why had you probably never heard of him before this year, and why were the Cubs able to get him on a minor league deal in the offseason?
Well, Adam isn’t quite coming as out of nowhere as you might think. For one thing, he was a highly-regarded pitching prospect in his younger days. For another thing, he was quietly pretty solid for the Blue Jays last year, posting a 2.91 ERA over 23.1 innings (decent, but not great, peripherals). For still another thing, he was dominant in the upper minors the last couple years between the Blue Jays and Royals.
Before that, though, Adam was a guy who missed the majority of three seasons while having four elbow surgeries. It’s not exactly easy to come back from that at all, and if you do, it’s gonna take some time to get it back. Adam was once a compelling starting pitching prospect in the Royals system before the injuries started. He’s really only become a reliever after the surgeries – and completely changed his delivery in the process – so, in a way, he’s still kinda new to this. That’s another way of saying, to the extent he looks like he’s showing progress this year, it’s possible that’s legit. (He’ll need to clean up his vertical release point, though, because it’s VERY different among his pitches – that’ll be a tip sooner rather than later.)
Having just turned 29 and still pre-arbitration, if Adam is indeed finding his footing, he could be a nice bullpen arm for the Cubs for several years. Let’s be quite clear that the unfortunate best indicator of future injuries are past injuries, so you can’t count on Adam being this healthy forever. Let’s also be quite clear that we’re talking about what we’ve seen from him in NINE innings. Yes, the velo and stuff look good, but that doesn’t mean things can’t easily go completely sideways.
Still, wouldn’t it be nice if, among the shots in the dark this year for the bullpen, the Cubs managed to sneakily snag a long-term contributor for the late innings?