Padres: Is Austin Adams the team’s most overlooked reliever?

(Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
(Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images) /

You can make a pretty strong case that the trade that netted Austin Nola and Dan Altavilla wasn’t about this particular reliever. And you might be right.

But that shouldn’t stop us from giving Austin Adams his due, especially after this year’s ZiPS projections came out. To say they were eye-popping puts things pretty mildly. Here’s what they had to say about the Padres right-hander.

"Although it conservatively projects him for 41 1/3 innings, Adams ranks fifth in K/9 rate (14.4) and 11th in ERA (3.05), despite a lofty BB/9 rate (5.7). Given that he has thrown just 42 big league innings in his career, Adams has a lot to prove, but if healthy he could prove to be a key bullpen piece for one of MLB’s most talented teams."

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Some San Diego fans might not even be aware Adams is part of the team’s bullpen picture. Last year, he tossed just four innings after working his way back from Tommy John the year prior. So there’s not a lot that can be garnered from looking at what he did on the mound in 2020.

Can Austin Adams anchor the Padres bullpen?

Let’s jump back to 2019 and start there.

Adams relies on two pitches – a four-seam fastball and a slider. Two years ago, the spin rate on his fastball ranked in the top four percent of big league pitchers. And it’s not like he just spun it up there, either. The velocity on that particular pitch checked in among the top 13 percent of the league, as well.

Pairing his above-average heater with his slider, which he has relied more on with each passing season, Adams drew a 30.1 percent chase rate in 2019 – a personal best – while getting a 40.2 percent whiff rate. Without context, that might not mean much. But when you consider the MLB average is just over 26 percent – you get the point pretty quickly. This guy misses bats – a lot.

Adams’ 40.8 percent strikeout rate ranked fourth in the league that year, behind fellow Padre Kirby  Yates and Josh Hader, who I still have circled on my proverbial in-season wish list this season. 

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Preseason projections are always a bit of a wild card. But I would be very much here for Austin Adams showing up and shoving this year.