We all know by now that the Rays have a well-documented history of turning unheralded pitchers into big league contributors. Not now all pitcher coming to Tampa Bay is successful, but it’s safe to say that the Rays have a pretty good idea of what they’re doing when it comes to pitching development.
The current major league bullpen is filled with guys who were castaways at some point in their careers and are now throwing big innings on a 100-win team. Andrew Kittredge, Matt Wisler, JT Chargois, Jeffrey Springs and Chris Mazza have all been DFAs or released by their teams at some point over the past few years.
Do you know who else was released last year? Jason Adam.
Prior to this year, Adam pitched in four big league season games and had a 4.71 ERA and 4.75 FIP over 78.1 innings. During this period, he produced an above-average takedown rate (27.9%), but a below-average walk rate (11.4%). The high strikeout rate is key here as it indicates that his material is playing well at the big league level, even if he hasn’t always had the best command of it.
Adam has primarily used a mix of four-seam pitch, curveball, slider, and pitch shifter throughout his career. Although he’s only appeared in three games so far with the Rays, it already looks like that pitch mix has started to shift, so let’s dig in.
Please note that we are dealing with extremely small 2022 samples so far, but because height forms tend to stabilize quickly and height results do not, this article is going to focus on the former.
In 2021 with the Cubs, Adam was throwing two separate breakout balls, a curveball and a slider. Per Baseball Savant, his slider averaged 82.4 mph, while his curveball was 79 mph with more movement in the horizontal and vertical planes (as expected with a slower breaking ball).
This season, however, Adam threw a breaking ball unlike any of the two breakers he threw last year. This new pitch (we’ll call it a slider) is thrown at a speed that falls between that of its previous breaking balls and also has a completely different motion profile, mostly in the horizontal direction. The table below shows a visual of what I’m talking about:
What this tells us is that Adam has, in a way, turned his two breaking balls into a new pitch.
He’s taken the best qualities of his old slider, which is speed and vertical breaking, and coupled them with the good horizontal movement of his curveball (and actually added even more sweep over the top) to create a brand new breaking ball.
As a result, Adam now has a land that gets excellent two-plane movement for the speed at which it is thrown. Here’s what it looks like when exiting the zone:
You can compare this to his slider from last year, which didn’t contain nearly the same amount of horizontal swipe:
Earlier in the offseason, I wrote about how the Rays have recently been obsessed with sweeping breaking balls, and Adam looks like the latest Rays pitcher to buy. In theory, this tweak should lead to even better results for an already good-looking slider.
The change up to
Let’s move on to Adam’s other secondary terrain, his change. Prior to this year, Adam had only pitched his switch 10.7% of the time for his career. The Rays seem to like this field a lot more than that number suggests, as they are already using 42% of it in three appearances this season (16 of 38 fields).
Why do the Rays like his pitch so much?
On the one hand, Adam throws this thing hard, really hard. He’s always thrown it in the upper 80s and the pitch is actually averaging 90 mph so far this season. What’s interesting is that, unlike his slider, this pitch isn’t new to Adam. He always had this weapon, but never used it much until now.
The other great quality of this terrain is the movement it provides. The raw vertical motion (the amount of pitch drop) isn’t crazy, but when you contextualize that value with the high speed at which the pitch is thrown, you get an awesome pitch.
The graph below shows the velocity and vertical break that each change in 2022 makes on average:
There is a small caveat here due to the very small number of games that have been played, but again, landforms are stabilizing quickly, and we can already see a pattern forming in this plot.
Generally speaking, shifts that are initiated at a slower speed are able to generate more downward movement. You can see how Adam’s change defies this trend, as no other change in baseball is both thrown harder and with more downside than Adam’s average right now.
On top of that, Adam’s change is also an average of 17.4 inches of horizontal motion (arm side stroke), which ranks 85th percentile of all changes launched this season. When you combine all of Adam’s Change Traits, it becomes clear that this offering is essentially a unicorn among slots.
With the heavy use he’s shown so far, it looks like the Rays are ready to find out just how strong that can be. Here’s a puff he caused in his first appearance this year:
Adam has also shown comfort pitching his switch to hitters on the same side, something we don’t see with many pitchers on this Rays staff:
The fast ball
A recent DFA pitcher who signed for just $900,000 on the open market, and boasts a wicked slider and a switch must almost surely have a pedestrian fastball, right?
Adam’s fastball already had some intriguing characteristics and looks to flourish even more in 2022. The chart below displays Adam’s fastball metrics and how they compare to the league:
Jason Adam 2022 4-Seam Fastball Metrics
|Turnover rate||2618 rpm||99th|
|release height||5.7 feet||32nd|
|Induced vertical failure||18.4 inches||83rd|
|Horizontal break||9.8 inches||78th|
The high percentiles here show how lively this fastball is. The only percentile at the lower end of the 0-100 scale is its release height, but make no mistake, lower release heights are generally a good thing when dealing with 4 seams at high drive, as this allows them to induce better results due to the flat angle at which the pitch approaches the plate.
Adam’s vertical approach angle (VAA) ranks very well against most fastballs, and the combination of his low release with his high velocity, spin rate and perceived vertical rise is the reason. reason.
It’s also worth noting that Adam throws his fastball 1.3 mph harder than last year, and also gets about 1.6 inches more lift (induced vertical break) than year. last. Last week against Oakland, Adam threw one of the hardest pitches he’s ever thrown in his big league career, and it totally froze Stephen Vogt:
Again, it’s probably too early to tell whether or not these changes are legit – the season is young and the arm is fresh – but both of these fastball metrics are worth watching and are also exciting developments for him if they last.
Jason Adam has a loud arsenal, period. There have also been some new pitch form developments for him this year which make his arsenal even more impressive. The big question for him now will be whether or not he can throw consistent shots with this new repertoire.
According to FanGraphs, Adam has thrown 44.7% of his shots in the strike zone so far this year, which is up from his career rate of 38.7% before this season. Adam has yet to walk with the Rays so far, so he’s off to a good start in terms of control. It’ll also be interesting to track how often he uses each of his lands throughout the season, as we’ve already seen some pretty drastic changes in that department.
All in all, Jason Adam has just about everything you could ask for when it comes to height traits to succeed at the highest level. As long as he can leverage his arsenal (and he’s had no problems with that so far), it looks like the Rays have unearthed a new high-leverage reliever.