Adams on the Roster Bubble in Crowded Cleveland Bullpen
Bob Toth | On 22, Nov 2016
In his third year on a Major League roster, the results for right-handed reliever Austin Adams were likely not what he had hoped for during his time with the Cleveland Indians.
After appearing in 28 games out of the Indians bullpen in 2015, Adams was a candidate for a spot in manager Terry Francona’s relief corps in 2016. The club had gone to great lengths to add many candidates to the mix in the previous offseason, bringing in plenty of arms with MLB experience in Dan Otero, Joba Chamberlain, Tommy Hunter, Ross Detwiler, and Tom Gorzelanny.
Adams made nine appearances in spring games, earning a win and a save in ten and one-third innings while posting the third-most strikeouts among relievers in camp. His command was not where it needed to be, however, as his four walks may have raised some concerns and he was one of the roster cuts in late March.
He went to Columbus and worked in a variety of late inning roles, earning a 2-1 record while saving four games in 14 relief appearances through mid-May. His numbers looked good – with just two runs allowed over 16 1/3 innings, he boasted a 1.10 ERA. He had 18 strikeouts and limited opposing hitters to eleven hits and five walks for a WHIP under one.
He got the call in the third week of May to head north from his spot in Columbus to help assist a heavily worked Cleveland bullpen, one that featured six different relievers making ten or more appearances over the month. No Carlos Carrasco, who was injured, and an ineffective Cody Anderson and Mike Clevinger in the back end of the rotation forced Francona to consider reinforcements from Triple-A as he used 17 pitchers in the month after using 15 in April.
Adams allowed a run on four hits, walked three, and struck out seven batters in five and two-thirds innings to close out May, showing results that mirrored his spring training numbers.
He remained around for two more June appearances before he was optioned back to Columbus on June 7, just in advance of Chamberlain’s return from his disabled list stint. Adams left with a reasonable 2.35 ERA and .207 batting average against in seven outings (seven and two-thirds innings) with 12 strikeouts and three walks on his stat sheet. Both runs allowed came via solo home run.
Back in Columbus, he continued to work in a late inning role for the Clippers, but he allowed runs in each of his first three games back at Triple-A, including a six-run, seven-hit blemish on June 11 against Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He improved as June heated up, but as the calendar flipped to July, he gave up three runs in a pair of outings against Pawtucket.
Despite the inconsistent results in his return to Columbus (0-2, 8.49 ERA, 1.97 WHIP during that stretch), he got the call back to Cleveland as the taxed bullpen suffered the ramifications of a 19-inning marathon against Toronto and the loss of right-hander Zach McAllister to the 15-day disabled list. Adams brought the bad numbers from Columbus with him, giving up eleven runs (ten earned) on 12 hits in seven and two-thirds innings over eight appearances. He was sent back to Columbus on August 3 for a fresh arm in righty Shawn Armstrong.
Adams would remain with the Clippers for another rough month, taking another loss while giving up seven runs in nine and two-thirds innings (5.59 ERA) and allowing a .310 batting average against. Despite the consistently mixed results on the farm, he returned to Cleveland and was shelled in three of his final four appearances of the 2016 season, giving up six runs total in two separate appearances to Chicago and three in his season finale on September 27 against Detroit.
He posted no record in 19 games with the Indians for the year, earning a 9.82 ERA, a 1.86 WHIP, striking out 17, and walking seven in 18 1/3 innings of work while giving up five home runs. He was 2-4 with eight saves, a 4.54 ERA, and a 1.41 WHIP for the Clippers in 34 outings, striking out 41 and walking nine in 37 2/3 innings.
His monthly breakdowns showed some clear trends. In the first two months of the season (19 games), he held batters at both levels to a .190 average combined, but walked eight of 88 batters faced while striking out 25. In the final four months of the season, his walk rate was significantly improved, but at the expense of his strikeout total while sacrificing substantially from his ability to keep runners off of base on contact. In 164 plate appearances against Adams from June to September, opposing hitters drew just eight more walks, but struck out only 33 times (20.1% compared to 28.4% in the first two months) and hit a combined .366 during that span. In essence, as Adams’ command of the strike zone improved, hitters pounced on his aggressiveness in attacking the plate.
Adams turned 30 in the middle of August and now finds himself in danger of being a 40-man roster casualty if and when the Indians add to their roster in the offseason. While he will not reach arbitration eligibility until after the 2018 season at the earliest, his elevated age and declining results could prove to be expendable on a club that relied heavily upon its bullpen to be a dominating strength during a deep run to extra innings in Game 7 of the World Series.
Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images