Phillies Sign Mike Adams, John Lannan

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Mike Adams is a 34-year-old reliever who spent the last five years with the San Diego Padres and Texas Rangers as one of baseball’s best non-closers. Among the 64 relievers who have thrown at least 250 innings since 2008, Adams had the sixth-best difference between his strikeout and walk rates at 19.7 percent, trailing Jonathan Papelbon, Mariano Rivera, Rafael Betancourt, David Robertson, and Matt Thornton.

Adams finished the 2012 season with a 3.27 ERA, his worst since his rookie season with the Milwaukee Brewers. Between 2011-12, his strikeout rate plummeted by seven percent and his walk rate increased by 2.5 percent, while his fly ball rate dropped to a career-low 32 percent. After posting a 7.56 ERA in the month of September, Adams had surgery on his right shoulder as he suffered from thoracic outlet syndrome, which is:

a condition where the rib bone pushes against a nerve and can cause numbness or pain in the arm or shoulder.

Thoracic outlet syndrome is the same injury St. Louis Cardinals starter Chris Carpenter suffered from for several years. He had surgery in mid-July, then returned just before the end of the season. The right-hander made three starts, striking out 12 and walking three in 17 innings. Carpenter made an additional three starts in the post-season, striking out nine and walking six in 13.2 innings. Carpenter’s fastball averaged 93 MPH in 2011, but dropped to 91 MPH in his few starts at the end of 2012. Similarly, Adams’ average fastball velocity was above 93 MPH in 2011, but dropped to 92 last season. His cut fastball declined in velocity as well.

Adams’ shoulder should be concerning, but he is expected to be ready on Opening Day. Unlike the Papelbon contract from last off-season — four years, $50 million — the guaranteed $12 million the Phillies will pay Adams over the next two years is relatively low-risk, since Adams can still be an above-average reliever in his age 34-35 seasons with lower velocity.

The John Lannan signing is interesting, to say the least. The lefty had a penchant for hitting Phillies with baseballs over his career, famously breaking Chase Utley‘s hand in 2007 and contributing to Ryan Howard‘s twisted ankle in 2010.

Lannan isn’t particularly skilled when it comes to defense-independent criteria. Since the start of 2008, the lefty has a 3.7 percent difference between his strikeout and walk rates, the third-worst among the 113 starting pitchers with at least 500 innings. The only pitchers worse than Lannan are Aaron Cook (3.2%) and Roberto Hernandez (formerly Fausto Carmona, 3.3%).

The lefty’s calling card is his ability to induce ground balls. Since 2008, he has induced grounders at a 53 percent clip, the tenth-highest among all starters. It is likely the reason why he has out-performed his ERA retrodictors (FIP, xFIP, SIERA) by more than a half-run over his career:

  • ERA: 4.01
  • FIP: 4.57
  • xFIP: 4.46
  • SIERA: 4.69

Because of his reliance on infield defense, he can have a great season like he did in 2011 (3.70 ERA) or he can have an abysmal season like he did in 2010 (4.65 ERA). The Phillies are weak at the infield corners with Michael Young and Ryan Howard and strong up the middle with Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley. The following two hit charts show the location of Lannan’s ground balls that have gone for hits and those that have been converted into outs.

 

Although the one on the right looks like an amorphous blob, you can see that between the two, a majority of Lannan’s ground balls go to the right side. It makes sense because for every four batters Lannan has faced, three have been right-handed, and batters tend to pull ground balls. On grounders hit to the pull side, opposing batters have posted a .171 wOBA against Lannan since 2009. When they went to the opposite field, their wOBA was .200, and .210 up the middle. This means that the left side of Young and Rollins will be crucial for Lannan.

Due to his guaranteed salary, Lannan pushes Tyler Cloyd out of the rotation. The right-handed Cloyd was recently moved up a spot on the depth chart when the Phillies sent Vance Worley to the Minnesota Twins in the Ben Revere trade. Cloyd could still make the rotation if the Phillies feel that Kyle Kendrick is once again better used as a swing man between the rotation and bullpen, but given how well Kendrick pitched as a starter in 2012, that scenario isn’t likely.

Both of these signings have a very good chance of working out well for the Phillies, as the guaranteed money is relatively low and there is some upside. Adams and Lannan aren’t quite as sexy as Wilton Lopez and Edwin Jackson, but the Phillies are just about set when it comes to pitching. To complete the off-season, they now have to focus on acquiring a corner outfielder.  Nick Swisher is the one big bat the Phillies have been linked to recently, but he may command too many years and too much money, making it more likely that the Phillies end up with a lower-tier corner outfielder such as Cody Ross (ugh).