The Cardinals’ portly first baseman is back and supposedly better than ever

Look, I know you’ve heard it before, I’ve heard it before, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to stop happening. Every spring, some chubby infielder returns after a down season in “the best shape of his life.” It’s not exclusive to baseball, but it seems like a pretty common baseball phenomenon. This years “victim” of the pudge purge is Cardinals’ Matt “Fatt” Adams. The oft-maligned first baseman has apparently made a commitment to slimming down over the offseason, and from the looks of it his hard work has paid off.

Big City? More like Small Rural Town am I right? If you don’t like that one, it could be: More like Flatt Adams! Okay I’m done.

But in all seriousness this could mean good things. There aren’t a lot of cases where a player gets in better shape and actually plays worse. Of course there are many cases where they play the exact same, but there  are positive signs for Adams going into 2017.

He’s entering his age 28 season, which should be around the prime of his career, he’s in better shape and he’s in a position to get a good amount of playing time as the second man off the bench. This is a player who put up .284/.335/.503 with 17 HRs in his best big league season. Can we expect that kind of production to come back, or are those expectations just pie in the sky? (yes that was a food joke, expect more, a lot more)

Does it actually make a difference?

There have been a multiple studies on the “Best shape of his life” (BSOHL) phenomenon, and most of them come to the same conclusion: no. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t cases where working out results in a breakout season. Take Carlos Gomez and Pablo Sandoval. Both players once reported into spring training in the “best shape of their lives” and both broke out the same year. Of course, Sandoval quickly fell back out of shape, but now he’s supposedly back in shape? It can get murky but rest assured working out can reap major benefits.

Of course, there are always a couple of bad eggs. Both Brian McCann and Russel Martin had multiple seasons in a row where they claimed to be at the peak of fitness, yet neither really improved in the following seasons. Just because you say you lose weight doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to bring home the bacon. Another example is CC Sabathia, who visibly slimmed down yet still maintained mediocre production.

Fortunately, I think Adams falls into the category of players who stand for improvement. He hasn’t previously reported being in the best shape of his life, and he’s not a catcher, or a Yankee, which seems to be a common theme.

Possible consequences

Some say that if Adams loses weight, he will lose power because he doesn’t have as much mass behind the swing. This is especially a concern with Adams, because power off the bench is his bread and butter.

However, I wouldn’t be too concerned about this possible side effect. Often, even if a player is losing weight they’re gaining more lean muscle mass, which means they won’t lose any power. Going back to Sandoval, in his first “best shape of his life” season (2011) he still hit 23 home runs, only two shy of his career high. He hasn’t hit more than 20 home runs since then.

If you look at pictures of Matt Adams now, he still looks like he’s got some bulk to him. I’d be shocked if his weight loss actually resulted in a loss of power. If anything it could result in quicker bat speed which would result in more contact and more home runs. It’s not like Adams’ home runs were barely making it over the fence anyways. He’ll definitely have plenty of power going into next season.

The other consequences are the obvious benefits that come with losing weight. Adams will be quicker in the infield and on the base-paths, two areas where the Cardinals were sorely lacking last season. Hopefully this will make it easier for Matheny to play Adams in late innings when he doesn’t have to worry about his defense costing them the game.

There’s no telling what kind of season Adams will have, but he should be commended by the Cardinals coaching staff, fans, and management for putting in the work to improve himself physically. Here’s hoping that his off field work turns into on field results. After all, losing weight is not a piece of cake.