For all the big names who changed uniforms before the deadline to make changes, the move that could end up having the biggest impact in the postseason fight is one that was made more than two months earlier.
On May 21, the Brewers sent relievers JP Feyereisen and Drew Rasmussen to the Rays and welcomed shortstop Willy Adames (plus pitcher Trevor Richards, who would later be traded to Toronto in a deal for Rowdy Tellez).
Adames was running a .197 / .254 / .371 line at the time of the transaction, but he has become the Brewers’ most productive hitter and has helped make the team the favorite to win the NL Central. National League.
In 71 games with the Brewers, Adames has hit .297 / .378 / .551 with 16 homers, 22 doubles and 48 RBIs. After striking out 35.9% of his plate appearances and walking just 7.0% of the time before the trade, he cut that strikeout rate to 24.7% and raised walking percentage to 11.5% in Milwaukee.
Adames has not only propped up a position that had been problematic for the Brewers in 2021. He has significantly improved a position that had been a persistent problem for the team for more than a decade. Between 2009 and 2020, Milwaukee shortstops combined for the worst OPS (.663) in the National League and the third worst in the majors.
Obviously, the Brewers’ trio of aces of Brandon Woodruff, Corbin Burnes and Freddy Peralta have played an immense role in Milwaukee’s success this season, but you can’t win without scoring runs. Manager Craig Counsell’s club probably wouldn’t be where it is without Adames.
The 25-year-old is not a favorite to win the National League Most Valuable Player award, especially considering that no player has been MVP in a year in which he played with more than one team.
But Adames’s arguments for fighting for MVP are better than many might believe.
The easiest way to understand the impact Adames has had on the Brewers is to see the team’s actions before and after his arrival. On the day the trade was made, the Brewers lost to the Reds 9-4 and their record was 21-24 (.477 winning percentage). At the time, the ninth was 28th in the majors in OPS and their shortstop OPS ranked them 26th out of 30 teams. Milwaukee had a 37.2% chance of making the postseason, according to FanGraphs projections.
Since Adames joined the team’s lineup on May 22, the Brewers have led the majors with a .680 winning percentage (51-24 record) and their chances of reaching the postseason are 98.5%. His offense has the seventh-best OPS in the majors since Adames arrived.
Right-hitter production has helped offset the fact that Christian Yelich, Keston Hiura, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Lorenzo Cain have all produced below or at the same level as the average major league hitter, in terms of OPS +.
Of the 14 Brewers with at least 150 plate appearances this season, only three have an OPS + of 120 or better: Adames, Venezuelan catcher Omar Narvaez and utility Jace Peterson. Adames has an OPS + of 148 since the switch, the best in the entire Milwaukee team.
Brewers Leaders in OPS + in 2021
Minimum of 150 plate visits
Willy Adames: 148
Omar Narvaez: 126
Jace Peterson: 124
Avisaíl García: 117
Kolten Wong: 111
Despite spending the first seven weeks of the season in another league, Adames is tied for 14th among NL position players and leads the Brewers batters in fWAR (3.5).
Has responded at the right time
Adames’s performance in the clutch is the center of his MVP argument.
The shortstop has a .328 / .423 / .657 line in 78 plate appearances with runners in scoring position since joining the Brewers. His 1.074 OPS in medium to high impact situations is the sixth best in MLB (minimum of 100 plate appearances in such situations) since May 22.
In “close at the end of games” situations (visits to the plate from the seventh inning onwards with the team at bat tied, ahead by one run or the tying run at least in the holding circle), Adames is 39-17 (.436) with four homers, four doubles, 10 RBIs and a 1,322 OPS in 42 plate appearances for the Brewers. Among Old Circuit players with at least 40 times at bat in “late and tight” situations, the one who comes closest to Adames is Dodgers catcher Will Smith, with a 1,120 OPS, 202 points less.
Additionally, Adames is third among NL position players in winning added probability (WPA), a metric that captures the change in a team’s odds of winning from one plate visit to the next.
LN Leaders in WPA in 2021
Fernando Tatis Jr .: 3.9 (367 hits to the plate)
Jesse Winker: 3.3 (481)
Willy Adames: 3.1 (312)
Nick Castellanos: 3.0 (409)
Brandon Crawford: 3.0 (379)
Again, let’s remember that Adames spent the first seven weeks of the season at the Young Circuit, so the fact that he is fighting for the lead in a cumulative stat at the National is especially remarkable.
It could be a wide open race
If Padres superstar Fernando Tatis Jr. stays healthy for the rest of the season, the battle for NL MVP will probably not be too close. Tatis leads his league in homers (33) and stolen bases (23) and both circuits in slugging (.675) and OPS (1,054), after all.
But Tatis has dislocated his left shoulder multiple times this season, and concern is such in San Diego that management moved him to right field to minimize the risk of another injury.
If Tatis is hurt again, a surgery that would end his season is not ruled out, so we cannot give him the trophy at once.
The questions with Tatis’s shoulder have opened the doors for a group of hopefuls that includes Adames, Bryce Harper, Buster Posey, Freddie Freeman, Joey Votto, Nick Castellanos, Max Muncy and Trea Turner.
Adames is not only competing against an immensely talented group of players, but also against the MVP award history itself. Only eight players have finished fourth or better in a year in which they switched teams, with Manny Ramirez being the most recent in 2008 (going from Red Sox to Dodgers). Of those eight, the top-ranked Sal Maglie with the Brooklyn Dodgers after arriving from Cleveland on May 15, 1956.
In any case, even if Adames is unlikely to win the accolade, the fact that he is in this conversation speaks volumes of how much he has meant to the Brewers since joining the team.