What Exactly Are the Brewers Going To Do with Willy Adames?

Willy Adames is off to a great start in his walk year. What will the Milwaukee Brewers end up doing with their star shortstop?

Willy Adames #27 of the Milwaukee Brewers reacts after hitting a double against the St. Louis Cardinals at American Family Field.
MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - SEPTEMBER 26: Willy Adames #27 of the Milwaukee Brewers reacts after hitting a double against the St. Louis Cardinals at American Family Field on September 26, 2023 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images)

Willy Adames is in the midst of an early-season bounce-back, and he’s doing it at the most opportune time in his career.

Set to hit free agency at the end of the season, Adames will be one of the most important names to monitor throughout the year for the Milwaukee Brewers, and the club will soon have a critical decision to make regarding the future of their star shortstop.

No hitter has brought more value to the organization since the start of his Brewers tenure than Adames, and it’s not particularly close.

Since he made his Brewers debut on May 22, 2021, he has accumulated 12.3 fWAR. The next closest position player is Christian Yelich with 7.8 fWAR, and the only player to produce more fWAR than Adames for the Brewers over that stretch was Corbin Burnes (13.2).

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On the one hand, if the Brewers wish to defend their division crown this season, Adames will play an integral role in accomplishing that goal. Yet, if they have an opportunity to cash in on his value and bring in a return that can benefit the franchise in the long run, they’ve shown a tendency to do so, regardless of the significance the player in question has to the organization.

Adames has started his 2024 campaign on a high note, and a rebound season would certainly go a long way toward boosting his overall value, both for the Brewers and Adames himself on the open market.

Let’s take a look at what changed for Adames to spark his early season resurgence.

Stats and rankings updated prior to first pitch on May 10.

A Small Setup Change Yielding Big Results

Adames had a brutal 2023 season from an offensive perspective. His approach was out of sorts, he was struggling to make consistent contact, and his hard-hit rate took a massive step back from previous years.

However, Adames has seemingly recaptured his old form in the early days of the 2024 season.

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When looking at what changes Adames made to spark his hot start, the area that stands out the most is his stance.

Adames’ load and swing mechanics don’t look any different than they did last season. Instead, it’s his pre-pitch setup that has changed quite a bit from 2023.

Below are two videos comparing Adames’ stance from the last two seasons. The first video highlights his stance from 2023, and the second captures his stance from this season. Notice the difference in his pre-pitch movement:

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Willy Adames 2023, via SportsNet Pittsburgh
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Willy Adames 2024, via Bally Sports

There are some tangible differences in his pre-pitch routine. Specifically, there is noticeably less overall movement in his stance.

In 2023, Adames featured a subtle bat waggle to go along with an extreme bend in both knees and his back. This year, Adames has completely straightened out his left leg, and he has eliminated nearly all movement in his stance, including the bend in his back.

As a result, he’s much more vertical in his stance and has removed any extra noise he previously had in his setup. He drastically decreased how far he needs to go to get from his stance into a loaded position, and that likely reduces the amount of effort it takes to get into that position as well.

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Adames looks like a much more confident hitter at the plate, and perhaps that all starts with his revamped stance. When comparing his hot start this year to his numbers from 2023, he has seen improvements nearly across the board.

Maintaining Power While Improving Contact

Improving contact rates while maintaining plus power output is no easy feat, and it’s a formula many power hitters strive to achieve. In Adames’ case, a suspect approach combined with below-average contact skills has put a cap on his ceiling throughout his young career.

That being said, Adames has shown a lot of improvement in his plate discipline to begin the 2024 campaign, and that’s what makes his strong start so encouraging.

There’s still room for improvement, but Adames currently has a chase rate of 24.1%, which is in the 70th percentile, according to Baseball Savant. That is a significant improvement from his out-of-zone swing rate of 31.8% in 2023.

Chase rate is at the heart of Adames’ offensive game. If he is showing a disciplined approach and laying off pitches outside the strike zone, it improves every other aspect of his game.

When Adames expands the strike zone, he becomes a much less productive hitter because it completely neutralizes his ability to put a good swing on the ball. For a hitter with such lethal power, making smart swing decisions is key for Adames.

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Not only has he kept his chase rate at a manageable level through his first 36 games, but he has also cut his overall whiff rate by over three percent from a season ago. The combination of these improvements has slashed his strikeout rate down to 20.0%, which is nearly six points lower than his number from 2023.

Adames is also walking at a career-high rate of 11.3%, which ranks in the top 25 percent of baseball.

As was alluded to earlier, Adames has managed to make these improvements while maintaining his elite power output, and that has paid enormous dividends when it comes to his run production.

Last season, Adames was in the 16th percentile with an average exit velocity of 87.4 mph. This year, he currently sits in the 55th percentile with an average exit velocity of 89.3 mph. Relatedly, his hard-hit rate of 44% is 7.5 ticks up from last season.

Not only is Adames hitting the ball harder, but he is elevating the ball more than he ever has. In 160 plate appearances, he currently has the highest launch angle of his career (20.6 degrees), and that has yielded a career-low ground ball rate of 33.9%. Moreover, he also has the third-best barrel rate among qualified National League shortstops at 10.1%.

In turn, Adames has been one of the top shortstops in the game this season. He has the second-most RBIs among MLB shortstops with 25, he has the sixth-best isolated power at .200, and he is tied for second among National League shortstops in fWAR (1.5).

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More importantly for the Brewers, Adames continues to be one of their most valuable offensive weapons. He’s fourth on the team in OPS (.801), wRC+ (129), and wOBA (.354); third in fWAR; second in total bases (64), stolen bases (6), and runs scored (21); and first in home runs (7).

If the Brewers elect to move on from Adames this season, replacing his run production and power output is going to be extremely challenging.

However, he’s likely going to test the open market at the end of the season, and he could be one of the top offensive weapons available at the trade deadline.

Do the Brewers ride out the final year of his contract and lean on his production to help carry them to the postseason, or do they maximize his value and bring in what could be a significant haul at the trade deadline?

There are a couple of avenues the Brewers could take with their star shortstop, but it won’t be an easy decision.

What Are The Brewers’ Options With Adames?

Fortunately for the Brewers, they have a ready-made replacement at shortstop position in Joey Ortiz. Ortiz is off to a strong start with his new ball club, and he is the shortstop of the future for the Brewers.

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That said, Ortiz has played a key role at third base so far this season, and his shift over to shortstop would cause a sizable hole at the hot corner for the remainder of the season.

If Adames were to be traded mid-season, Oliver Dunn would most likely be the lead candidate to take over the full-time role at third base. Dunn has flashed some exciting tools in his first month of big league action, but there will be ups and downs in his game as he gets situated in the majors.

Tyler Black, Just Baseball’s No. 72 prospect, and Andruw Monasterio could also be in the mix for some playing time at the hot corner. However, Monasterio has struggled to hold a spot on the big league roster this season, and Black is in the process of making the full-time transition to first base with Triple-A Nashville.

Point being, not only would subtracting Adames from the roster have a significant ripple effect on the offense, but it would also create a new set of issues in terms of roster construction.

If the Brewers retain Adames through the end of the season, they could at least extend him the qualifying offer in an attempt to receive draft pick compensation in the event that he declines the contract and leaves via free agency. It wouldn’t bring in as big of a return as if they traded him mid-season, but it would be better than nothing.

What the Brewers end up doing with Adames will greatly hinge on how their season unfolds. If they are battling for a division title and are in a good position to fight for a playoff spot come the All-Star break, there’s a good chance they hold onto Adames through the end of the season. If their season unravels in the coming months, they will likely look to flip Adames at the trade deadline to bring in a strong return and set their sights on the future.

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Final Thoughts

There will be heavy discourse surrounding Willy Adames and the Milwaukee Brewers all season long. On top of providing elite defense at shortstop, he has some of the best power in the game at the position. He’s one of the most important players in the Brewers’ organization, not only on the field but in the clubhouse as well.

That said, Milwaukee’s ability to consistently retool its roster in an effort to achieve prolonged regular season success has been a formula that has kept this team in playoff contention for the better part of the last decade. Assuming Adames’ future is not in Milwaukee beyond the 2024 season, he could bring in a sizable return as one of the top rental bats on the market.

The Brewers’ performance in the coming months will dictate what they do with their prized shortstop. There’s no overstating how important Adames has been to the Brewers since he came over from the Tampa Bay Rays, and his performance in his walk year will be a major storyline to follow throughout the season.