Austin Adams' record-breaking season you may have missed

Austin Adams finished 2021 with a record that may never be broken...and batters are happy that it won't be.

San Diego Padres v San Francisco Giants
San Diego Padres v San Francisco Giants / Thearon W. Henderson/GettyImages

The slider can be a devastating pitch. I remember watching Randy Johnson throw what might be the nastiest slider baseball has ever seen. The bite it would have down and in on right-handed batters was insane. He made more than a few hitters look pretty feeble, even sending them falling as they tried to make contact.

Like any breaking pitch, you want the slider to appear as a strike, but it then should miss the bat as it ducks down. Players have made a career throwing a breaking pitch as their bread and butter. There is one pitcher who is going into his eighth season throwing the slider as his primary pitch, but for one year in 2021, that pitch seemed to have a mind of its own, to the point that he set a dubious and very strange record. That pitcher is former San Diego Padre and recently traded New York Mets reliever Austin Adams (now of the Oakland A's).

Looking at Austin Adams' career stats, you’ll see he is a strikeout artist. 13.4 career strikeouts per 9 innings is quite impressive, with a high of 14.9 in 2019. His walks are high (career 5.9 per 9 innings), but if he's punching people out at a high rate, you may be able to live with that. I wouldn’t want him as my closer personally, but maybe to get a couple of guys in the sixth or seventh inning. Now, let’s take a look at his 2021 season in San Diego and see what exactly happened. The stat that is going to jump out at you is hit batsmen. He led the league with a whopping 24 hit batters in just 52.2 innings. What on earth is going on there? For reasons unknown, his slider became almost uncontrollable, and hitters were getting hit at a pace never seen in the live ball era.

Let’s put this into historical perspective. The Major League record for most hit batsmen in a season is held by Phil Knell in 1891 with 54. That’s a lot, but if you take into account the balls they used and especially if you look at the number of innings pitched (462 innings), it doesn’t seem so bad. If you continue down the list, you need to get to 12th to even see a year that starts in the 20th Century, and every hurler responsible pitched more than 277 innings, with most in the 300-400 inning range. As you slide down more, down to 45th place, you see it stick out like a sore thumb. There’s Austin Adams. Every single pitcher before him had to pitch at least 199 innings to have more. If you slide down to the end of the list, there isn’t a single pitcher out of over 600 pitchers that have hit as many batters in less than 100 innings. My count has 149 players tied for 495 in the all-time single season list. That is truly one of the most remarkable records you will ever see.

What is also remarkable is before his 2021 season, his career high for hitting batters was one. He hit five last year, so this could be another interesting year for him if this continues. Let’s hope opposing hitters wear plenty of armor while facing Adams this year!