How Adrian Sampson Went From Rotation Depth to a Trade Chip

After seeing an ERA just over 3.00 for the first two months of the season, and being near the International League leaders in strikeouts, it seemed Adrian Sampson could do no wrong.

However, this trend came to a screeching halt in July. Sampson all of a sudden became very hittable and bad just got worse for him. This led to him ultimately getting traded to Seattle on Friday for J.A. Happ.

While you never want to see a top prospect beat around to the tune of a 4.86 ERA in a month, struggles at this point in a career can really do a pitcher some good. Even if nothing else, it just shows how they respond to adversity. With Sampson, it was learning about himself and working his way out of it by getting back to the basics prior to the trade.

“My mentality changed a little bit when I got into the rough stretch,” Sampson said early in the week. “I started thinking about mechanics a little bit and thinking that something was wrong. I was blaming my mechanics, but it was actually my mentality. I was not as aggressive as I was at the beginning of the season.”

Though his first start in July featured seven earned runs on nine hits, Sampson rebounded with back to back strong outings with this approach. Along with that, he felt like he got the stuff back that he featured in the first two months of the season.

“I had two starts of seven innings and six innings [July 9 and July 17],” Sampson said. “My mentality was to forget what happened before and pitch like I normally should. I stayed within myself and was getting ground balls and movement like I should. I was throwing hard and had the breaking ball and the changeup working for me.”

However, in his last two starts, he had reverted back to allowing too many hits. Sampson has allowed nine hits in four of his last six starts.

Unfortunately for Sampson, the struggles made him more expendable for the organization and he was dealt. The Pirates saw a lot of top prospects go down this year, including Tommy John for Nick Kingham and the setbacks for Jameson Taillon. This put Sampson in position to where he could have been used as depth in the majors, especially with A.J. Burnett recently going down. Instead, his recent struggles made it so that the Pirates had to look elsewhere.

Sampson could have more value to the Seattle organization in the long-term, but will need to get back to where he was at the start of the year with his mentality.

“If I am very passive on a pitch and am just thinking about location, I’ll lose the sharp movement that I have,” Sampson said. “That makes an easy ball for the hitter. You have 100 pitches in a game, and the mental grind of it to do the same thing for 100 pitches is tough.”

Outside of the bad starts in June, Sampson is confident that he has done a good job with the focus game, and it will be his main concentration the remainder of the season, especially in more high leverage situations.

“With runners in scoring position, I tend to forget that,” Sampson said. “That is when I really have to buckle down. Whether there are runners on second and third, or just a runner at third base, a little ground ball through the hole and then you have trouble. I need to pitch better with runners in scoring position, and that all comes down to mentality.”

Many of the issues that Sampson has seen in this slide is with big innings. When runners get on, he sometimes has issues keeping them from crossing the plate. He was leaving the ball elevated way too often, making him way too hittable. If he gets those problems under control, he could eventually be a big league starter for Seattle. But his biggest role for the Pirates would have been this year, rather than the long-term, and since he wasn’t ready, his valued turned from rotation depth to a trade chip.

  • Yeh…it doesn’t say much for your future chances when you get traded for J.A (the “A” stands for Awful) Happ.

    • Mental toughness is a big part of success. I don’t think you will ever hear these kind of statements out of Gerrit Cole. AS sounds like he could use a kick in the A_ _. Maybe new surroundings will do that. Good luck Adrian Sampson in your new organization.

    • “Just Awful” Happ? Or “Just Average” Happ? His career line is W-55 L-59, ERA 4.29 WHIP 1.39. But look who he played for: Phillies, Astros, Blue Jays before this year in Seattle. Most of his career has been with below average teams, which affects his stat line. Those look like the numbers of a #4. Early in his career he was actually pretty good, then he fell back a notch while at Houston in 2011. If you compare the career lines there is a striking similarity between Happ’s numbers and Edinson Volquez’s numbers. It should be interesting to see what positive effect the Pirates pitching brain trust of Jim Benedict and Ray Searage can accomplish. The difficulty lies in the fact that it is in season and the fact that Happ’s career GO/AO is 0.84 which indicates he tends to elevate the ball. If Benedict / Searage can persuade Happ to keep the ball down in the zone and Happ is able to do that, his 2H2015 performance may really surprise to the upside.

      • My only concern is if they can work their magic in the middle of the season. They don’t have spring training to rework a guy mechanics. They just going to be limited to what they can do between starts.