Wagonmaker the Workhorse

I mean this to be a critique of TLR's strategic decision to keep Wainwright in the game, measured by reason and supported with statistical analysis and observation. Please feel free to critique and comment. I don't mean to overly piggyback LB--this Fanpost was half done when he posted for the day. Since he summed up far better than I could've the relief situation, I quoted that post below. (LB, I hope you don't mind.)

"Why does La Russa still have Wagonmaker in the game? 105...106...107...Is he honoring Dusy Baker's return to Chicago by unnecessarily extending the pitch count of our best, young pitcher? 108...109...110..."

So was my inner-monologue last night during Wainwright's 115-pitch outing.

I raised an eyebrow when Wainwright came out for 8th, likely because I am still over-sensitive to him as a reliever-turned-starter, which is silly since he had always been a starter before 2006 and got better as a starter as the 2007 season progressed (unlike other relievers-turned-starters--Looper & Wellemeyer--who showed physical hiccups during their shift). Nevermind the fact that his 2007 total IP of 202 was twenty more than the previous high of his professional career of 182 IP.

Last season, however, he threw sixteen games of over 100 pitches, breaking the 110-pitch mark on six of those occasions and throwing over 120 pitches once (one of two complete games tossed by a Cardinal starter, which he loss vs. the Dodgers when he surrendered 2 runs in the 9th to lose). What's more, Wainwright threw over 100 pitches in three of his first four starts of the 2007 season, his inaugural as a penned in member of the St. Louis starting rotation. Here is the percentage breakdown by pitch total of his 32 '07 starts: 70-79: 1 start (3.13%); 80-89: 7 starts (21.88%); 90-99: 9 starts (28.13%); 100-109: 9 starts (28.13%); 110-119: 5 starts (15.63%); 120+: 1 start (3.13%). Throwing over 110 pitches was not abnormal last season. And, after all, he did throw 107 pitches against Washington in his first official start this season so he is on pace to throw over 100 pitches in three of his first four starts this April, as in last.

If Wagonmaker went this deep into pitch counts on a fairly regular basis last season, then why was I nervous?

In the seventh inning, Wainwright's fastball was sitting about 88-90 and hitting 91 on Gamecast. (Since I wasn't recording what the T.V. gun was reading, I'm using Gamecast since all pitch radar readings are relative.) This, compared to the middle innings, during which, according to GameCast, Wainwright was fluctuating between 90 and 92 while popping 93 mph. On his fastballs, his velocity was down.

Not surprisingly, Wagonmaker's control waned as his pitch count grew. For the game, he threw 115 pitches with 71 of those for strikes which leaves us with 44 balls to account for over 7 2/3 innings, or, 38.25% of his pitches. Through five innings, Wainwright's percentage of pitches thrown that were out of the strikezone was 31.25% while in the sixth, seventh, and eighth innings, it was 47.05%. Not surprisingly, he threw 20 pitches for balls in the first five innings to 24 pitches for balls in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings. Not surprising, his labors drove up his overall pitch count as well. Wainwright threw 64 pitches in innings one through five and 51 pitches in his final 2 2/3 innings thrown. Wainwright began to tire and his control began to slip in his final two full innings, which foretold a coming jam in the eighth, which came to fruition.

The numbers demonstrate what anyone's eyes could tell them: Wainwright was tiring.

Wainwright is a tough competitor and ground his way to two outs, to his credit, out of the heart of Milwaukee's order, but that doesn't make it a good call to keep him in. Neither does escaping the inning unscathed. Leaving Wainwright in too long paved the way for an incredibly dangerous situation that threatened to undue a very convincing win for the Cardinals. Randy Flores, who has been worthy of praise so far this early season, pitch to Prince Fielder, he of the 50 HR and and 119 RBI last season, as the tying run at the plate was a gamble of Russian Roulette proportions.

I defer to LB's analysis:

i disagreed w/ the decision to send wainwright back out there in the 8th, and particularly the decision to let him face ryan braun as the potential tying run. adam’s location was way off that inning; he went to 3 balls on the leadoff man before retiring him, then gave up a hit and a walk; when braun stepped in wainwright was at 113 pitches for the game and 19 for the inning. fortunately, it isn’t necessary to throw braun a strike (he has 0 walks this season); he chased a fastball in off the plate and got himself out. tony must not have liked his options; mcclellan was unavailable, and apparently the overused franklin needed the night off too (at least, i never saw him warming up). that left reyes and thompson as the only options. against the top of the order, tony trusted adam more; adam justified the faith.

In the end, TLR's gamble paid off in spades. The Cards wiggled their way out of trouble and went on to win the game, even with Izzy's flair for the dramatics. Nonetheless, this strategic gamble could have ended up very differently and squandered an otherwise dominate performance by the Redbirds.


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