On the one hand we have Joel Pineiro -- a guy who is now 4th in the NL in FIP, a guy who’s walking just 1.17 batters per 9 innings, a guy who’s given up just 2 home runs in nearly 93 innings so far this season. This is the same guy whose FIP was nearly 2 runs higher last season. His HR/9 last season was 1.33 and this year it’s 0.19. Over the first 70+ games this season, he’s been worth 2.5 WAR – 7th among NL pitchers. Over the last 3 years COMBINED, Pineiro has been worth 2.1 WAR.
On the other hand, we have Todd Wellemeyer and Adam Wainwright. In 2007, Wainwright established himself, in his first year in the rotation, as one of the NL’s best young starters. He got even better in 2008, though he missed 66 games due to injury. Unfortunately, Wainwright appears to have regressed, at least through the first 70+ games of 2009. The primary reason appears to be a decreased ability to throw strikes.
This year Wainwright is walking more batters and giving up more home runs. When he yields his next dinger, he’ll match the number of homers he gave up in 2007 – over 202 IP – and surpass the number he gave up last year, in 132 innings. As a consequence, he’s throwing more pitches per inning and, therefore, more pitches every time he runs out to the mound. If Wainwright were averaging the same number of pitches per inning he averaged last season, he could be averaging 7.12 innings per start this year, instead of the 6.53 he’s averaging right now. We would have gotten nearly 9 more innings from Wainwright so far and 9 fewer innings from our bullpen.
The good news is that Wainwright is striking out more batters and giving up the same number of ground balls as in previous seasons. While his curve ball has been his best pitch, he’s getting killed this season on his fastball – probably b/c he’s been behind in the count so frequently. Only 50% of the pitches he’s thrown so far this season have been in the strike zone, whereas in 2007 that percentage was 51.4 and in 2008 it was 53.4. The bottom line is that Wainwright’s going to have to throw more strikes, and walk fewer hitters, for him to be the pitcher we expected him to 2 years ago.
So much has been written about Wellemeyer that I don’t have the time or the inclination to rehash it. I do, however, want to take issue w/ some of the stuff that Bernie wrote in his column Tuesday re: Wellemeyer. First of all, he lists the GB% of all the Cards’ starters. Do they seem unusually high to anyone but me? Pineiro’s GB% is 71.1%? According to fangraphs, it’s 61.3%. Carp’s is 64.7%? Fangraphs has it at 55.7%. The same pattern falls right down the line – w/ Thompson, Lohse, Wainwright, and Wellemeyer. I checked THT and BP to see what they had to say. While theirs don’t match fangraphs perfectly, they’re within about 1% of what fangraphs has to say so I have no idea where Bernie got his numbers. Unfortunately, he doesn’t let us know where he found them either. (insert random concern about uncited information from a journalist here) Even thought Bernie’s numbers appear to be WAY OFF re: the Cards’ starters ground ball rates, he is correct that Wellemeyer’s are lower than the rest of the staff’s and lower than his have been in the past.
There’s a logical flaw in the next paragraph. He begins by saying that Wellemeyer is having trouble finishing off hitters and uses Daniel Murphy’s 3-2 homer as an example. However, the rest of his paragraph is about Wellemeyer’s supposed inability (I guess) to finish off INNINGS. Wellemeyer stinks w/ 2 outs and is even worse w/ RISP and 2 outs. What that has to do w/ finishing off individual hitters – as the title of this section suggests – isn’t clear. As it turns out, Wellemeyer is just fine after getting ahead in the count. After being ahead 0-1, the splits against him are .225/.258/343. The problem isn’t that he’s having trouble finishing off hitters, it’s that hitters are absolutely destroying him when he falls behind. Bernie is correct that Wellemeyer, for some reason, has been awful w/ 2 outs. The splits against him w/ 2 outs in an inning are .336/.421/.518 – much worse than he is w/ either 0 or 1 out. W/ 2 outs and RISP, the OPS against Wellemeyer is a Pujols-like 1.138. He’s given up 7 extra base hits in 45 ABs w/ 2 outs and RISP. Simply awful.
Bernie concludes by saying that "hitters are assaulting Wellemeyer’s fastball this season" (FALSE) and that he "isn’t using his slider as often." (TRUE) In fairness, Wellemeyer is 3.4 runs below average on his fastball this year but he was considerably worse on his fastball each of the previous 3 seasons. The pitch that hitters are assaulting, according to fangraphs, is his changeup, on which Wellemeyer is a whopping 11.7 runs below average. His changeup is far and away his worst pitch. Usually it’s his fastball. As to Wellemeyer’s use of the slider, this year more than half the PAs against Wellemeyer have been by left-handed hitters. This is unusual for any pitcher and is something that hasn’t been true for Wellemeyer since he’s been a Cardinal. It’s true, as Bernie points out, that lefties are mauling Wellemeyer. While he’s always been vulnerable to lefties, it’s never been as bad as it has been this year AND he’s seeing many more of them. The bottom line is that right handed pitchers simply do not throw many sliders to left handed hitters b/c the ball breaks right into their hitting zone. They’re much more likely to throw curve balls and changeups – 2 pitches that Wellemeyer’s thrown more of this year. The obvious reason for that is that he’s facing many more lefthanded batters. While it may make sense for Wellemeyer to throw more curveballs – he’s 1.7 runs above average on the curveball – and fewer changeups, the reduced number of sliders probably isn’t Wellemeyer’s biggest problem.
This brings us back to Pineiro. (I thought I’d end w/ some good news!) There’s a great article at fangraphs about the additional movement Pineiro’s getting on both his regular 4-seam fastball and his 2-seam fastball. While his fastball speed is down, his movement is up and, as a result, he leads the majors in GB%. Even though he’s striking out fewer hitters than ever (and he never was a strikeout pitcher) he’s having more success b/c he’s not walking anyone and he’s getting ground ball after ground ball. He’s been, partly b/c of Carp’s injury, our best starter this year and one of the best in the league. He absolutely should be considered for a position on the All-Star team. Whodathunkit?
All that said, he is benefiting from a ridiculously low HR/FB % of 2.9%. There’s no way that’s sustainable, even pitching half his games in a pitcher’s park. The good news is that he’s not getting that many fly balls so, even when it does rise, we’re not looking at THAT MANY more homers. I was going to say that it concerned me that he reminds me of the 2007 version of Carlos Silva – a ground ball machine who doesn’t walk anyone, doesn’t strike anyone out, and just isn’t all that good. If you look at the numbers, however, he’s just not that similar to Silva. Instead, think the 2006 version of Chien-Ming Wang.
I thought Silva was much more of a ground ball machine than that. Now, I don’t want to pee in anyone’s Post Toasties but Silva got a really rich free agent contract after that season w/ the Twins and hasn’t been even decent since and Wang has completely collapsed so far this season. That said, as long as Pineiro continues to throw strikes and keep the ball down, he’s going to be ok. Let’s ride this as long as we can and hope that Wainwright becomes the Wainwright of old soon. W/ the Brewers having all sorts of pitching issues and the Cubs having all sorts of issues in general, this division is winnable – as long as we can pitch. We’re going to go as far as the pitching takes us.