Should the St. Louis Cardinals Be Worried About Adam Wainwright?

May 12, 2012; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Adam Wainwright (50) delivers a pitch against the Atlanta Braves at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-US PRESSWIRE

The start of the 2012 season has been a rough one for Adam Wainwright. After allowing five runs on nine hits to the Braves in his seventh start of the season on Saturday, Wainwright now owns a 6.16 ERA and 4.32 FIP. Despite the high ERA and FIP, Wainwright's xFIP of 2.93 would be a career best and ranked eleventh-best in Major League Baseball entering play on Sunday.

According to the fielding-independent metrics of FIP and xFIP, Wainwright has been unlucky this season to varying degrees. His ERA-FIP difference of 1.84 was the eighth-lowest in baseball entering play on Sunday. This is likely due to the fact that Wainwright is striking batters out a career-high rate of 9.24 per nine innings, has a BABIP of 3.52 that is 62 points above his career average, and has a 66.4 LOB% that is ten points below his career average and 6.7% below the 2012 league average.

While Wainwright's luck when comparing FIP to ERA has been bad, it has been downright horrendous according to xFIP. Why is Wainwright's xFIP so low? Home runs.

The foundation of the DIPS theory to pitching is that a pitcher has little control over where the ball goes when it's hit. This led to the development of multiple metrics that measure what a pitcher can control. Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) is one of these metrics. The Fangraphs glossary explains that FIP "measures what a player's ERA should have looked like over a given time period, assuming that performance on balls in play and timing were league average." Thus, Wainwright's FIP is lower than his ERA due to the aforementioned high BABIP and low strand rate.

Expected Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP) takes this theory one step further. The Fangraphs glossary explainsthat xFIP is "a regressed version of FIP" calculated the same way as FIP "except that it replaces a pitcher's home run total with an estimate of how many home runs they should have allowed." This is done by applying the league-average home run to fly ball rate (HR/FB), which usually in the nine or ten percentage range.

Through 38 innings pitched in his seven starts, Wainwright has given up seven round-trippers. Wainwright's HR/9 rate of 1.66 is more than double his previous career high of 0.82. His HR/FB is so high it borders on absurd. At 25% it is more than three times his career HR/FB of 8.2% and more than double the league average HR/FB of 10.5% in 2012. Thus, when Wainwright's 25% HR/FB is replaced by the league-average 10.5% HR/FB when xFIP is calculated, Wainwright becomes a top-eleven pitcher.

Is it that easy, though? Has Wainwright simply suffered a bout of bad home run luck or are hitters hitting the ball harder against him? Using Greg Rybarczyk's ESPN Home Run Tracker, we can take a look at Wainwright's home runs allowed, both during his career and in 2012. The Home Run Tracker categorizes home runs into three categories:

- "Just Enough" or "JE", which means the ball cleared the fence by less than 10 vertical feet, OR that it landed less than one fence height past the fence. These are the ones that barely made it over the fence...

- "No Doubt", or "ND", which means the ball cleared the fence by at least 20 vertical feet AND landed at least 50 feet past the fence. These are really deep blasts...

- "Plenty", or "PL", which is everything else.

Using the data available on ESPN Home Run Tracker, the following table shows Wainwright's home runs allowed profile for each of his seasons as a starter before 2012 and for his career as a starter.

Year

HR

HR/FB

JE

JE%

ND

ND%

PL

PL%

AVG. Distance

Speed

2007*

13

5.8%

5

38.46%

3

23.08%

4

30.77%

405.5 feet

106

2008*

12

8.5%

3

25.00%

0

0.00%

8

66.67%

403.8 feet

104.3

2009

17

8.3%

7

41.17%

3

17.65%

7

41.17%

403.1 feet

104.3

2010

15

7.9%

5

33.33%

5

33.33%

5

33.33%

402.5 feet

105.9

Career*

57

7.6%

20

35.09%

11

19.30%

24

42.11%

403.7 feet

105.1

*The Home Run Tracker does not have data for one home run allowed in both 2007 and 2008. The JE%, ND%, and PL% are still calculated out of the actual home run total in 2007, 2008, and Career.

As you can see, the home run numbers are subject to quite a bit of volatility. Wainwright's Just Enough percentage has ranged from 25.0% in 2008 to 41.17% in 2009; his No Doubt percentage has ranged from 0.0% in 2008 to 33.33% in 2010; and his Plenty percentage has ranged from 30.77% in 2007 to 66.67% in 2008.

Here are how Wainwright's career home run numbers compare to his 2012 numbers.

Year

HR

HR/FB

JE

JE%

ND

ND%

PL

PL%

AVG. Distance

Speed

2012

7

25.0%

3

42.86%

3

42.86%

1

14.28%

406.9 feet

104.8

Career

14

7.6%

5

35.09%

2.8

19.30%

6

42.11%

403.7 feet

105.1

Diff.

-7

+17.4%

-2

+7.77%

+0.2

+23.56%

-5

-27.83%

+3.2 feet

-0.3

There are not many conclusions to be drawn from this comparison. It's not as if Wainwright has given up moonshot after moonshot this year as hitter after hitter tees off on him. As you can see, Wainwright has had an equal number of "Just Enough" homers and "No Doubt" homers hit off of him while having only one "Plenty" homer hit against him. While the average true distance of the home runs off Wainwright has gone up by 3.2 feet, is a number that doesn't carry much weight due to the small number of homers we're looking at. What's more, the average MPH of a batted home run off Wainwright is a smidgeon below the average for Wainwright's career as a starter. There just isn't much evidence that opposing hitters are consistently making excellent contact against Wainwright and driving the ball out of the park. Wainwright's bout of homeritis legitimately seems to be a bit of bad batted ball luck.

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