A Look at Adam Wainwright's 2012 Season Through the Prism of DIPS

Dilip Vishwanat

In his first back after undergoing Tommy John surgery, Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright gave up quite a few more runs despite having very good peripherals. What was the cause?

Last year, I bit the bullet and got bleacher seats for the St. Louis Cardinals' home opener. I wanted to see Clydesdales, Cardinal greats in red blazers, and Adam Wainwright. The day was a rainy one, so the Clydesdales didn't trot around the Busch Stadium warning track. Despite the bad weather, Stan Musial, Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, and Ozzie Smith road around, waving to the fans during a lull in the rainfall. Despite a delayed start, Wainwright took the ball for the home team and made his first start in St. Louis since undergoing Tommy John surgery.

The start did not go as scripted. The visiting Cubs shelled Wainwright. By the time manager Mike Matheny pulled Wainwright out of the game after just three innings, the righthander had given up eight earned runs on seven hits and two walks. Two of the seven Chicago hits were homers and one of those was a grand slam off the bat of rookie Brian LaHair that pushed the Cubs' lead to 8-0.

After the game, I attempted to reassure myself about Wainwright. I told myself it was only one start, that two-homer games happen, that it was cold and rainy. All of those things were true. But experiencing the shellacking firsthand made it stick with me throughout the season and all of the bad memories came rushing back during Wainwright's rough outing in Game 5 of the NLDS.

Last year was an up-and-down one for Wainwright. He finished 2012 with some stats that looked like they belonged to the pre-injury ace and others that didn't. Wainwright struck out batters at a healthy rate, issued walks about as often as we'd come to expect pre-sugery, and his home-run rate regressed to a somewhat normal figure by season's end. Despite those stats, though, Wainwright posted an ERA of 3.94 that sticks out like a sore thumb.

ADAM WAINWRIGHT STATS (2009, 2010, & 2012)

Year

GS

IP

K/9

BB/9

HR/9

ERA

2009

34

233.0

8.19

2.55

0.66

2.63

2010

33

230.1

8.32

2.19

0.59

2.42

2012

32

198.2

8.34

2.36

0.68

3.94

Wainwright went from two consecutive seasons of having one of the best ERAs in baseball, to Tommy John surgery and rehabilitation, to an about-average ERA. Here is how Wainwright's ERA has stacked up against the overall ERA for National League starting pitchers over his last three full seasons.

WAINWRIGHT VS. NL STARTERS (2009, 2010, & 2012)

Year

NL Starters

Wainwright

Difference

2009

4.30

2.63

-1.67

2010

4.05

2.42

-1.63

2012

4.04

3.94

-0.10

In 2012, the gap between Wainwright and his starting pitcher peers closed in the area of run prevention. There is a series of pitching stats available at Fangraphs that are known as the "minus" stats. They take a pitching stat and adjust it for park effects. I like this stat because it shows that there is a difference between posting a 3.00 ERA while pitching with Coors Field as your home park and posting a 3.00 ERA while pitching your home games in San Diego. They also adjust for league scoring environment and are then adjusted so that 100 is average. The further below 100 a pitcher's "minus" stat, the better. The further above 100 a pitcher's "minus" stat, the worse it is. As the following chart shows, after adjusting for the pitcher-friendly park effects of Busch Stadium, Wainwright's 2012 ERA was actually slightly worse than average.

WAINWRIGHT'S ERA & ERA- (2009, 2010, & 2012)

Year

ERA

ERA-

2009

2.63

65

2010

2.42

62

2012

3.94

103

*The Fangraphs Glossary primer on ERA- and the other "minus" stats can be found here.

A quibble sabermetricians have with ERA is that it is somewhat dependent on a pitcher's defense (and, for that matter, the official scorer). One of the more intriguing theories to come out of the sabermetric community is that of Defense Independent Pitching; or, DIPS. (SABR posted an excellent history of the DIPS theory over the weekend that is well worth a read.) The DIPS theory gave rise to metrics based on those events over which a pitcher's defense has no control. At Fangraphs, some of these metrics are readily available as Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) and Expected Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP). The Fangraphs Glossary entry for FIP explains the stat thusly:

Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) measures what a player's ERA should have looked like over a given period, assuming that performance on balls in play and timing were league average.

The FIP formula is one that is calculated by giving weights to the following stats: home runs allowed, walks, hit batsmen, and strikeouts before dividing by innings pitched. The xFIP formula is similar to FIP but substitutes a league-average home runs rate for the pitcher's actual home run rate. If one goes by the fielding-independent metrics, Wainwright's 2012 was not at all concerning. In fact, it was quite good. Given the inputs, that's not surprising.

WAINWRIGHT FIELDING-INDEPENDENT STATS (2009, 2010, & 2012)

Year

IP

SO

SO%

BB

BB%

HBP

HR

FIP

FIP-

xFIP

xFIP-

2009

233.0

212

21.9%

66

6.8%

3

17

3.11

76

3.32

78

2010

230.1

213

23.4%

56

6.2%

4

15

2.86

74

3.02

76

2012

198.2

184

22.1%

52

6.3%

6

15

3.10

82

3.23

83

Looking at Wainwright's fielding-independent stats allows us to zero in on what plagued him in 2012. It wasn't fewer strikeouts or more walks. Rather, it was the fact that opposing batsmen had more success when they were able to put lumber to horsehide. The stats for hitters facing Wainwright corroborate this.

OPPOSING BATTERS VS. WAINWRIGHT (2009, 2010, & 2012)

Year

PA

BABIP

BA

OBP

SLG

ISO

OPS

sOPS+

wOBA

2009

970

.296

.244

.297

.349

.105

.646

71

.288

2010

910

.275

.224

.274

.330

.106

.604

65

.269

2012

831

.315

.259

.309

.392

.133

.701

94

.305


As you can see, opposing batters hit for a higher average (BA), posted a higher on-base percentage (OBP), hit for a higher slugging percentage (SLG), and put together a higher on-base plus slugging (OPS). In other posts, we've looked at the stat Split OPS+ (sOPS+). Here, it compares Wainwright's OPS against to the league's OPS against. It shows that, in 2009 and 2010 opposing hitters performed like Tyler Greene, Hector Luna, or Nick Punto when facing Wainwright. In 2012, they hit like Rickie Weeks or Mike Moustakas.

I've highlighted the column for ISO; or, Isolated Power. This is a stat we used during the Hot Stove when looking at how much power the Cardinals' batters hit for last year. This stat reveals that opposing players hit for more power against Wainwright in 2012 than they did in either 2009 or 2010. This suggests the overall improved offense against Wainwright wasn't just based on more singles. While a .133 ISO is still below the NL average of .147, it is nonetheless evidence that batters hit the ball harder off of Wainwright last season.

I've also highlighted Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP). This stat measures how many of the balls put in play by batters when facing Wainwright fell for a hit, but excludes home runs. As a rule of thumb, a .300 BABIP is about average. In 2009, Wainwright's BABIP of .296 was almost identical to the BABIP for NL hitters of .294. In 2010, the NL posted a BABIP of .296 while Wainwright held batters to a .275 BABIP. Last year, NL batters managed a .295 BABIP overall and Wainwright had a higher than average .315 BABIP to his name.

It would be easy to look at the .315 BABIP, declare Wainwright unlucky, and move on. But that would be lazy. Nowadays, the individual hits are divided up into classifications. As a general rule, harder hit balls are more likely to fall for a hit. This being so, BABIP for line drives is typically the highest, followed by grounders, then fly balls, then infield fly balls. If a player gives up a larger than average share of, say, line drives and grounders, it follows that his BABIP should be above average. The following chart compares Wainwright's batted ball type to the NL averages.

BALLS IN PLAY SHARES (2012)

BIP Shares

LD%

GB%

FB%

IFFB%

IFH%

BUH%

HR/FB%

NL Batters

20.9%

45.8%

33.4%

9.5%

6.6%

21.4%

10.8%

Wainwright

23.0%

50.8%

26.3%

6.6%

6.6%

28.6%

9.9%


Wainwright gave up more line drives, grounders, and bunt hits than average. He also induced fewer infield fly balls than average. These stats suggest the righthander was allowing more solid contact. On the other hand, Wainwright allowed home runs on a lower share of the fly balls than average. (This is why his xFIP for 2012 is higher than his FIP.) This suggests Wainwright was not unlucky in 2012.

If we use the formula to calculate Expected BABIP (xBABIP) that was created by slash 12, originally posted on our sister site Beyond the Box Score, and subsequently endorsed by Jeff Zimmerman at Fangraphs, we come to the conclusion that Wainwright was lucky on balls in play last year. In other words, things could have been worse. How much worse? Wainwright's xBABIP was .342 for last season.

Utilizing the available data at the wonderful BrooksBaseball.net, we see that opposing batsmen weren't just hitting one particular pitch of Wainwright's hard. They were rapping liners at an increased rate on every pitch the veteran ace throws, save his cutter.

CUTTER OUTCOMES FOR WAINWRIGHT (2009, 2010, & 2012)

Year

F/Sw%

Whiff%

GB%

LD%

FB%

PU%

HR/FB%

2009

36.86%

28.35%

44.44%

17.78%

22.96%

14.81%

--

2010

29.93%

29.93%

55.75%

16.81%

21.24%

6.19%

2.33%

2012

36.88%

21.67%

54.39%

16.67%

25.44%

3.51%

10.42%


SINKER OUTCOMES FOR WAINWRIGHT (2009, 2010, & 2012)

Year

SwF%

SwSt%

GB%

LD%

FB%

PU%

HR/FB%

2009

39.42%

9.13%

48.75%

24.23%

22.84%

4.18%

7.69%

2010

40.68%

10.05%

48.40%

19.55%

25.32%

6.73%

5.71%

2012

43.17%

11.66%

45.53%

21.01%

27.63%

5.84%

8.00%


CURVEBALL OUTCOMES FOR WAINWRIGHT (2009, 2010, & 2012)

Year

SwF%

SwSt%

GB%

LD%

FB%

PU%

HR/FB%

2009

29.73%

37.59%

61.03%

13.97%

18.38%

6.62%

9.09%

2010

28.57%

38.41%

54.23%

17.61%

21.83%

6.34%

8.93%

2012

31.13%

39.95%

57.50%

22.50%

14.17%

5.83%

4.55%


CHANGEUP OUTCOMES FOR WAINWRIGHT (2009, 2010, & 2012)

Year

SwF%

SwSt%

GB%

LD%

FB%

PU%

HR/FB%

2009

25.06%

24.08%

56.45%

17.74%

22.58%

3.23%

4.00%

2010

31.58%

28.95%

63.04%

8.70%

26.09%

2.17%

6.25%

2012

34.78%

11.59%

45.95%

27.03%

24.32%

2.70%

5.26%


Another dimension to Wainwright's increased runs allowed total last season was his ability to strand runners. In 2009 and 2010, the wagonmaker was able to strand runners at a higher than average rate. In 2012, he left men on base at a percentage lower than average.

WAINWRIGHT VS. NL LOB% (2009, 2010, & 2012)

Year

NL AVG

Wainwright

Difference

2009

72.3%

80.4%

+8.1%

2010

72.3%

79.1%

+6.8%

2012

72.5%

67.8%

-4.7%


The stats for opposing batters demonstrate that, with men on base (MOB), Wainwright saw batters hit better against him in 2012 than in either 2009 or 2010. As with the overall increase in opposing batters' stats against Waino, opponents' improvement with men is based on a higher BABIP and ISO. Essentially, Wainwright went from a soul-crushing assassin with men on to an average pitcher.

OPPOSING BATTERS VS. WAINWRIGHT WITH MOB (2009, 2010, & 2012)

Year

BABIP

BA

OBP

SLG

ISO

OPS

wOBA

2009

.272

.209

.287

.298

.089

.507

.265

2010

.247

.195

.274

.312

.117

.586

.261

2012

.302

.257

.334

.409

.152

.743

.321


NL BATTERS WITH MOB (2009, 2010, & 2012)


Year

BABIP

BA

OBP

SLG

ISO

OPS

wOBA

2009

.290

.252

.345

.411

.159

.756

.328

2010

.295

.253

.342

.410

.157

.752

.327

2012

.290

.249

.334

.410

.161

.744

.320


What fed Wainwright's lessened effectiveness when pitching with ducks on the pond? More walks, more line drives, and fewer strikeouts. Wainwright's strikeout rate with MOB equaled the NL average. His walk rate shot up to a level that is higher than league-average. Wainwright's LD% with MOB also increased to a level just shy of the NL rate with MOB.

WAINWRIGHT OUTCOMES WITH MOB (2009, 2010, & 2012)

Year

K%

BB%

GB%

LD%

FB%

IFFB%

HR/FB%

2009

24.2%

8.7%

49.1%

17.3%

33.6%

8.8%

5.5%

2010

24.2%

9.0%

53.5%

15.4%

31.3%

2.7%

8.1%

2012

18.8%

11.3%

47.1%

20.0%

32.9%

2.2%

13.0%


NL OUTCOMES WITH MOB (2009, 2010, 2012)

Year

K%

BB%

GB%

LD%

FB%

IFFB%

HR/FB%

2009

17.4%

10.3%

43.7%

19.1%

37.1%

9.9%

9.3%

2010

18.4%

10.0%

44.4%

18.5%

37.2%

9.3%

9.4%

2012

18.8%

9.3%

45.7%

21.0%

33.3%

9.1%

11.0%


One of the dominant story lines this offseason and spring training has been the ongoing contract extension negotiations taking place between the Cardinals and Wainwright, who is set to become a free agent after this, his age 31 season. A more immediate question is how the Cardinals rotation will perform after the loss of Chris Carpenter. The Cardinals are set to lean heavily on Wainwright in 2013 and perhaps beyond. Wainwright's future is in some ways a referendum on DIPS. It will be intriguing to see whether Wainwright's future is eventually held up as supportive of the fielding-independent pitching school of thought.
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