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Game 148 Open Thread: September 16, 2007

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marquis

mulder

11-8, 4.17

0-2, 12.38

Well, I had been prepared to simply ignore the Cards' recent slide for my first foray into my now-regular Sunday slot. I do want to start, though, by acknowledging what a great job Erik did in this spot for so long. He and azruavatar do tremendous work over at futureredbirds and I can't help but be impressed with their ability to put together such great stuff over there w/ the little cards and still be able to come up w/ such good stuff over here w/ the big boys. Thanks to Larry for giving me this opportunity.

As I was saying, I was just going to ignore the recent slump - my mother always told me "if you can't say anything nice...". Well, I didn't have anything nice to say. Some good things happened yesterday but we may only remember LaRussa's bizarre decision making in game 1.

But, as it turned out, it may as well have been seat cushion night in St. Louis as the Cards now have a 1 game winning streak. Even so, w/ all the bad stuff there is to discuss, I wanted to start a thread about something positive. There'll be lots of time to discuss all the other stuff. It also occurred to me that, with the constant back-and-forth about Reyes lo these 6 months, the discussion about Adam Wainwright has been conspicuously absent.

With Carp out for most of next year, Mulder coming off major arm surgery, Reyes a major question mark (at best), there are some major holes in the rotation that need to be filled. But the team won't have a ton of resources at their disposal. They'll also need a SS, plus whatever else they decide to do. So, I thought, we need to know exactly what we've got in Adam Wainwright - with Carp out, do we need a #1 or #2 for next year (thus costing upwards of $10 M)? Is Wainwright the #1 or #2 pitcher we need and we can spend a little less in the rotation so that there's more to spend on one of our other needs. What can we expect from Adam Wainwright? How good is he?

Just for perspective, Wainwright presently is the 31st best pitcher in baseball by VORP. His ERA+ is 117, RA+ is 1.21, his WARP1 is 5.8 and his WPA is 1.16 (40th best in baseball). Even so, he's kind of gone unnoticed, even by Cards' fans. Of course, we know he's our best starter but I'm not sure that many of us have come to appreciate how good Wainwright's been this year. He's only 25 years old and in his first year as a starter. At age 25, Baseball Prospectus calculates his MORP at over $17 million this year...and he's earning about $400K.

To put his season in perspective, I compared this year, Wainer's age-25 season, to that of the other really good pitchers in baseball. I compared their results, in terms of VORP, SNLVAR, WARP1, ERA+ and RA+. Most importantly, however, I compared their peripherals b/c it is BB/9, K/9, HR/9 and GB% that are most predictive of future success. I compared Wainwright to 34 other pitchers, most of whom are in the top 30 in VORP this year (a couple of the top 30 haven't had their age-25 seasons yet - Cain, Carmona). The table below displays those pitchers whose age-25 seasons were most comparable to Wainwright. The number to the right of each statistic is their rank among the 35 pitchers. I added up all the rankings and the other 8 pitchers in the table are those whose peripherals and results most closely lined up w/ Wainwright's. Wainwright's BB/9 is higher and K/9 lower than most in the group but he is close to most of those pitchers in 3 of the 4 categories.

Table 1

Year BB/9 Rank K/9 Rank HR/9 Rank GB% Rank
Smoltz 1992 2.92 22 7.84 12 0.62 8 44.8 26
Wainwright 2007 3.12 23 5.93 28 0.59 6 49.4 15
Haren 2006 1.82 2 7.10 15 1.25 29 45.4 24
Beckett 2005 2.92 21 8.36 8 0.71 10 43.9 29
Webb 2004 5.15 34 7.10 17 0.74 11 77.3 1
Burnett 2002 3.96 31 8.94 4 0.53 4 49.9 13
Schilling 1992 2.35 10 5.85 29 0.44 3 45.0 25
Penny 2003 2.57 14 6.33 23 0.96 21 52.9 10
Lackey 2004 2.72 17 6.53 22 1.00 22 53.9 9

We know, of course, that all of the people on this list have become pretty damn good pitchers. Burnett and, to a lesser degree, Penny's had some injury history but all of them are really good when healthy. What mattered most to me, however, was - how did they pitch the next year - in their age-26 year? What can we expect from Wainwright?

I should note that I removed Burnett from this group b/c he had Tommy John surgery the next year and threw all of 23 IP. Penny pitched well, was traded to the Dodgers, and promptly got hurt as well and wasn't able to finish the year, only throwing 143 IP. Since that's always a possibility (the injury, not the trade, god help us!) I left him in the comparison.

The next table includes their "results" stats from their age-26 season as well as their rank among all the pitchers in baseball. The bottom row shows the average of the stats.

Table 1

Year ERA+ RA+ Rank VORP Rank SNLVAR Rank WARP1
Smoltz 1993 112 119 31 46.8 20 5.8 23 6.1
Haren 2007 141 130 19 51.4 13 5.7 20 6.9
Beckett 2006 92 94 68 19.9 62 3.9 50 5.2
Webb 2005 124 121 22 46.2 19 5.3 24 7.8
Schilling 1993 100 103 58 29.6 47 4.8 34 4.4
Penny 2004 130 130 16 34.5 47 4.4 43 4.2
Lackey 2005 122 128 15 49.1 17 5.5 20 6.5
Average 117 118 39.6 5.1 5.9

If Wainwright's numbers were equal to the average of the numbers above, it would put him around the 30th best pitcher in baseball next year - about where he is right now. This, of course, includes Beckett's poor season and Penny's injury-shortened season (both possible). It's important to note the 4 of the 7 had excellent seasons in their age-26 season, all being among the top 20 pitchers in the game. In any case, the fact that we can compare Wainwright's age-25 season to pitchers such as Smoltz, Webb, Lackey, and Haren puts him in some pretty high cotton.

So, is Wainwright a #1 or is he really a #4 who's just a #1 by default b/c we've had the likes of Wells, Reyes, Welleymeyer, Pineiro, Maroth, et al in the rotation this year? I'm not sure he's quite a #1 but he strikes me as a legit #2 who can hold his own at the top of the rotation for the time being. If a miracle does happen and the Cards went into the playoffs this year, I'd feel pretty good w/ the wagonmaker taking the reins in game 1. He's not Carp, but he appears to be well on his way in his ascent up the rotation's ladder.

This tells me that we can build around Wainwright this offseason in the rotation. Finding a #1 doesn't need to be our foremost concern b/c we've already got one - and hopefully, two when Carp returns. The rotation lacks depth and a #2 and #3 starter - with Mulder and Looper at the end. Don't misunderstand - I'm not saying we shouldn't try to get the best starter we can. What I'm saying is that, though we need pitching, we also have other needs (SS, in particular) and shouldn't feel the need to add a true #1. In short (I know - too late), Wainwright's a damn good pitcher. On a good team, he'd start game 2 of the playoffs. If Carp were healthy and the Cards were going to the playoffs, I'd feel good w/ Wainer in game 2 against anybody - Chris Young, Tom Glavine or anybody else. He is a true top of the rotation starter and should only get better - his K/9 before the All-Star break was 5.21; after the All-Star break it's 7.63. So his peripherals are getting better - we discussed earlier in the year his unusually high BABIP but the increase in his K rate is legitimate (80 IP since the break). This team has a lot of holes but not at the top of the rotation. Barring injury, that hole will be filled for a good while!

Speaking of holes - Mulder goes today. I'm not optimistic about our chances but he needs to pitch. The Cubs have been pretty bad vs. lefties this year - 27th in baseball in OPS, 28th in OBP. Maybe we have a chance for a split. Marquis goes for the Cubs - he's 2-1 vs. the Cards this year w/ 18.2 IP, 17 H, 9 ER, 7 BB, 6 K, and 3 HR. On top of that, he's lost one in a row against us. And we're on a 1 game streak also - maybe we can keep both of those "streaks" alive.