Whenever a player starts a season on a tremendous hot or cold streak, it begs the question "at what point can we attribute this to skill rather than luck?"
Adam Wainwright's start to 2016 has been very bad - maybe as bad as we've ever seen him. But of course, a run of bad starts to open the season will always look worse than a run of bad starts in June. So I wondered, how bad has Waino's 2016 been so far and has he ever had a run of starts like this in his career?
When it comes to evaluating a series of starts, I'm a fan of Game Score. Created by Bill James, then refined by Tom Tango, Game Score assigns a pitcher a score of 50 at the start of a game, then adds and subtracts points for the good and bad things a pitcher does. Innings pitched is part of the equation, so even just a pitcher's ability to continue throwing deeper into the game is rewarded.
Now, Game Score may not be a perfectly precise measurement, but it will certainly tell you if a given start was good, bad or average. Fangraphs groups Game Scores into 10 categories. I've narrowed those to five.
Here's how Adam Wainwright's Game Scores look like for his career on the whole vs. this season:
You didn't need these charts to tell you it's been a rough year, but seeing it quantified is still pretty striking.
Wainwright has not had a game this season with a Game Score higher than 60, the threshold to get into the "good" category. So I dug through his career looking for another run of eight or more starts where he hasn't managed a single game above average.
On the whole, 2012 was nearly the worst statistical season of Wainwright's career. That shouldn't be surprising, as it was also his first year back after Tommy John surgery. Still, his worst run of starts didn't come until the very end of the season. From August 26 to Sept. 22, he made six starts, all rated as average or below... though four of the six were at least average. He ended the season with one final "good" start, then was better than average in two of his three postseason starts.
To find another run of eight starts where Waino failed to turn in an above-average performance, you have to go all the way back to 2007, his first year as a starter and worst season overall. After turning in a good start in his first outing of the season, Wainwright had a run of eight games where his Game Score failed to get above 60. Four games were average, two were poor and two were awful.
That run of bad starts ended on May 27 with a start against the Nationals where Waino went seven innings, gave up two arned runs, struck out six and walked none.
This year's results have been pretty similar to 2007, and we are reaching the point in the season where he turned that year around. So there is a tiny bit of precedent on which to hope that this was just a very large bump in the road.
Of course, as Jeff Zimmerman recently noted, pitchers change A LOT - even within the same season. 2007 Wainwright and 2016 Wainwright are hardly the same person, so maybe this whole exercise is a little specious.
But it's also sobering to see that Wainwright's recent results mirror the beginning of his career as a starter. It's probably just a coincidence, but the parallels can't help but make me worry even more that we are watching the beginning of the end.
Whenever the end does come, Wainwright's career should be commemorated with a bronze statue at the corner of 8th and Clark. He should be just completing his follow-through. Sixty-feet, six-inches away, there should be a statue of Carlos Beltran in a Mets jersey, absolutely frozen.
But that's getting a little ahead of ourselves. Here's hoping for a good start tonight, with more to follow, as Wainwright turns around 2016 much like he did 2007.