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Imagining a "better" 2019 Adam Wainwright

Adam Wainwright is my favorite player. Not "was", "is".

So while the saber-head in me was slightly disappointed about the incentive laden deal for 2019, I'm really stoked to see one more go around. That being said, I want Adam Wainwright to succeed in said last go around, so I set about imagining what the ideal 2019 looks like. We'll go through repertoire and deployment to make tweaks for both Adam and the Cardinals.

USAGE

I think most of you know where this is going.

"Do what he did in September"

Ok, well what did he do in September? For the most part, more curveballs.

A trend that really started before his arm got all wonky (that's the technical term) in mid-2018, Waino went from throwing his curveball 25-30% of the time from 2014-2017 to 35-40% of the time this year. Totally make sense, given that his average fastball velocity has gone from comfortably 91-92 to uncomfortably 88-90.

In my opinion, Wainwright will be most effective if he pushes that curveball percentage well above 40% and closer to 50% in 2019.

Rich Hill is the perfect template here - dance with the one that brought you. Given Wainwright's historical command, and the fact that the zone percentage on his curveball was around 48% in 2018 (compared to league average of 45% in ‘17), it's unlikely that any increase in K's from increased CB usage is offset by additional BB's. It's a great pitch, but you knew that.

The difference between Hill and Wainwright is the "other stuff". Waino throws 3-4 other pitches with regularity:

Of that "other stuff", his cutter has historically been an above average pitch. Per Daren Willman's latest data "nerdgasm" on Baseball Savant, he gets above average horizontal and vertical movement and hitters have whiff around 11% of the time. Keeping the usage here around 25% is probably wise.

The problem child in the repertoire is the four seam fastball/sinker, which over time has devolved into an "average D1 starter" type fastball. Per Daren's pitcher scorecard, Waino:

1. Throws both the fastball and sinker with below average spin (not necessarily a bad thing for GBs)

2. Throws both pitches with below average velocity

3. Throws both pitches from alarmingly different release points from his curveball/cutter (2-3 inches lower, on average - maybe an injury thing?).

4. Never throws the fastball for a strike (37% zone percentage in 2018), gets whiffs (3% in '18, not much better in '14-'17), or GB's (31% in '18, slightly higher from '14-'17)

5. The Sinker gets above average GB's and has the highest zone % of any of his pitches (52% in '18)

I see two paths forward.

Both paths include never throwing a change-up again, because it's so bad I haven't even talked shop on it yet you are subconsciously nodding in agreement.

First, you drop the four seam and keep the sinker as is. This is the more likely option as the sinker is his go to pitch to get a strike. Looking at a 50% CB, 25% CT, 25% SI usage here.

The second is more Astros-y. This involves Adam tinkering with/developing a higher spin Four Seam fastball released at a similar height to his curveball and primarily located up in the zone. Definitely a four-seam grip to mirror his CB grip, maybe something similar to the "fingers together" four-seamer Trevor Rosenthal throws? Outcome here is probably lowering his above average GB rate, lowering his below average BABIP against, and upping the Whiff %. Looking at 45% CB, 25% CT, 15% FB, 15% SI usage here.

I'd wager the second doesn't happen. I'd also wager there is immense value under either scenario to Waino raising his fastball release point (Mike Petriello wrote an article about how the Astros did something similar to great effect with Justin Verlander). Health providing, an optimally adjusted repertoire could keep Waino in the league till 40.

Alright, summarizing what we just went through.

1. MOAR Curveballs

2. Cutteris Paribus

3. Astro your fastball (or do, literally, the exact opposite)

DEPLOYMENT

The Cardinals are in a tricky spot for a conventionally managed ball club. To my eye, they've got two conventional starters (Mikolas, Flaherty) and six (!) pitchers who could be very useful throwing between 100 and 140 innings:

Waino | Weaver | Martinez | Reyes | Wacha | Gomber/Gant/Poncedeleon

Looking specifically at Waino, I see one option which assuages Adam, Shildt/FO, and the BFIB.

1. Open the season with him in the rotation.

2. Have him pitch every fifth day, regardless of off days (using those off days to skip/get additional rest for Wacha/Martinez). He is likely more used to an every five days grind than the rest of the rotation.

3. Get him through the order 2-2.5 times in 4-5 innings, pairing him with one of Gomber/Gant/Poncedeleon. For his career, Waino's TTOP is approximately .60 points of FIP or 1.00 points of ERA.

4. Make sure Gomber/Gant/Poncedeleon come in to start an inning, having a reliever ready to escape from the 3rd, 4th, or 5th if necessary. The plan here would be to get through 7 or 8 innings with two pitchers.

5. Waino inevitably gets hurt sometime in May/June/July

6. Go back to normal five man rotation

7. When Adam comes back from his expected injury late in the season, move him to the bullpen in a middle relief role. Given the volatility from the last few years, Ryan Helsley or Matt Bowman is likely our most trusted pitcher come August.

Caveat all this with a "Get him the heck out of the rotation if he sucks in April".

Under this scenario, say he gets hurt early July and comes back in early September. He accumulates around 20 starts, throws about 90 innings pre injury, and tacks on another 10 in the bullpen in September. 100 innings, maybe with an ERA/FIP around 3.80-4? I'll take that.

Another advantage to this scenario is that Waino is a better hitter and fielder than the other options. Forty AB's from Waino vs Luke Weaver (career wrc+ of 11) could be worth a tenth or fifth of a win. When you play on the margins of playoff contention like the Cardinals do, every bit counts.

You could slightly tweak this scenario half a hundred ways and get a similar result. Honestly, if the Cardinals are creative enough, there is the talent there to get the most out of Waino while still rocking a top eight(ish) pitching staff. Unfortunately, I have serious doubts about this organization trying something novel like this long enough to provide functional value.

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Well there you have it. Interested to hear any thoughts or further radical ideas to fix the Cardinals' pitching deployment.

Credit to Brooks Baseball, Baseball Savant, and Fangraphs.