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Breaking down Adam Wainwright’s contract

Adam Wainwright signed a very incentive-laden contract

St Louis Cardinals v Chicago Cubs Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Cardinals season ended and almost immediately there was an announced deal between Adam Wainwright and the St. Louis Cardinals. There was a bit of an unexpected pushback against the announcement. They couldn’t formally announce the details, because Wainwright technically needed to be a free agent in order to sign it, seeing as he was about to take a massive pay cut. Well, the details came out yesterday and it is considerably lower than I was expecting. I can’t really imagine there’s that many people opposed to this signing at this point, but I’ve been wrong in the past.

First, let’s present this deal in the most confusing way possible. Take it away Ken!

Okay, so Wainwright is guaranteed $2 million no matter what happens, which again I think is a shockingly low amount. If he gets hurt in Spring Training and never recovers, that’s what he gets. Talk about 1) Faith in oneself 2) a very, very low risk contract. However, he’s fairly likely to pitch in some fashion.

If you’re wondering what happens to Wainwright if he repeats his 2018, he gets $2.5 million. I happen to think Wainwright’s 2018 is a more likely event if Wainwright doesn’t have it anymore than him continually appearing in games while not being good. Wainwright’s one of those pitchers where it’s very obvious if it’s not working and I don’t think Wainwright has any interest in being out there if he has a similar first four games as he did in 2018.

When the deal was first announced, I expected the incentives to relieve and start to be basically the same, but that is not really the case. For instance, if Wainwright starts 30 games, which would surprise the hell out of me, he gets $10 million. That is the maximum amount of money he can get from starting games. If he’s your standard reliever, I can’t see him finishing anything close to 25 games, so I think his maximum amount is $5 million. If Wainwright is closer the whole year, his max is $9 million.

Now, $9 million is close to $10 million yes. But in order to get that $9 million, he’ll need to be a closer basically in April, keep the job the whole year, stay healthy, and I still think 55 games finished is a hell of a lot of games. I don’t keep track of games finished, but I also think he has to be closer at some point to make 25 games finished realistic to him, which means that if he just stays in the bullpen all year while, I don’t know, Dominic Leone has a 2 WAR season being a closer, he will make no more than $5 million.

Anyway, here’s an interesting statistical note to end my post. Wainwright started 8 games, so we have 8 games of data on how he pitched in the 1st inning. That, of course, is useful information for moving to the bullpen. Including his first four games, most of which were not the greatest games, Wainwright was downright excellent in the 1st inning last year. He threw 8 innings, struck out 13 and walked 4. He gave up 2 runs, one unearned, which comes out to a 1.13 ERA. He allowed 7 hits, due to a .368 BABIP. He had a 36.8 GB% and 31.6 FB%.

If you’re wondering, that comes out to a 1.75 FIP. I’m manually calculating this, but I believe his xFIP with that line would be 3.00. He only allowed 6 flyballs, and since league average HR/FB was apparently 12.7% last year, even allowing one homer would be above that. All of which is to say that Wainwright was very good in the 1st inning, even when his stuff looked physically diminished. Mostly, because it looked diminished after the 1st inning, not when he started the game. Also useful information is that he averaged 19.75 pitches per inning in the 1st so it’s probably best if he’s a 1-inning pitcher, as weird as that sounds for a former starter. Of course, Wainwright can also eat innings if needed.