Adam Wainwright: you know him, you love him, but some people were not a fan of the Cardinals resigning him in 2019. The signing was extremely incentive-laden and for only one season, so it was not the money that had people concerned, but more the potential opportunity taken away from young starters. That I cannot really speak to because to me that is subjective, but as of now, it is my opinion that there are no young starters that appear to be bumping Wainwright out of a rotation spot. In fact, as far as starters go, Waino has the second best FIP on the Cardinals.
Looking at Wainwight’s stats this year leads to some interesting finds. His 20.2% ranks second among the Cardinals qualified starters (Jack Flaherty is first). Not including the few innings he pitched in 2018, this would be his highest K% since 2013. A lot of this can be attributed to a curveball that still puts in work:
Pitcher on Pitcher Crime— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) May 29, 2019
Adam Wainwright, 71mph Curveball vs Nick Pivetta. pic.twitter.com/HtZdFxva14
In an abbreviated 2018 Adam Wainwright’s curveball usage jumped from 26.4% in 2017, which was around his career norm, to 36.9%. So far in 2019, the usage has increased to 38.4%, per Fangraphs. This increase correlates to Waino’s drop in average fastball velocity, which is down to from 90.7 mph in 2017 to 89.5 in 2019. Perhaps this is why Waino has thrown his curveball more and his fastball and cutter less. In 2017 he threw the fastball and cutter 17.4 and 23.9% of the time, respectively. In 2019 those numbers have dropped to 14.8 and 17.3%, respectively.
This change in approach might be the cause of another interesting Waino stat. In 2019 Wainwight has walked more batters per nine than he ever has before. His 3.55 BB/9 is over a walk higher than his career rate of 2.42. He is also giving up homers at the highest rate of his career. His home runs per flyball rate currently sits at 17.6%, much higher than his career rate of 8.7%. Comparing Waino’s heatmap of his curveball in 2019 versus his career paints a bit of a picture as to what might be causing this jump:
Throwing the curveball more has led to the need to throw it for strikes more. Waino used to throw that strike down in the zone, but in 2019 you can see it is staying right in the middle of the plate.
What does any of this mean for Wainwright? Not a lot, really. Michael Wacha’s struggles have earned him a move to the bullpen, the Cardinals seem determined to have Carlos Martínez in the bullpen for the time being, and Alex Reyes is still a ways away from being ready for a major league return. Most of the rotation has struggled of late and while Waino has been no exception, he has also turned out some pretty fun performances.
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