The St. Louis Cardinals ace has pitched like anything but as his struggles continue in 2016. Is it time to panic?
In the offseason I made a bold prediction: St. Louis Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright would be a Cy Young finalist in 2016. Don’t believe me? Read it and weep. Now, going back and reading that makes me want to weep.
Wainwright has pitched like anything but an ace and he is quickly losing that status as the season progresses. I don’t take any enjoyment writing that, either.
I’ve watched Wainwright pitch for the better part of a decade now and, next to Chris Carpenter, he has been one of my favorite Cardinals pitchers in my lifetime. But man, oh man, has 2016 been a different story.
Here is how Wainwright’s numbers shake out at the start of play today:
It’s far from pretty. Heck, it’s far from mediocre. Wainwright’s 6.80 ERA is the third highest among starting pitchers in ALL of baseball behind only Jake Peavy and Wily Peralta. His 5.2 strikeouts per nine is also the third lowest in the MLB among qualified starters.
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Wainwright has been flat out awful. There is no way around it.
Cardinals fans hope not, but it seems like everytime Wainwright takes a step forward he takes another four or five steps back. It’s reminiscent of Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Rises” movie. The scene where Bruce Wayne is dumped into the deep well prison and tasked with free climbing out to escape.
That first climb attempt starts off well enough but ends with Bruce not quite making that leap and falling all the way back down before the rope he’s tied to catches him. By the way, how in the world did that fall not tear up Bruce’s “fixed back” again? That’s neither here nor there. The point is, that scene is a fitting metaphor for Wainwright’s season — he simply keeps on falling.
Wainwright’s safety rope — manager Mike Matheny. The Cardinals skipper has often given Wainwright too much slack in his starts where he likely should have been pulled out sooner. It’s hard to blame Matheny in that regard.
Wainwright is your returning ace and has been the ace of this Cardinals staff for quite some time. He’s proven time and again that he can take that mantle, so Matheny has given him a longer leash to get it straightened out, but that isn’t working. Wainwright has vowed that he will be better, but Cardinals fans have yet to see that be the case.
So, what is wrong with Wainwright? In an attempt to dig into Waino’s stats, I found some interesting pieces of information.
Going into this research I initially thought ‘well, one problem has to be that Wainwright isn’t throwing his curveball enough. That’s his best pitch.’ This is a thought many Cardinals fans might be having when asked about Wainwright, but guess what — it’s wrong. Wainwright is throwing his curveball 29.3 percent of the time so far this season — a career high. The problem has been location and contact rate.
Let’s take Wainwright’s last start on May 12 against the Los Angeles Angels as an example. Brooksbaseball.net is a great resource for location maps and pitch tracking on any pitcher’s starts throughout the year. Looking at Wainwright’s number of curveballs thrown and their location provided here, it’s easy to see that location has been an issue.
In that start, 18 of Wainwright’s 86 pitches were curveballs. Of those 18 curveballs thrown, 12 were in the strikezone and eight of those 12 were in the middle of the strike zone. The result? Wainwright gave up a single and two doubles with only one strikeout. The only pitch that did worse for Wainwright in his last start was his cutter — the pitch he has thrown the most this year at 30.9 percent of the time.
Location, location, location. That has been the issue for Wainwright. The Cardinals ace is living in the middle of the strikezone, and when you live there you get clobbered. The contact rate on Wainwright’s pitches has also been alarming. Wainwright has a career high 93.1 Z-Contact percentage.
That means that 93 percent of the time hitters are making contact on Wainwright’s pitches that are in the strikezone. It’s the first time in his career that number has reached 90 percent or higher. Perhaps more alarming is Wainwright’s sky-high 32.7 Hard%, which is the percentage of balls hit in play that were classified as “hit with hard speed.”
Essentially, Wainwright is missing location, and when he does hitters are blasting his pitches for extra base hits. The Cardinals ace has already yielded 22 extra base hits in just 45 IP this season. To put that into perspective, in Wainwright’s third place Cy Young finish season in 2014 he gave up a total of 51 extra-base hits in 227 innings pitched.
Wainwright is demolishing fantasy teams pitching stats, and I’d advise fantasy owners of Waino to do what I’m doing right now — bench him until you see back-to-back quality starts. There is really no other choice at the moment.
The question now is: can Wainwright get back to form? I still believe that he can. I’ve been silently telling myself 10 starts. Ten starts and we will know what pitcher we have out of Wainwright this season. Well, the 34-year old veteran has already made eight starts this season.
We will see if he can turn it around. Wainwright knows he’s been bad, and I’m sure he’s watched plenty of video from his starts revealing the bad location on many of his pitches. He’s smart enough to find those mistakes and correct them, but he better hurry.
The Cardinals need their ace, and right now Wainwright is more of a joker.