St. Louis Cardinals: Adam Wainwright is May’s MVP

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May 21, 2017; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Adam Wainwright (50) pitches during the sixth inning against the San Francisco Giants at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
May 21, 2017; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Adam Wainwright (50) pitches during the sixth inning against the San Francisco Giants at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports /
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 Now that May is behind the St. Louis Cardinals, it’s time to take a look back and crown the MVP of month.

After starting out May on a hot streak, the St. Louis Cardinals limped past the finish line in May. After a disappointing April, things seemed to look up for the Cardinals after sweeping the Braves and Marlins, and taking two of three from Chicago at home. Unfortunately, the St. Louis Cardinals were not able to continue that success and the month of June hasn’t gotten any better.

However, there were a couple of things that stand far above what the team was able to accomplish in May. I awarded starting pitcher, Mike Leake, April’s MVP title. This month, it’s going to a different starting pitcher, and one that many had written off at the beginning of the season.

Congratulations to May’s MVP, Adam Wainwright.

As I mentioned, many fans and the St. Louis Cardinals’ Twitterverse had written off Adam Wainwright’s pitching ability. While I had not completely written off Wainwright, there were times where I wondered if he still had it. To everyone’s credit though his numbers were not very convincing.

It’s clear to see just how much different of a pitcher he became in May from his rough start in April. The biggest difference? His ERA in the months of April. In his April starts alone, Wainwright’s ERA ballooned to 6.12. However, in his May starts he checked in at a very respectable 2.64. Let’s take a closer look at his game logs just to see how he developed over the month.

After giving up four earned runs in his first two starts in May, Wainwright was able to cruise to three straight starts of giving up one or fewer runs. In those last three starts, he was able to win three consecutive games as well. It was the return of the Adam Wainwright we all knew he could be.

He finished the St. Louis Cardinals’ month of May with three wins and two no decisions that could’ve easily been more wins for the team and Adam. He brought his overall ERA down to 4.38 by the end of May and looked like every bit of the pitcher we expected him to be.

So what did Adam do differently in May than April?

What you should notice is his opponent’s batting average. In the second graph, you can see that opponents were hitting a crazy .361 off of Wainwright. That is an absurd number and his game logs showed for it. Anytime your opponents are doing that well, it certainly raises a few eyebrows.

Turn to May, though, and it is a completely different story. Opponents were held to a meager .232 batting average, and once again the game logs show it. He dominated lineups and held teams to very few hits throughout his starts. Now I will admit one thing. This is a pretty big drop off. So what could be behind this turn of events?

Early on in May, I heard some comments that Adam Wainwright decided to abandon the cutter. It struck me odd that he would abandon one of his better pitches. So I went to Fangraphs to see how often he has thrown the cutter in comparison to previous years.

Last year, Adam threw his cutter around 30 percent of the time. This year he has thrown it right around the 23 percent mark. Quite a bit of a drastic change if you ask me, so I believe there is something else that drove him to that point. I went to Brooks Baseball to get a little more insight.

It actually turns out that Adam threw a greater number of cutters in the month of May than April (109-101). So maybe Adam didn’t abandon the cutter as suggested. As I said, I found those comments slightly odd, so I went a little further to find out if there was something wrong with the cutter.

In the Month of April, opponents were hitting .385 off of Adam Wainwright’s cutter. That is an extremely high number for someone who is used to throwing that pitch 30 percent over the last couple of seasons. What is even more alarming is that the data shows that opponents were hitting around the .300 mark off the cutter as far back as September 2016.

Related Story: What to Make of Adam Wainwright?

As I looked at the month of May, there was a considerable difference again. Opponents only hit .226 against the right-hander’s cutter. If you’re Wainwright, you take that stat and run with it. To get such a huge drop in average over more cutters thrown over the month than last month is excellent.

Wainwright has stuck with his cutter, but just has been better with it since April. He was able to command the pitch better, but I believe that was do to my second premonition that I stated above.

While doing my research through Brooks Baseball, I noticed a different stat that I was not expecting. It turned out that Wainwright bumped up his curveball, arguably his best pitch, use up a bit. In April, Wainwright threw his curveball ninety-five times. In May, however, that number shot up to 149 (52 percent increase).

There could be a couple of reasons for this move. The first is data about the cutter that I mentioned above. It’s now clear that Adam was maybe too reliant on the cutter to get him through line-ups. The second thing is that Adam would use the curveball to allow the cutter to be more effective.

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By using the curveball, Adam can change speed on his pitches, change the eye level of hits, and command the strike zone better. It also helps that Adam is not throwing his curveball nearly as hard as he once was. This allows for disruption of timing for the hitters. All this became even more evident when I looked at the average on Adam’s curveball in April and May.

Hitters batted .280 against the curveball in April, and only .111 in May. Due to the increase in frequency and for the other reason in the paragraph above, the curveball became his best pitch in May.

So to say that the cutter was abandon isn’t exactly true. It would be more accurate to say that Wainwright used his curveball more to change speeds with his cutter and regular fastball. What’s even more crazy is that his curveball had an even lower batting average in May than his cutter (.111-.226).

All these points lead back to the main factor of opponents not hitting for the same average as they did in April. Let’s just face it. Adam Wainwright was a better pitcher in May than he was in April. It’s evident that he was able to command his pitches better. As a result of that, he was able to stay in games longer than he had been.

I know a lot of people will ask, “well what about his hitting?” While that’s fair, the only thing I need to say about it is that we’ve always known he was a good hitter.

I’m glad he was able to produce runs (literally the only two against the Dodgers), but he is out there to pitch. I would rather see Wainwright give the St. Louis Cardinals seven innings of three or fewer runs. His offense definitely vaulted him as a shoe in to be the MVP of the month.

But, ask yourself, would you rather Wainwright be doing the hitting or Matt Carpenter and Co.? yeah, I thought so.

Tip of the cap Mr. Wainwright. Thanks for helping the team out in May.

Next: Offensive Struggles Hurting the Cards

So there you have it. Adam is my MVP for May. Unfortunately June hasn’t been too kind to him already, but maybe he can turn it around next start. Speaking of turning around, the St. Louis Cardinals need to do something quick or else baseball Prospectus’ record prediction for the Birds is looking mighty fine.

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