[Redbird Reveille] Adam Wainwright missing the strike zone

by on April 17, 2009 · 1 comment

Is anyone else becoming mildly concerned about Adam Wainwright’s seemingly sudden inability to throw strikes?

I know, small sample size and all, but the sample size continues to grow with no marked improvement.  It should also be noted that he had this same problem in the spring, struggling to get in a groove and running up his pitch count before making it out of the fifth inning.

Waino’s basic stats – the 3.31 ERA, his 2-0 record – seems all is well that ends well, right?

First, the Cardinals have 7.6 runs per game in Wainwright’s starts.  In fact, they took the lead in his second start after it was a foregone conclusion he was leaving the game (I was there, he didn’t look sharp).

Second, it’s the peripheral stats that worry me about Wainwright.  Look deeper.  To wit:

Wainwright is averaging 101 pitches in his three starts.  No big deal, right?  He has averaged 98 per game started for his career.  Problem is that career average has gotten him through 6.4 innings, compared to only 5.4 this season.

At issue is the strike zone, and finding it.  Wainwright has surrendered a current National League leading twelve walks in his three starts this season.  In twenty starts in 2008 he only walked 34.  He’s on pace to trump that total in less than half of the starts this season.  These are not the hallmarks of a Dave Duncan-coached pitcher.

Compared to that walk total, he’s only allowed fourteen hits.  Opposing batters are at .233 against him, so when he’s throwing strikes, they’re not hitting it.  His 2009 contact percentage (foul balls + strikes put in play / foul balls + strikes put in play + swinging strikes) for opposing hitters bares this out – 72% versus 80% for his career and 79% in 2008 (79% is also the league average).

So getting knocked around is not the issue, it appears to be a pattern of missing the strike zone.

Only 57% of Wainwright’s pitches (or 172 of 302 total) have found the strike zone.  This is down from his career strike percentage of 62%.  It makes sense then, that his pitches per at bat have rocketed up to 4.08 from a career average of 3.65 per at bat.  Consequently, less pitches per at bat are being swung at – which I’m sure makes Dave Duncan REAL happy.

16.2% of all plate appearances versus Wainwright this season have ended in a walk.  16.2% up from a career percentage of 7.7%.  That’s not a good ting.

First pitch strikes, the best friend of any big league pitcher, are down to 50% from a career number of 58%.  I know that doesn’t seem like a staggering difference at first, but consider that for his career (and this probably goes without saying, it’s kind of a “duh” stat) opposing batters are hitting.222/.255/.320 against Waino after an 0-1 count and .271/.378/.417 after a 1-0 count, it becomes real clear how important getting ahead of a batter right away can be.

Ok, so if he’s been so bad thus far – how is he 2-0?

Well, there is the matter of the aforementioned run support.  That’s a big one, particularly in yesterday’s win against the Cubs.

Beyond that, he’s seemingly become about as much of a bulldog as (a healthy) Chris Carpenter.  He pitches his way into jams and then bears down manages to work out of them.  Wainwright has allowed at least one baserunner in 12 of the 17 innings he has pitched in (he pitched into the 6th inning against Pittsburgh, allowing a baserunner before being removed).  9 of the 17 innings have seen at least two baserunners!

Where he has made his money is in keeping those runners from scoring and finishing strong.

Until yesterday, Wainwright had not allowed a hit or a run beyond the 3rd inning or his 50th pitch.  There were a number of walks, but no hits.  The only real damage done to Wainwright beyond those benchmarks in starts one and two were two runners he walked against Pittsburgh that eventually came around to score when Josh Kinney was on the mound.

Yesterday, the Cubs put up three in their half of the fifth inning and were threatening again in the sixth, albeit this time the product mostly of bad defense.  Wainwright proceeded to strike out Geovany Soto, passed on facing Ryan Theriot, and then proceeded to get Milton Bradley to strike out and Alfonso Soriano to make a loud fly out to left.

He fights hard, he has gotten outs when he really must have them.

But if he’s going to carry this team while Carpenter is out, Waino must start throwing strikes.

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Writing about the Cardinals and other loosely associated topics since 2008, I've grown tired of the April run-out only to disappoint Cardinal fans everywhere by mid-May. I do not believe in surrendering free outs.
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