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The Best Pitcher with a Bad Fastball

Yesterday Adam Wainwright won his league leading 16th game, strengthening his Cy Young case. Of course readers here know how dubious it is to look at wins as a measure of pitching talent. But, without a doubt, Wainwright has been one of the top pitchers this year, with a FIP of 3.33 and a tRA of 3.71.

Interestingly Wainwright’s fastball has been pretty poor this year, and he has succeed on the strength of his very good slider and curve. Those two pitches have saved over 32 runs, the next best breaking pitch combo belongs to teammate Chris Carpenter whose slider and curve have saved 21.8. As a result Wainwright throws his fastball only 50% of the time, which seems to be about the floor for how infrequently a pitcher can throw a fastball (if you consider a cutter a fastball and exclude knuckleball pitchers).

He throws his slider mostly to RHBs, from whom it moves away. Here are the locations of these pitches this year.


Perfectly clustered on the outside of the plate. It is not a huge-whiff inducing slider, only 27% misses per swing, compared to the top sliders which get in the in the over 40%. Instead it gets value from of out of zone swings (35%) and weak contact that results in lots of grounders (49%).

As I wrote about earlier his curveball was one of the best in the game. It still is, ranking second. It gets lots of out of zone swings (40%), while only getting 55% in zone swings. That means hitters are only slightly more likely to swing at it in the zone than out. Showing how deceiving it is and resulting in called strikes and swinging at balls. On top of that it gets lots of whiffs (33%) and grounders (59%). An incredible pitch.

Wainwright has below average fastball. It generates few whiffs and few out of zone swings (although it does get a good number of grounders). So he throws it just enough to get ahead in the count and throw his devastating break stuff.