Wainwright Throws Fewer Fastballs, Increases Effectiveness

Adam Wainwright’s strikeout rates keep increasing. In over 400 innings in AA and AAA during his age 21-23 seasons, his strikeout rate was 7.8 per nine innings. When he was elevated to the majors in 2006 as a relief pitcher his strikeout rate took an expected jump to 8.64 K/9. At the time he was throwing his curveball 25.9% of his pitches. A return to starting the following year led to a decrease in both his curveball use (18.6% in 2007 and 17.9% in 2008) and his strikeout rate (6.06 K/9 in 2007 and 6.20 K/9 in 2008).

In 2009, Wainwright made a change in his pitch selection, reverting back to the curveball percentages from his bullpen tenure. The increase in curveball use (24.0% in 2009) increased his strikeouts per nine to 8.19 and turned him from an above-average pitcher (3.90 and 3.78 FIP in 2007 and 2008, respectively) to a Cy Young contender (3.11 FIP). The increased use of the curveball in 2009 also increased its effectiveness, doubling to 2.71 wCB/C. The effectiveness on his slider tripled. Unfortunately, his fastball decreased in effectiveness, going from essentially average to -.75 wFB/C.

In 2010, Wainwright has taken his curveball use to another level, increasing to 28.5% of his pitches and his strikeout rate to 8.26 K/9 and lowering his FIP to 2.86. He has not sacrificed control, lowering his walk rate to 2.21 BB/9. His curveball and slider, which may be more of a cutter, have been slightly less effective, but still very useful pitches. The significant change has occurred in the effectiveness of his fastball. Wainwright has decreased the number of fastballs thrown to a career low 46.5% of pitches. With this decrease has come a drastic increase in the effectiveness of the fastball without changing the velocity, moving to 1.00 wFB/C from last year’s total of -0.75 wFB/C.

Also of note, increasing his strikeouts has not affected his efficiency, with 15.7 P/IP in 2007, 14.8 P/IP in 2008, 15.5 P/IP in 2009 and a career low 14.6 P/IP in 2010.

Wainwright has remained effective this season throwing the third highest percentage of curveballs of any pitcher. (Only Wandy Rodriguez and Gio Gonzalez have thrown a greater percentage of curveballs this year.) When you have the curve he has, you can’t blame him. The consequence, whether inteneded or not, is a sea change in the effectiveness of his fastball.  Another Cy Young-caliber season at a bargain price for the Cardinals.




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6 Responses to “Wainwright Throws Fewer Fastballs, Increases Effectiveness”

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  1. garik16 says:

    “the significant change has occurred in the effectiveness of his fastball. Wainwright has decreased the number of fastballs thrown to a career low 46.5% of pitches. With this decrease has come a drastic increase in the effectiveness of the fastball without changing the velocity, moving to 1.00 wFB/C from last year’s total of -0.75 wFB/C.”

    You seem to be implying cause and effect here, which is ummm…very dangerous.

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  2. Craig Glaser says:

    I think that, if you dig a bit deeper into the linear weights you’ll find that a LOT of this difference has to do with results on balls in play. Last year BABIP on his fastball was about 50 points higher than it is this year. I think that’s a more likely explanation for the turn around in value than the small decrease in fastball usage.

    It is definitely nice to see someone with such a great curveball using it more, though.

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  3. The injury game is often all guesses, but does anyone think this increases his chances of injury?

    I’ve read in a couple places that sliders do a lot of harm on the arm, imagine curves would be somewhat similar? Any truth (at all) to increasing risk when you throw more offspeed stuff?

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  4. opisgod says:

    Yes i’ll bite on that as well. What is needed is a heat graph of pitch location from 2009 to 2010. In a related note i’ll put up the situational percentages of the fastball that are significantly different from 2009.

    3-0: 2009: 92%, 2010: 82%

    0-1: 2009: 44%, 2010: 35%

    3-1: 2009: 85%, 2010: 69%

    1-2: 2009: 26%, 2010: 34%.

    Basically he’s throwing fewer heaters in counts where the pitch is expected, which would potentially cross up hitters and turn what could be a line drive xbh into a double play grounder. Most noticeably is in the proverbial 3-1 count, where a fastball anywhere in the zone and not borderline tends to get a mighty hack at.

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  5. craigjedwards says:

    While the decreased BABIP may be a factor, Wainwright’s contact percentage on out of zone swings increased this year which may have had an impact on his BABIP. My rough calculations have it at about 35-40 more times this year that a player made contact on a pitch outside of the strike zone.

    OPISGOD:

    Thanks for posting the fastballs by count. It seems by changing the pitch type used from a hitter’s count to a pitcher’s count, you would achieve a greater result almost automatically, presuming you had the control and bite on the curveball, like Wainwright does.

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  6. opisgod says:

    For further explanation, run value for pitches are positvely influenced the most by whiffs, and a fastball like wainwrights is not canny to do so (unimpressive velocity, sinking action). However, any base hit significantly reduces the run value of the victimized pitch. By simply limiting the use of his hittable fastball in the situations where it is most likely to be mashed, the positive run situations can exceed the negative run values. Conversely, a fastball in a 1-2 count is more likely to be hit foul or taken in the zone/missed since the hitter is sitting back for a slower breaking ball to hit if it is hung or taken when in the dirt.

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