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Adam Wainwright’s Successful Return

Though fantasy owners may have hoped for better, Adam Wainwright‘s return from Tommy John surgery has to be deemed a success. He threw nearly 200 innings, struck out 184 batters and contributed positively in WHIP, though his 3.94 ERA was a bit higher than we’re used to getting from the Cardinals ace. However, his skills suggest that his results should probably have been better than they actually were.

Check out his skills over the past three seasons in random order:

K% BB% GB% SwStk% F-Strike% SIERA
23.4% 6.2% 51.6% 9.5% 61.4% 3.13
22.1% 6.3% 50.8% 8.6% 64.1% 3.33
21.9% 6.8% 50.7% 8.9% 62.8% 3.47

The three seasons are nearly indistinguishable and clearly all by the same pitcher. You would agree that these are all virtually the same performance, right? Well here is the same table again, but it now includes the year and Wainwright’s ERA.

Year K% BB% GB% SwStk% F-Strike% SIERA ERA
2010 23.4% 6.2% 51.6% 9.5% 61.4% 3.13 2.42
2012 22.1% 6.3% 50.8% 8.6% 64.1% 3.33 3.94
2009 21.9% 6.8% 50.7% 8.9% 62.8% 3.47 2.63

Hmmm, which seasonal ERA sticks out like a sore thumb? Due to random fluctuations in BABIP and LOB%, Wainwright’s ERA spiked this year, despite pitching exactly the same as he had in the two seasons prior to his surgery. Now having said that, it is worth noting that maybe he didn’t pitch exactly the same way, as his line drive rate jumped to 23% this year, after never being higher than 19.2% in the past. That high rate and a lack of pop-ups induced means that maybe his higher BABIP was actually deserved. However, since line drive rates aren’t very stable, it should be pretty safe to assume that rate declines next year and his batted ball distribution is back to normal.

When pitchers return from TJ Surgery, there are sometimes two problems — an initial loss of velocity as they continue to build arm strength and control problems as they relearn the strike zone. For the season, Wainwright’s fastball velocity was a mile per hour lower than what he averaged in 2010. What we would want to see is velocity that steadily increased throughout the season. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. Check out his velocity chart below:

It did rise from the beginning of the season through the summer, then it dipped back down again. Maybe he tired down the stretch given that it was his first full year pitching after a season off? It’s possible, but it does make him a bit riskier than if he had maintained the increased velocity through the end of the season.

In terms of control, Wainwright never struggled with it. His highest walk rate in a month actually came in September, and it was just 3.3, while the first three months of the season his walk rates were all below 3.0.

The velocity issue is definitely a slight concern. However, given his final season results and the discrepancy between his ERA and SIERA, he may very well be undervalued and earn near ace level value at a cheaper cost.