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Wainwright and Pujols: Rough Starts

Adam Wainwright – Adam has had a rough start to the 2012 season. So far he has 3 losses in 3 starts with a 9.88 ERA. After not pitching at all in 2011 because of Tommy John surgery, he seems to be struggling in 2012. By looking a little deeper into the numbers, it may be the perfect time to buy low on him.

While his ERA is approaching double digits, his ERA estimators paint a better picture. His FIP is at 6.52 and his xFIP (3.13) and SIERA (3.28) are almost at 3. The final two values are close to his career ERA of 3.08. Adam’s main problem so far in 2012 has been the HR. Currently, he has a 3.3 HR/9 value which is almost 5 times his career value of 0.70. He is allowing 1 home run for every 3 fly balls while historically he has allowed a HR for every 12.5 fly balls.

While this home run rate is not sustainable against him, he does seem to be getting hit a little harder. His 0.325 BABIP is 20 points higher than any other time in his career. His average fastball velocity (89.6) is near a career low he set in 2007 (89.4).

Adam’s 2007 season looks to be a nice season to compare to 2012. The fastball velocities are indentical. They are the seasons when he had his highest BABIPs (0.304 and 0.325). Adam had is worst season in terms of ERA (3.90) and WHIP (1.40) in 2007 until this season happened.

Adam’s stats should regress as the season goes on. I would not expect him though to return to his glory of 2009 and 2010. Right now expect him to be an average to above average pitcher. Anything more should just be icing on the cake.

Albert Pujols – Albert has not been living up to his expectation so far this season. Looking over his stats, two values stick out as potential areas of concern, his walk rate and power.

Currently Albert has a career low 7.1% BB%. It is less than half of what it was just 2 years ago. It might seem that this value is not much of a concern because he is not being intentionally walked as much. Albert has been intentionally walked 3.3% of the time over his career. By subtracting out the intentional walks and the non-intentional intentional walks (IBBump), here are his walk rates and corrected walk rates over the past 5 years:

Year: BB%, corrected BB%
2008: 16%, 8%
2009: 16%, 7%
2010: 15%, 7%
2011: 9%, 6%
2012: 7%, 3% (2 of his 5 BB have been IBB)

His corrected BB% was similar from 2008 to 2011. This season it has been cut in half. He is definitely not being walked as much.

A reason he may be seeing more strikes is that pitchers don’t fear him as much as they did in the past because of a lack of power (0 HRs in 2012). Here are his ISOs from 2009 to 2012:

Year: ISO
2009: 0.331
2010: 0.284
2011: 0.242
2012: 0.108

It would be nice to have Hit FX data to see exactly if he has been hitting the ball weaker or in the air more. GameDay data, while not perfect, does give us some clues that he is just not getting as much distance behind his hits. Here are his 2011 and 2012 batted ball locations from texasleaguers.com:



So far in 2012, Albert has not even put a ball near the warning track. To further illustrate the point, here are the average distances of his fly balls and home runs from 2010 to 2012 as taken from baseballheatmaps.com:

Year: Distance
2010: 313 ft
2011: 303 ft
2012: 275 ft

One possible explanation for the drop in power this season is that he is not yet familiar with the pitchers in the AL. MGL over at The Book Blog looked at how hitters and pitchers did once they became more familiar with each other. Here is his conclusion:

.. there is a large advantage to the batter when he has faced a pitcher a lot in the last year.

Albert should expect to hit better as he becomes more familiar with the pitchers in the AL.

Albert is displaying a lack of power that has been trending down the last few years. On top of the power decline, he is not walking as much even when IBB are taken into account. I would not recommend selling on him just yet. He should see an increase in production as he becomes more familiar with AL pitching. It might be a time to see if his owners are getting impatient with him and try to buy low.