With Adam Wainwright, maybe we have to get used to the idea that from now on he’ll be trying to get by on pitch-mixing guile, and sleight of hand, the curve ball on a good day, and his enormous competitive heart. Instead of gliding through starts, he’ll have to fight through them.
That was the case Monday night at Washington, when Waino tried to fend off the Nationals with everything he had, only to notch 12 outs on 96 max-intensity pitches. The Nats sent 25 batters into the box against Wainwright, and 13 reached base. He was pelted for 11 hits, walked two, surrendered three leads, and gave up six runs (five earned.)
Really, there isn’t much to say. If we’re trying to sort through the rubble looking for positives, we can find a couple. Opponents’ are hitting .462 on balls in play against Wainwright, a preposterously high number that screams of bad luck. And it will certainly level off in time. His standard ERA in two starts is 7.00 … but his fielding independent ERA is 2.37. And, of course, the defense behind Wainwright was sloppy again. But all of this only goes so far.
There wasn’t a lot of hard contact against Waino in Washington … but there was too much contact overall. According to the data at Fangraphs, the Nationals connected on 96 percent of the pitches thrown in the strike zone. Wainwright had only five swings and misses all night, and none on his fastball.
I’d like to quickly point out a few other things:
— Washington’s LH batters pummeled Wainwright for eight hits in 13 at-bats. In his first start against the Cubs, Wainwright held their LH hitters to one hit in seven at-bats, but that effectiveness went away in D.C. And the trend continues from last year. Since the start of the 2016 season, LH batters have punched away at Wainwright for a .314 average, .373 onbase percentage, .479 slugging percentage. That’s an .853 OPS. Between 2007 and 2015, LH batters had a .675 OPS against him. This is a dramatic increase in damage by lefthanded hitters.
— Wainwright’s ground-ball rate continues to decrease. From 2008 through 2015, the GB rate was 49.3 percent. Last season, 43.8percent. Through two starts this season (obligatory small sample warning) the GB rate sits at 38.7 percent.
— Wainwright’s rather drastic home-road split continues. Since the start of last season, he has a 3.22 ERA in 17 home starts, and a 6.39 ERA in 18 roadies. Over that time, home OPS against Waino is .534. The away OPS is .902.
Again, I always try to look at the big picture, and make note the fact that Wainwright’s fielding independent ERA is considerably lower than his baseball-card ERA.
But if we’re sticking with the basics, and nothing but the basics, here’s the deal …
Since the beginning of last season Wainwright has a 4.72 ERA that ranks 69th among 78 qualifying MLB starters (minimum 163.1 innings.) And among starters that have faced a minimum of 500 batters over the last two years, the OPS against Wainwright (.787) ranks 96th among 120.
In 2017 this proud 35-year-old man will summon every last reserve, every layer of resolve, to pitch well and give his team a chance to win. And on some days he will make it look pretty easy, just as he has so many times in the past. And he can be a competitive pitcher that gives his team a chance to win. All I’m saying is this: I just get the feeling that we’re going to see Wainwright scrapping his way through many scuffles — absorbing cuts and bruises, but never backing down.
— As I mentioned in this here space yesterday, the 2011 Cardinals careened to a 2-5 start in their first seven ballgames, and we know how that turned out … I hate saying “it’s early” as much as you despise reading it. But the truth is, it’s still … well, you know.
— You know what? We can sit here and say “it’s early” 100 times … but ugly baseball is ugly baseball, and there’s no reason to avoid the truth. Do I think the Cardinals will get better? Yes. Of course. Now, if they don’t get much better than this, it’s going to be a long, hot, angry bummer of a summer.
— With the Cardinals leading 5-3, I hope that manager Mike Matheny wasn’t leaving a tuckered Wainwright out there in the fifth inning in an attempt to get his guy an individual pitcher “win.” I don’t know if the question was asked of Matheny after the game, so I don’t want to jump to false conclusions. But in the past, Matheny has freely admitted that he keeps individual goals in mind when making decisions — whether it’s giving a tiring starter a chance to get through the fifth inning to pick up a “win,” or using his closer (when he doesn’t have to) to pick up an easy save to add to his collection.
In the fifth inning Monday, a leadoff single would have been a spot for a pitching change. Waino stayed in, and lost a five-pitch battle with Jayson Werth, who singled. Waino was up to 95 pitches, and surely it was time to go to the bullpen. But Wainwright remained in the game, and was smacked for a first-pitch RBI double by Stephen Drew. That’s when Matheny called for relief.
The score was 5-4, Brett Cecil allowed both inherited runners to score, and the Cards’ two-run lead went up in smoke. By the end of the fifth Washington was up 6-5, and would proceed to a 14-6 romp.
If Matheny had Waino’s win total in mind, and if that influenced his game decisions — again, if — then everything blew up. Wainwright didn’t get the “win” … he took the loss. Of more critical importance: Matheny’s team didn’t win the game. Obviously the team’s overall interests should come first, but … whatever. It is what it is.
— Then again, with the STL bullpen looking so gruesome in the early stages, it might give any manager a reason to hesitate and take his chances with a fading starter. Cecil is off to a terrible start, allowing seven hits, two walks, and five earned runs in three innings. (That’s a 15.00 ERA.) Cecil has inherited four runners; all four have scored. A broken-bat RBI single against him Monday was especially frustrating. It wasn’t a bad pitch.
— The Cardinals overall bullpen ERA stands at 8.86, the worst in the majors right now. Their relievers have been rocked for a .303 average, .407 OBP, and .551 slug. That’s awful.
— Hello again, Trevor Rosenthal. He was the highlight of an otherwise horrible evening. Seventh inning, 14 pitches, three strikeouts, shooting 98+ mph flames, and getting the final K (caught looking) on a cruel offspeed pitch. Impressive.
— Another good game from Yadier Molina; two hits and an RBI. He’s batting .318 with a .407 onbase percentage.
— Here’s another small-sample nugget for you: last season the Cardinals ranked 26th among the 30 teams in defensive efficiency. This year, through seven games, the Cards rank 26th in defensive efficiency.
— Former Cardinal outfielder Jeremy Hazelbaker, now with the Arizona Diamondbacks, has six hits in his first seven at-bats, with two walks and two runs batted in.
Thanks for reading …