Is There Hope For Adam Wainwright in 2018? Surprisingly, Yes.

If you’re looking for reasons to believe that Adam Wainwright, 36, can rejuvenate his career after two down seasons, I have a few things to submit for your consideration:

1.  He’s been slapped by awful batted-ball luck. Over the last two seasons the batted average against Wainwright on balls in play is .333, and that’s the fourth-highest BIP against a big-league starting pitcher during that time. The league average on balls in play in 2016 and 2017 was .297. That should gives you an idea of Wainwright’s misfortune. The bad-luck factor also applied to his strand rate, which was nearly four percentage points lower than the league average.

2.  Related: Wainwright’s fielding independent ERA isn’t nearly as depressing as his standard earned-run average. In 2016, Wainwright had a 4.62 ERA, but his FIP was 3.93. There was a similar look to his 2017, when Waino had a 5.11  ERA but a more reasonable 4.29 FIP.  Let’s combine the two seasons to see a more accurate reflection of his pitching: a standard ERA of 4.81 for Wainwright but a more palatable 4.09 FIP.

3.  Starting pitchers can still be effective at age 36 and older. I’ll spare you of a statistical flood here, but I scanned the past five seasons, 2013 through 2017. And I was surprised by the number of positive seasons from 36+ starters. In each case the 36+ starter worked at least 150 innings, had an ERA under 4.00 and provided value of at least 2.0 bWAR. The names: John Lackey (twice), Bartolo Colon twice), Hiroki Kuroda (twice), RA Dickey (three times) plus A.J. Burnett, Andy Pettitte and Bronson Arroyo. Going back to 2011 the Cardinals’ Chris Carpenter, 36, made 34 starts, pitched 237 innings, had a 3.06 ERA and 3.5 bWAR.

4.  The 2018 ZiPS projection for Waino ain’t all that bad:  a 4.09 ERA,  3.94  FIP and  2.1 WAR.

5. Only Wainwright knows the degree of elbow pain and discomfort he dealt with in 2017.  Wainwright clearly made made multiple starts with the bum elbow and shouldn’t have been out there.  I think it’s reasonable to conclude that the elbow issue was paramount in the decline of Wainwright’s famous curve ball. According to Fangraphs Wainwright had a below-average curve during a season for the first time in his career. Opponents smacked it for a .443 slugging percentage, four homers, five doubles and three triples. After a surgical procedure Wainwright should be physically sound again, at least during the early stages of the season.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

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