Adam Wainwright, Cardinals Ace, Shuts Down Rockies

The Rockies barely put up a fight against Shelby Miller on Friday night, and couldn't muster a hit against Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright into the 8th inning. What has made Wainwright dominant enough to earn him a 5-year $97.5 million extension? Could it have something to do with his change in pitching towards left-handed hitters?

It's been quite a couple of days for St. Louis Cardinals starting pitchers. In fact these last two games constitute a microcosm of the Cardinals' starting pitcher's entire 2013 season thus far. In 2013 the Cardinals starting staff has a combined 6.9%(6th in MLB) walk percentage, 21.4%(10th in MLB) strikeout percentage, a 3.01(1st in MLB) earned run average, and 3.10 FIP (2nd in MLB). All of those great stats have helped the redbirds attain 23-12 record, good for 1st place in the National League Central division.

Friday, rookie Shelby Miller delivered an incredible game. He pitcher all 9 innings, giving up one hit, no runs, zero walks, while striking out 13 Rockies hitters. It looked as Cardinals fans could only be in for a letdown on Saturday, but the 40,000+ fans that attended the afternoon soiree between the Rockies and Cardinals left the Busch Stadium far from disappointed.

Adam Wainwright, the Cardinals ace, came into Saturday's start with some mind-blowing numbers. Before Saturday Wainwright had put up a 4-2 record, sporting a 2.72 earned run average, 1.88 FIP, 16.00 K/BB ratio, and a 6.3% home run to fly ball percentage. Basically, the 2013 version of Adam Wainwright had been straight dealing in all 7 of his starts, making anyone who questioned the recent $90+ million extension he recently signed keep their mouths embarrassingly shut.

On Saturday, Wainwright was great. He took a no-hitter (one walk to Todd Helton), into the 8th inning. Like Miller the night before, he finished what he started, needing 120 pitches to get 27 outs against the Rockies. Wainwright continued to show fantastic command of the strike zone, striking out 7 Rockies hitters while walking only one. Overall, Wainwright dominated, making many wonder how the Cardinals right-hander had not already won a Cy Young award, and leaving even more wondering if this might be the season Wainwright might capture his first Cy Young award.

In Saturday's game, not including the pitcher, the Rockies set a lineup with 3 right-handed hitters, 4 lefties, and 1 switch-hitter. This lineup led this writer to wonder how Wainwright has fared in his career versus lefties and righties, and more importantly, wondering if anything had changed more recently. Throughout his career, Adam Wainwright has predominantly thrown two pitches, a fastball and a curveball. His 12-6 curveball is one of the best in the game, and the mph difference between the two pitches is vast.

In addition to his curve and fastball, Wainright also employs a cut-fastball and change up. Here is a look at his pitch usage over the years against left-handed hitters:

FA

CT

CB

CH

2008

52%

11%

22%

15%

2009

50%

11%

27%

13%

2010

45%

10%

28%

17%

2011

-

-

-

-

2012

56%

8%

13%

9%

2013

45%

23%

26%

6%

AVG

49.6%

12.6%

23.2%

12%

Overall, Wainwright has moved away from his change up, instead utilizing his cutter, designed to jam lefties inside, against left-handed batters. Such a strategy may seem odd, as righties often utilize a changeup to left-handed hitters in order to get swings and misses on the outside part of the plate. Pitchers rarely like to come into a hitter's power zone, and if they miss on their location, would rather the pitch end up towards the outer half of the plate than the inner half. Wainwright has obviously developed superior command of the strike zone with all of his pitches, making him more daring and less afraid of missing when coming inside to lefties. Also, with Wainwright's ability to add sharp break or looping break to his awesome curveball, he can backdoor lefties as well as throw his deuce for a strike, making that pitch a true duel threat.

Coming into Saturday's game the Colorado lineup facing Wainwright faired well in their careers against right-handed pitching.

2007-2013

Name

PA

BB%

K%

ISO

BABIP

wRC+

Carlos Gonzalez

1713

8.90%

20.50%

0.237

0.355

132

Todd Helton

2086

16.00%

11.60%

0.181

0.316

126

Troy Tulowitzki

2314

8.90%

16.50%

0.216

0.312

118

Dexter Fowler

1567

12.10%

25.00%

0.173

0.349

104

Nolan Arenado

30

6.70%

6.70%

0.214

0.208

96

Yorvit Torrealba

1423

6.30%

17.80%

0.125

0.311

85

Eric Young

507

8.70%

19.10%

0.08

0.328

76

Reid Brignac

634

4.60%

22.20%

0.101

0.296

66

Looking at only the 2013 season, the Rockies Saturday lineup faired thusly against righties:

2013

Name

PA

BB%

K%

ISO

BABIP

wRC+

Troy Tulowitzki

84

10.70%

17.90%

0.371

0.353

196

Dexter Fowler

96

10.40%

28.10%

0.289

0.286

134

Carlos Gonzalez

96

12.50%

22.90%

0.226

0.293

111

Nolan Arenado

30

6.70%

6.70%

0.214

0.208

96

Eric Young

62

4.80%

22.60%

0.153

0.356

85

Todd Helton

52

5.80%

19.20%

0.184

0.243

71

Yorvit Torrealba

29

10.30%

10.30%

0.042

0.238

54

Reid Brignac

40

5.00%

22.50%

0.056

0.296

26

Both charts show a lineup adept at hitting right-handed pitching. Now, Adam Wainwright is not your typical righty, but given that managers manipulate their lineups depending on the handedness of the opposing starter, these statistics prove significant. In the end, Wainwright dominated the Rockies, allowing only 2 hits, three base runners, and posting another insane K/BB ratio of 7:1. It led one Cardinals fan to comment on the Viva El Birdos game thread that,

"Anything short of a 3-hitter will be a disappointment"

Fortunately for that fan and the rest of the Cardinals faithful, Wainwright and the redbirds did not disappoint. So far in this series against the reeling Rockies, St. Louis has given up 3 total hits and 4 base runners. On Sunday the Cardinals send Jaime Garcia to the mound looking for the sweep, and given the first two games of this series, it just might come true.

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