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Cardinals Pitcher Adam Wainwright and the Confusion of Misleading Statistics

Adam Wainwright is having an odd, interesting season. The first half of his 2017 campaign was filled with contradictions and confusion.

Wainwright wasn’t as good as his handsome 10-5 Won/Lost record would indicate. The folks that mistakenly believe that all wins are created equal won’t like the truth. Though Wainwright has been credited with 10 wins, the total is misleading. I’m glad he has 10 wins; any success for the classy and competitively wired Wainwright makes me happy.

That said, I try to do an honest job in analyzing performance. And Wainwright’s 10 wins aren’t an accurate reflection of how he’s pitched. His 10 wins aren’t as worthy as, say, Max Scherzer’s 10 wins. And by the way, I’m not a “Win” hater. I don’t want to abolish the statistic. But individual win totals can be terribly misleading, so I don’t automatically go to win totals as the defining measure of a pitcher’s quality.

If you think my goal here is to discredit Wainwright, that’s incorrect.

His win total may be misleading, but so is his 5.20 baseball-card ERA.

If Waino doesn’t “deserve” 10 wins, then he sure as hell doesn’t deserve a 5.20 ERA.

That’s the contradiction.

Both of the things I’m putting out here — pitcher wins, and standard earned-run average — aren’t accurate measure of his work. That 10-5 record is glossy but a little hollow. But on the other hand, he’s much better than his baseball-card ERA.

A Closer Look at Wainwright’s 10 Credited Wins

As mentioned, Wainwright has a 10-5 record. And in Waino’s 18 starts, the Cardinals are 11-7. And though Wainwright has pitched well in many of the starts that have contributed to a team victory, he’s also benefited from extremely generous run support.

In the 11 wins started by by Wainwright, the Cardinals have scored an average of 6.55 runs while he was on the mound. (The run support average, or RSA, does not include the team’s runs scored after the pitcher departs the game.)

In the team’s 11 wins with Waino, he’s delivered six quality starts. Meaning that the Cardinals have won five of the 11 despite the absence of a quality start by Wainwright. He’s been exceptionally well in many of those victories, but he struggled to go consistently deep into games. Wainwright lasted fewer than six innings in four of the 11 winning starts.

Overall the Cardinals have scored an average of 5.85 runs for Waino in his 18 starts. Among pitchers that have made at least 12 starts this season, Wainwright’s 5.85 RSA is eighth-highest in the National League, and 17th-highest in MLB.

And then there’s Carlos Martinez. Granted, he closed the unofficial first half of the season with two consecutive lousy starts. But even with that factored in, Tsunamy’s 6-8 record is comically misleading.

The Cardinals have scored an average of 3.95 runs per Martinez start this season; only five NL starting pitchers have received worse run support than Martinez.

The Cards have lost 10 games started by Martinez this season; they averaged 2.95 runs of support for him in the 10 defeats. On four occasions Martinez supplied a quality start — with a 2.19 ERA over the four — only to see the Cards lose those games.

A Look at Wainwright’s Misleadingly High ERA 

Among the 37 qualifying MLB starters in 2017, Wainwright’s 5.20 baseball-card ERA ranks 33rd. That looks bad. And if we include the American League, Waino’s 5.20 ERA is tied for 64th among 73 qualifying starters. More bad.

Well, that bloated 5.20 ERA is mostly bogus. It’s far from being precise in assessing Wainwright’s performance.

Wainwright’s Fielding Independent ERA, or FIP, is a more respectable and authentic 3.81.

The FanGraphs version of FIP is based on walks, hit-by-pitch, strikeouts and homers — the four areas that a pitcher actually controls. Defense is removed from the formula.

Wainwright’s 3.81 FIP ranks 15th in the NL among qualifying starters.

Wainwright’s FIP is solid for a few reasons:

— His average of 8.26 strikeouts per nine innings would be his best rate since 2012.

— His 2.70 strikeout-walk ratio isn’t robust but would be Waino’s best in a full season since 2014.

— He’s been touched for a relatively low average of 0.93 homers per nine innings; that’s the 12th lowest HR rate against NL starters.

So why is there such a discrepancy between Wainwright’s basic ERA and his FIP?

— A few rotten starts have inflated his basic ERA.

— The beauty of FIP is that it removes defense from the equation, and we know about the erratic nature of the Cards defense.

— Wainwright is battered by brutal batted-ball luck. Opponents have a .347 average against him on balls in play. Not only is that tied for the highest BIP average against a NL starter this season, but it’s 50 points higher than the MLB-wide average.  It’s a glaring outlier, and his luck should improve the rest of the way.

— Wainwright’s strand rate of 67.4 percent is about five percent lower than the MLB average for starters; only four NL starting pitchers have a lower left-on-base rate lower than Waino. His strand rate was influenced by the terrible batted-ball luck. When Wainwright had runners in scoring during the first half, the opponents’ batting average on balls in play is .370 — or some 46 points higher than the overall NL batted-ball average of .324 with RISP.

— The St. Louis bullpen has allowed 8 of 16 inherited runners to score after coming in to relieve  Wainwright.

This season I’ve made the mistake of placing too much importance on Wainwright’s basic ERA. And while I’ve noted his much lower FIP at times, I haven’t  put enough emphasis on it.

I think we can all agree on this: Wainwright has cranked out a quality start in seven of his last 11 games — with a 3.72 FIP — and is trending in a positive direction.  Earlier this season I was a little quick to link Wainwright’s age to his pitching troubles. He’ll be 36 at the end of August and is on the other side of his career-peak years. But Wainwright is still capable of being an asset.

Thanks for reading…

–Bernie

  • Rich Rauch

    How much of Waino’s absurdly-high 6.55 RSA came from his own bat?

  • BradW

    Waino would probably be a good trade candidate. So might Lynn. However, that would leave Leake, Wacha, and Martinez. With young guns on the verge in Weaver, Flaherty, and Reyes, not to mention others, like Gomber, Alcantara, we would have a lot of unproven youth in the starting rotation. We need some veteran leadership on the pitching staff, a la Chris Carpenter. It might be worth keeping Waino for that reason. I think we should trade Oh and Rosenthal for some high end position prospects. And, start out some of our up and coming pitchers in the bullpen. Lynn has been such a just-short-of-spectacular workhorse for so many years, it’s hard to let him go. Wacha is on the verge of being moved to the BP, too. Our starting rotation is pretty rickety, and every team sinks or swims with its starting rotation. We’ve got to be careful on how it is re-tooled, or we may screw ourselves for several years.

    • Mac Hamilton

      Never will happen

    • Tarzan

      I believe Cards’ Fans would tear down the arch if they tried to trade him.

  • Chris Moeller

    The man has driven in 9 runs- part of the reason he has 10 wins, and last year, when his ERA was over 4.6, he drove in 18. Of course, RBIs are now as devalued as much as wins, but the games the Cards win when he pitches are wins nevertheless, and he’s contributing. His season would be considered less interesting if the year were 1885.

  • M W

    Waino is what he is now. He’s going to be an inconsistent starter who can still pitch and effective game from time to time. Luckily the team only has one more year left on his contract.

  • Odaal

    He is 10 and 5…..at the end of a fabulouus career. Isnt it funny how “lucky” guys like W are. Or maybe their contributions go further than just pitching!

  • James Berry

    His WHIP is at an eye-gouging 1.49. Waino is, on good days, a #3 pitcher, but more often he’s a #5 now. His age is a huge factor. His curve isn’t nearly as devastating as it was and his control has lapsed quite a bit.

    He is what he is now and we have him until he retires. We’ve been privileged by his tenure.

  • geoff

    Things have certainly changed. Now we have to have a name or category or stat base for everything. The minutia has become the focus. Wainwright has been good enough in ten games to keep his team in it for a win. There is no way to quantify his importance to the rest of the staff, or the team as a whole, as a veteran leader, or de-facto pitching coach. “Quality Start” is like a participation trophy. Wins mean something because it means you kept your team in a position to win a game. If your team is having trouble scoring against an opposing pitcher , then you have to give his team even more difficulty scoring. For all of the stats and all of the stuff people fuss over nowadays, wins seem to be diminishing in importance because they don’t mean all that much in fantasy sports on-line betting sites. Let’s face a fact here , an awful lot of the common man interest in all of the minutia is owed to on-line betting or fantasy leagues, where what a team does, makes little difference. The fantasy on-line betting pools have to do with individual performances in a team sport. When I was younger and I would see one of those frozen ropes off Ted Simmons bat as it crashed off the wall in right center field….I just didn’t need to know the exit velocity…I just knew he got all of that one. Oh by the way, I haven’t mentioned yet today just how much I hate interleague play. I really hate interleague play.

    • Big T

      Old school fans like us really just need to remember the game makes the stats and the stats don’t make the game. I remember sitting thru a nearly two hour rain delay when the Cards were down by three to Houston in bottom of the ninth and the bases were loaded. Our guy due up with two outs was Roger Freed. Yep he got all of it. We celebrated all 1000 people left in the stadium and didn’t think to call it a walk off. Have a good day Geoff.

      • geoff

        Yup!!! I saw Roger Freed hit one out at the old Veteran’s Stadium in Philadelphia one night, and I knew it was out, but I was deprived of knowing the exit “velo” or his “launch angle”, but I sure knew he got enough of it to put it about twenty rows back in the left field seats, to put the Cards on top that night. I think back sometimes and wonder if Bob Gibson, or any pitcher from that era, would have considered pitching only six innings and allowing three runs to be a “quality start”….I doubt he would have thought that way even if his team was up by twelve at the time. I mention Gibson only to excuse the excuse that pitchers today throw harder and go ”all out” nowadays , so they can only throw a hundred pitches before sirens go off. I know it is a different era and the hitters are bigger and stronger but the truth is there were unhittable strikes back then just the same as there are unhittable strikes today. Guys that threw them back then WON a lot of games, and guys that didn’t… didn’t. That aspect of the game hasn’t really changed all that much.

        • Big T

          Agreed. Biggest stat on Bob Gibson I like is the year he pitched his low ERA. It was 1968 and he had a 1.12 ERA. Accomplished this via 27 COMPLETE games. He had something like 304 innings. Most were on four days rest.

          • Leonard Sherp

            No way he could have more complete games than combined wins and losses. He actually went 22-9.

          • Big T

            Typo…. My bad. Thanks. He actually had 28 CG that year and the next. Averaged 17 CG a year for his entire career. 255 total.

    • Taylor

      Wins have diminished in importance because it’s 2017 and there are better ways to evaluate how well a pitcher has done instead of looking at how many runs his team scored that day and how well his bullpen did or didn’t do.

  • Big T

    Waino’s ERA is primarily miscued by three outings. 9 runs against Cincinnati on 06/06 in 3.2 innings, 9 runs against Baltimore in 1.2 innings on 06/17, and 6 against Miami in 5 innings on 07/03. Takes a huge amount of innings to off set three starts like that.

    However he also gave up 0 runs against LA in 6 innings on 06/01, 0 runs against Colorado in 7 innings on 05/27, 2 against Pittsburgh in 7 innings on 06/23, and 2 to Arizona on 06/28 in 6.1 innings.

    These are playoff caliber teams currently in the hunt and Waino has been vintage when we needed them most. Absolutely a treat to watch his pitching trending back to what he expects and has given us for years. His changing of speeds on all his pitches and command of his fastball has been masterful!

    Gods speed Waino!! Go Cards!

    • Duane Wisner

      I had the same thought, before reading the comments I looked at his game logs and if you take away the road games at CIN & BAL (18 runs in 5 1/3 inn) his ERA goes from 5.20 to 3.73.

  • LawrenceKScardsfan

    Waino is one of the best Cardinal pitchers of all time. But he is not the dominating Waino we all grew up on. And this is evident despite the FIP. That said, he will be a fixture on the team until his contract expires. And I think he has the potential to continue pitching well enough to deliver wins for the team (call me old-fashioned, but bottom line, it’s still about wins and losses – of course the pitcher while a primary contributor to the W/L stat is not the only contributor). It’ll be interesting to see how he progresses throughout the rest of the year.

    • Big T

      No doubt he would even tell you he is not the same guy who finished in the top four of CY Young awards for three years in a row… But remember he also missed a couple of years over the last four (with his TJ and Achilles injuries.) His arm saved a lot of bullets during those two seasons. I hope and believe he should continue to be fine.

  • geoff

    Another bad start for Martinez over the weekend and I am positive it is because of his hair.

  • Lisa Wilkinson

    I would like to know what Carlos Martinez numbers are with AH(altered hair) and NH(nonaltered hair)

    • Big T

      AH – Poor. NH – Great.

    • Taylor

      This can’t be serious.

  • “Wainwright is battered by brutal batted-ball luck.” Could be, but when the hits are falling in it doesn’t feel like bad luck. I will, however, take Waino pitching at a .667 (10-5) pace for the remainder of his career with a 5.20 ERA. It’s better to be lucky than good, and Waino has been plenty good for his career. We’ll take the luck now. At least for now the Cardinals play better when he’s pitching.

  • Dirk Lenie

    How many of those runs did Waino knock in himself. And some of those wins were not against the #1starters that went against Carlos. I don’t care about the stats, he won and maybe he wins because when he pitches the rest of the team thinks we can win