Adam Wainwright's high-wire act
The Cardinals' ace is used to being part of an exclusive group, but this time he'd be better off with more company.
Adam Wainwright has been incredibly steady, particularly the last couple of seasons, as he has been practically a lock to deliver seven strong innings every time out. A pitcher with that kind of résumé normally deserves to get the benefit of the doubt during mild slumps.
Though Wainwright has had two poor starts over his last three outings, it would normally be far too early to hit the panic button. However, going back even further, Wainwright has been struggling to throw strikes. He's made five starts over the last 30 days, and over that span, only 61 percent of Wainwright's pitches have resulted in strikes.
That's far below Wainwright's normal rate and dangerously close to Justin Masterson/Ubaldo Jimenez too-wild-for-prime-time territory. To put Wainwright's control issues into perspective, I scanned the plate discipline leaderboards on FanGraphs.com to see how he measured up against other starters over the last 30 days.
Only five pitchers threw fewer than 40 percent of their pitches inside the strike zone and induced swings on pitches out of the zone less than one-third of the time, and Wainwright was one of them. So who's keeping him company on this exclusive list? Francisco Liriano and Tim Lincecum...no surprise there. Miguel Gonzalez was there, too. He's not known for wildness, but he's hasn't been all that effective this season in any event. Fellow Oriole Kevin Gausman has been treading in a particularly dangerous zone, as he has the third-lowest rate of pitches in the zone and fifth-lowest chase rate of qualifying starters.
So these are the pitchers who have been similar to Wainwright in their difficulties with throwing strikes and lack of success in fooling hitters with errant pitches. All have shown themselves to be capable of sustained success, but all are also inconsistent enough to reside well below must-start status. Anything less than an elite standing for Wainwright would be a huge disappointment, so this is not company we want to see him keep.
Even great pitchers have bad months, so as extreme as Wainwright's control problems have been, there is no particular reason to think he won't rebound. In the event that he doesn't, though, it's not a bad idea to test the market. Owners might dismiss Wainwright's struggles (or be unaware of them), since he is still posting a sparkling 2.26 ERA and 1.01 WHIP, but over the last 30 days, he owns a far less impressive 3.77 ERA and 1.45 WHIP. If you can get elite value in return, it could pay to trade him now.
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