Time to Sell Adam Wainwright
Adam Wainwright just finished a 2014 season where he posted his career best ERA and his second lowest walk rate of his career—what I want you to do now is sell him.
In dynasty leagues if you aren’t diligent about searching for new prospects and finding ways to improve your roster constantly, it is pretty easy to look at your team one year and realize that the majority of your players are on the downside of their careers. In order to prevent this unfortunate event there are many things you can do.
1. Collect the Right Prospects – Be aggressive with prospects at positions where you are aging. It is usually best practice to take the best player on the board but if you are using an aging catcher like Yadier Molina it might be better to draft Blake Swihart than Jesse Winker.
2. Make Trades – ALWAYS look to improve your team via trade and never say any one player is untouchable. Everyone has a value in fantasy and if you can improve your roster either by adding depth or getting younger you always need to do that. Just because Jose Bautista had a great year last year doesn’t mean you shouldn’t accept an offer of George Springer for him in a dynasty format.
3. Sell High – This is what I am going to address in this article but as the great Bill Belichick often shows us it is better to be a year early on selling a player than a year late. Players, no matter how great, cannot fight Father Time, especially without the anabolic aids of yesteryear, and therefore should not be held past the time you notice a decline in their underlying stats.
Including the playoffs the 33-year-old Wainwright has pitched a major league leading 733.1 IP from 2012-2014 averaging around 244 IP. These are impressive totals especially considering Wainwright underwent Tommy John surgery in 2011. His elbow had remained quiet since the surgery until June of this year when he was forced to miss 9 days to rest it.
The biggest takeaway I had from looking at Wainwright’s numbers from the time of the elbow trouble going forward was his declining strikeout rate. During the first 85.1 IP of 2014 he struck out 81 batters— nearly a batter per inning. During the remaining 141.2 IP he only struck out 98 batters, well off his previous pace, which shows me that something wasn’t working correctly for him.
I first checked Wainwright’s pitch selection pre-injury and post-injury for any discrepancies, and what I found was surprising; there really weren’t many. Post elbow issues Wainwright relied slightly more on his cutter and his curveball and threw fewer sinkers. Interestingly enough at the time when he was increasing his usage of the cutter and curveball his whiff rate on both of those pitches was declining.
Out of the two pitches Wainwright was relying on, it was the cutter usage that I thought was strange. The cutter is a pitch notorious for the amount of torque it creates in the elbow and forearm so why throw it more after having a sore elbow? From June forward his cutter was getting hit at a clip much higher than earlier in the year as well, but he had to continue to use it because his sinker was getting obliterated.
Wainwright really only had one consistently reliable above average pitch for all of 2014—the curveball. Although Wainwright stuck with his other pitches, they didn’t provide consistent results for the whole season. Despite the cutter not being a perfect pitch for him it was his only other weapon which consistently held opponents’ extra base power in check even if they were able to make contact with it.
The sum of all of these parts adds up to Wainwright posting his lowest K/9 since 2009, dipping from 8.16 to 7.10 in just a year’s time. Over the past four seasons we have also seen a decline in Wainwright’s GB%, which no doubt has to do with his increasingly ineffective sinker. As I showed above the general effectiveness of his pitches was also worse, which lead to a 3.52 SIERA, also his highest mark since 2009.
All of the good that happened in 2012 comes with a caveat. Sure he posted a 2.38 ERA, but his unsustainably low .267 BABIP coupled with a career-best 5.3% HR/FB rate assures it will rise to somewhere near his xFIP of 3.34.
As of right now Steamer is projecting Wainwright to once again eclipse 200 IP mark and post a very respectable 3.42 ERA. Given everything we know about him I would say Steamer is being extremely fair with that projection, which shows he is still a great pitcher but clearly in decline. Wainwright should continue to be a borderline top 20 option but he is becoming a pitcher whose offering are much easier to make contact with.
There will never be another season where Wainwright looks as much like an ace on the surface as he does now, and if you can get value for him anywhere close to the 2.38 ERA he produced this season then it would be in your best interest to do so. By the end of next season people will no longer be mentioning him in the same breath as Clayton Kershaw, Felix Hernandez, and Corey Kluber but rather James Shields.