Adam Wainwright: Efficiency is the Name of the Game

Adam Wainwright has been absolutely phenomenal this season. If you prefer old school stats: 12-5, 2.30 ERA, with an 8.06 K/9 ratio. If you prefer advanced statistics, he looks even better: 2.12 FIP to go along with a 2.69 xFIP. My favorite stat about his season so far though is his K/BB ratio which in mid July now stands at a staggering 9. For every 9 strikeouts he walks 1 batter. You don’t need me to tell you how good that is. The pitcher nearest his efficiency is Cliff Lee and he isn’t even close.  I decided to compare Adam Wainwright’s impeccable ratio to some of the greatest pitchers in the past 20 years. I’ll take their best season (regarding K/BB) and see how it stacks up to the masterful performance Wainwright is putting up this season.

**disclaimer: WAR total is from their best K/BB season. Wainwright’s is still counting**

Adam Wainwright is having a phenomenal year. His 9.00 K/BB is surpassed only by Cliff Lee’s and Curt Schilling’s most efficient seasons, respectively. I’m not really counting Smoltz, due to his best K/BB ratio coming as a closer with only 60+ innings pitched. Here are the following seasons since 1900 where someone had a K/BB greater than or equal to 9.

  •  Bret Saberhagen (11 K/B 1994)
  • Curt Schilling (9.58 K/B 2002)
  • Cliff Lee (10.28 K/BB 2010)

That’s it. Adam Wainwright is on pace to have the 4th best season since 1900 in regards to strikeouts-to-walks. Three pitchers have accomplished this feat in last 113 years. It’s hard to fully recognize in the moment, but you truly are witnessing greatness when watching Adam Wainwright go to work this season.

What is making him this successful?

For one thing, control is the last aspect of a pitcher’s game to return after Tommy John. Wainwright had a mediocre season in 2012. (his words, not mine) This season the control is completely back to match the velocity. In a podcast visit with Matthew Berry and Nate Ravtiz, he credited his efficiency to first-pitch strikes. He said he made a concerted effort to get ahead, because batters gradually get statistically worse the further down in the count they get. Adam Wainwright does a great job of getting ahead; according to FanGraphs he throws a first pitch strike 65.6% of the time. That 65.6% is the best for starting pitchers in the MLB.  Wainwright’s recipe seems pretty simple once you look at the data: get ahead early then force hitters to chase out of the zone. He also leads the majors in O-Swing% (swings at pitches out of the zone) with a 38.2% rate.

 Adam Wainwright is also phenomenal at mixing his pitches. According to Brooks Baseball Wainwright’s first-pitch mix breaks down this way: 15% four-seam fastballs, 37% sinkers, 2% changeups, 18% curveballs, and 30% cutters. Wainwright uses the hard stuff to get ahead. Once he’s ahead 0-2 the mix stays relatively the same except for the fact that curveball becomes the go-to pitch. He throws his curveball 48% of the time when he is ahead 0-2. That might seem like it would make it easy to guess what’s coming, but good luck touching it. 20% of the swings taken on his curveball in that count ends in a big fat whiff. Wainwright’s curveball has a horizontal movement of 8.21 inches on top of moving 9.33 inches on a downward trajectory. In other words, if Wainwright gets ahead of you, you’re screwed

Landon is a senior writer at The Fantasy Fix. You can follow and interact with him on Twitter (@joneslandon).

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9 years ago

Waino doesn’t actually have the best first pitch strike percentage of all starting pitchers. You have to refilter the results by F-Strike% and then you’ll see that he is 13th for all pitchers. Teammate Lance Lynn is actually slightly better at 66.3%.

Neil Weinbergmember
9 years ago

Probably worth thinking about league average K/BB ratio during each season. Wainwright is 8.67 K/BB when league average is 2.52 K/BB. Pedro (2000) was 8.88 when league average was 1.72 K/BB. As a deviation from league average, that season is much better even if it looks about the same by raw K/BB.

Wainwright is still crazy good, just not quite as historically good.