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Entries in Adam Wainwright (6)

Wednesday
Oct022013

Bucs, Cards Thrive Low in the Zone

The Pirates and Cardinals will square off in the National League Division Series, thanks in large part to pitching staffs boasting top-five ERAs during the regular season. Pittsburgh and St. Louis are mirror images on the mound, and that comparison extends beyond possessing a vets with wicked curveballs (Game 1 starters A.J. Burnett and Adam Wainwright), hot-shot rookies (Gerrit Cole, Shelby Miller, and Michael Wacha, among others) and where-did-he-come-from closers once again facing doubters (Jason Grilli and Edward Mujica). These clubs are equipped for deep October runs because their pitchers pound hitters at the knees, generate grounders and keep the ball in the park at historic levels. It doesn't hurt that their backstops skillfully steal strikes on borderline pitches, either.

Waging a Ground War

Collectively, the Pirates have thrown an MLB-high 47.6 percent of their pitches to the lower third of the strike zone. The Cardinals also live low in the zone, locating there at the eighth-highest clip (43.3 percent) in the majors. Pittsburgh and St. Louis' "keep it low" philosophy has produced ground balls by the bushel -- the Pirates have the highest single-season team ground ball rate (52.5 percent) in the majors over the past decade, while the Cardinals (48.5 percent) come in eighth.

Charlie Morton (64.6 percent) is the game's top worm-burner among starting pitchers, with Burnett (58.2 percent)  also ranking in the top 10. Francisco Liriano (52.4 percent), Joe Kelly (51.5 percent), Cole (51 percent) and Wainwright (50.1 percent) are among the grounder-centric starters who figure to make a difference in this series (sorry, Jeff Locke and Jake Westbrook).

Seth Maness (70.7 percent) is the most difficult reliever to loft this side of Brad Ziegler, and lefty hit man Randy Choate (68.4 percent) isn't far behind. Mark Melancon (62.2 percent), Carlos Martinez (56.5 percent) and Justin Wilson (53.5 percent) could also alter a game with a late-inning double play.

The Pirates complement their scorched-earth policy by frequently shifting their infielders, a strategy that has paid off in the form of the fifth-lowest opponent average on ground balls hit (.230) in 2013. The Cardinals (.248) are right around the MLB average (.248). 

Historic Homer Prevention

By waging a ground war, the Pirates (0.62 home runs allowed per nine innings) and Cardinals (0.69 HR/9) have surrendered the fewest homers among all MLB clubs. Once you adjust for year-to-year variations in league wide home run levels, the '13 Bucs and Cards are both enjoying one of the ten best homer prevention seasons in club history during the Live Ball Era (1920-present).

This year's Bucs team ranks fourth in franchise history during the Live Ball Era in HR+, or a team's home run rate as a percentage of the National League average during that season. They have surrendered 30 percent fewer homers than the NL average.

Lowest HR+ for Bucs during Live-Ball Era

St. Louis, meanwhile, has given up 22 percent fewer big flies than the NL average this year. That's tied for ninth-best in franchise history during the Live Ball Era.

Lowest HR+ for Cardinals during Live-Ball Era

Stealing Strikes

Aside from inducing ground balls and preventing home runs, there's another added benefit for Pirates and Cardinals pitchers who keep the ball down -- their catchers do a great job of framing low pitches. Yadier Molina and Russell Martin both get more called strikes on low pitches thrown in the strike zone (In-Zone ClStr%) than most catchers, with Molina ranking third among all backstops receiving at least 2,000 pitches and Martin ranking sixth. Molina also gets an above-average number of calls on low pitches that are located off the plate (Out-Zone ClStr%), placing sixth in the majors. Martin is around league average in that regard.

Molina and Martin's called strike rates on low pitches, 2013

With their pitchers getting so many grounders and Martin influencing calls on stuff located at the knees, the Pirates have limited batters to an MLB-low .248 slugging percentage on low pitches this season. The Cardinals' combo of ground ball pitchers and a strike-stealing catcher in Molina has yielded a .308 opponent slugging percentage on low stuff, tied for eighth-lowest in the game. Every pitching coach stresses the need to pound hitters are the knees. But the Bucs or Cards could just ride that platitude to postseason glory.

Monday
Aug052013

Kershaw vs. Wainwright: Battle of Wicked Curves

Expect to see lots of jelly-legged hitters when Clayton Kershaw and Adam Wainwright take the mound tonight in St. Louis. Kershaw's curveball has been dubbed "Public Enemy Number One" by Dodgers announcer Vin Scully, who knows a thing or two about breakers after watching Sandy Koufax flummox hitters for years. Wainwright's breaker, meanwhile still makes 2006 NLCS Game Seven victim and current teammate Carlos Beltran break out in a cold sweat.

Wainwright has struck out the second-most hitters with his curve (77) among MLB starters, while Kershaw (53) places fourth. To honor all those victims of Uncle Charlie, here are three reasons why both Kershaw and Wainwright's breaking balls are so nasty.

Kershaw

  • The Dodgers lefty gets a whiff about 38% of the time that hitters swing at his curveball, crushing the 28% MLB average and trailing only A.J. Burnett (42%), Madison Bumgarner (42%), Stephen Strasburg (39%), Jordan Zimmermann (39%) and Mike Minor (39%) among National League starters throwing the pitch at least 250 times.
  • When hitters do manage to make contact, they're chopping Kershaw's curve into the grass. His ground ball rate with the pitch (56%) is comfortably above the 51% big league average, which helps explain how Kershaw has yet to be taken deep on a curveball this season.
  • Kershaw rarely leaves his curve on a tee for hitters, throwing just 19% of them to the horizontal middle of the strike zone. The MLB average for starters, by contrast, is 26%.

Pitch location of Kershaw's curveball

Wainwright

  • While Wainwright gets a fair number of swings and misses with his curve (33% miss rate), he excels at getting hitters to expand their strike against the pitch. Wainwright has baited batters into chasing his curveball off the plate 38% of the time, tying him with Jose Fernandez for third-highest among starters. Minor (42%) and Burnett (39%) rank first and second, respectively.  

Hitters' swing rate by pitch location vs. Wainwright's curveball

MLB average swing rate by pitch location vs. curveballs

  • Wainwright buries his curve at hitters' knees, tossing the pitch to the lower third of the strike zone 63% of the time (the MLB average is about 56%). By keeping his curve down, Wainwright has also generated plenty of grounders (53%) and kept the ball in the park (two homers allowed on curveballs in 2013).
  • Part of the reason why Wainwright stays low with his curveball is that the pitch falls off the table like few others in the game. Wainwright's curve drops an average of 9.5 inches compared to a pitch thrown without spin, about four inches more than the big league average and more than all starters save for Barry Zito and Chris Tillman.
Friday
Oct192012

Adam Wainwright's Wicked Curve

Adam Wainwright has both tested his reconstructed elbow and tortured hitters with his curveball this postseason. Wainwright, who stretched the Cardinals' NLCS lead over the Giants to 3-1 last night, has struck out 20 hitters overall. Seventeen of those whiffs have been on curveballs. Simply put, Wainwright has left a curveball high in the strike zone about as often as TBS has run a Bruce Springsteen-less commercial break.

The 31-year-old righty has unleashed 75 curveballs this postseason. Just four of those curves, or about five percent, were located in the upper third of the strike zone. For comparison's sake, starting pitchers threw 18% of their curves high in the zone during the regular season, and they have done so about 14% during the playoffs.

Against righties, Wainwright is placing his curve low and away:

Wainwright's curveball location vs. righties

 

He's mixing it up more against lefties, throwing low-and-away curves for strikes but also burying pitches in the dirt:

Wainwright's curveball location vs. lefties

Those earth-bound breaking balls have produced most of Wainwright's strikeouts:

Location of Wainwright's strikeouts with his curveball

Hitters have gone just 2-for-26 against Wainwright's hammer this postseason. If the Cardinals do finish off the Giants, Wainwright's curve could be in for a challenge against the Tigers. Detroit has a collective .427 slugging percentage against curveballs thrown by righty pitchers this season, far above the .335 major league average. Just don't expect Wainwright to hang one, Miggy and Prince.

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