Before we talk about Adam Wainwright the pitcher, let’s talk about Adam Wainwright the hitter. His two-run homer off Brandon McCarthy — his second of the season — provided the only runs as the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 2-0 on Thursday. Hard to believe, but this was the first time in franchise history that the Cardinals threw a shutout with all the runs provided by a pitcher’s home run. That’s impressive enough, but here are some numbers that will blow your mind:
Last 85 plate appearances:
10 XBH & 16 RBI
13 XBH & 18 RBI#STLCards Adam Wainwright
14 XBH & 25 RBI
— Ryan M. Spaeder (@theaceofspaeder) June 1, 2017
Ryan Spaeder was one off on the extra-base hits — Wainwright has 13, not 14, in that span — but he has driven in 25 runs going back to April 27 of last season. He’s hitting .244/.263/.526 with eight doubles, a triple and four home runs. He has come to bat 32 times with runners in scoring position and is 12-for-29 (.414) with 24 RBIs. Since April 27 of last season, 140 position players have batted at least 85 times with fewer RBIs. Memo to Mike Matheny: You may want to consider using Wainwright as a pinch-hitter once in a while (he has done so just once last season and once this year).
Now for even better stuff, at least as the Cardinals’ hopes for winning the NL Central:
Wainwright’s first seven starts: 2-3, 6.37 ERA, 35.1 IP, 53 H, 7.8 percent BB rate, 19.8 percent SO rate
Wainwright’s past four starts: 4-0, 0.34 ERA, 26.1 IP, 16 H, 9.7 percent BB rate, 20.4 percent SO rate
So what’s going? The results are obviously night and day, but the walk rates and strikeout rates are essentially unchanged. When we see a drastic improvement from a pitcher, the first thing we check is strikeout rate. In Wainwright’s case, that’s not the explanation for his superb performances these past four outings. So it’s something else.
After the game, manager Mike Matheny fell back on the tried-and-true explanation of fastball command, telling reporters: “He’s executing, throwing his fastball in good locations and that makes his breaking [stuff] better. He’s being smarter with his cutter. And with confidence comes even better pitches.”
There’s probably something to that, and it certainly seems clear that Wainwright’s approach with the fastball has been different:
First seven starts: 22 percent high fastballs, 31 percent inside fastballs
Past four starts: 31 percent high fastballs, 23 percent inside fastballs
Basically, more high fastballs and a few more on the outer half of the plate. In those first seven games, opponents hit .394 against his fastball; they’ve hit .195 against it the past four starts.
So that’s a good barometer of what’s happened. It doesn’t explain everything. His well-hit average against all pitches according to ESPN Stats & Info has gone from .148 to … .151. So, umm, the same. He’s not necessarily giving up softer contact. His ground-ball, fly-ball and line-drive rates are basically the same.
I’d suggest we’re looking at essentially the same pitcher. He probably had a lot of bad luck on balls in play early on and now he’s pitching in some good luck. His season ERA is 3.79 and that’s probably a reasonable number to expect the rest of the way.
Corey Kluber is back and all is well. After missing a month with a lower back strain, the Cleveland Indians ace returned against the Oakland Athletics and dominated with 10 strikeouts and two hits in an efficient 77-pitch effort over six innings. His stuff was lights out:
— #VoteTribe 5x a day (@Indians) June 1, 2017
From ESPN researcher Mark Simon, Kluber’s curveball, as you can see in the above highlights, was his sit-down-and-drink-some-Gatorade pitch: He threw it 32 times, the A’s swung at 12 of them and missed 10, going 0-for-6 with five strikeouts. As Mark wrote before the game, Kluber is the latest example of a pitcher who threw a lot of innings in the postseason and was injured or less effective the following year. Given that he threw 249⅓ innings last year, maybe the month off will actually turn out to be a bonus come October, with less mileage on his arm.
The New York Yankees‘ other mashing outfielder. Aaron Judge is hitting .326/.427/.680. He’s getting a lot of attention. He deserves the attention! Teammate Aaron Hicks, after going 4-for-5 with three doubles in six RBIs in a 12-2 win over the Toronto Blue Jays, is now hitting .317/.437/.579. Hicks has been the club’s fourth outfielder, but has been playing every day of late with Jacoby Ellsbury on the DL. Ellsbury may be the fourth outfielder when he returns the way Hicks has played. He has eight home runs and 30 RBIs in just 126 at-bats, numbers that project to 25 and 95 over just 400 at-bats. With one of the strongest arms in the game and decent range, he may even be a defensive upgrade over Ellsbury.
Give Brian Cashman credit for this one. Hicks had been a first-round pick by the Minnesota Twins, but over three seasons with them he hit just .225. Still, he had good discipline — some scouts considered him too passive — and the Twins had kind of fooled around with him, never running him out there for 500-plus at-bats in a season. The Yankees got him for backup catcher J.R. Murphy, currently hitting .225 in Triple-A. How much of this is legitimate for Hicks? The stat I like is 28 walks and 27 strikeouts — one of only a handful of players with more walks than strikeouts, a list that includes Buster Posey, Mookie Betts, Joey Votto and Anthony Rizzo. While there is some good fortune going on — his average exit velocity is league average and his launch angle is below average — there’s some real improvement. The rich just got richer.
Play of the day. A triple play!
— MLB (@MLB) June 2, 2017
Quick thoughts … Speaking of the Yankees, Gary Sanchez homered twice. Imagine if he gets going. … Joe Girardi moved Judge into the third spot for the first time, hitting between Sanchez and Matt Holliday. Good move to get Judge’s OBP up higher in the lineup. … Thursday was the 25th anniversary of the day the Yankees drafted Derek Jeter. They took him sixth overall. Drafted ahead of him: Phil Nevin (Houston Astros), Paul Shuey (Indians), B.J. Wallace (Montreal Expos), Jeffrey Hammonds (Baltimore Orioles), Chad Mottola (Cincinnati Reds). … Tough day for the Seattle Mariners. Tough season. Jean Segura left Thursday’s loss to the Colorado Rockies with an ankle injury and Nelson Cruz left after getting hit in the hand by a pitch. Check the updates. … Sam Miller writes that Mike Trout could still end up leading the AL in WAR … Ken Rosenthal reported that the Texas Rangers designated Sam Dyson for assignment. No surprise. He has to be a black cloud in the clubhouse the way he has pitched. … Via Sarah Langs of ESPN Stats & Info: Since 1996 (first full season of wild-card era), 58 percent of division winners held the division lead on June 1. This stat is great: The Dodgers, Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks all began June at .600 or better; the only other time that happened since 1996 was the NL Central in 2013, with the Cardinals, Reds and Pirates. All three of those teams made the playoffs that year. Eleven of the 21 World Series winners led their division on June 1.