Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
On first glance, St. Louis starting pitcher Adam Wainwright hasn't pitched particularly well in his return from Tommy John surgery. On second glance, the results are still not very good.
But it's that third glance that reveals why Wainwright could be a strong buy- low candidate.
Wainwright, who won 19 games in 2009 and 20 in 2010 while carrying a 2.53 ERA combined in those two seasons, has given up 20 runs in his first 26 2/3 innings this season. He's 1-3 with a 6.75 ERA, a 1.31 WHIP and a .284 BAA.
And yet, he remains a pitcher you should undoubtedly target right now.
If you're looking to trade for him, it doesn't matter what he's done so far, it only matters what he will do in the future. The same applies if you drafted the righty and are fed up with his poor start -- you've already dealt with the bad, don't sell him off and miss out on the good.
You might be wondering why you want to acquire a pitcher who has thrown just one quality start in five turns this season. Well, it's because Wainwright hasn't even been that bad this season.
Aside from his April 13 start against the Chicago Cubs, in which he surrendered eight runs on seven hits in three innings, Wainwright has a 4.56 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP.
He also has a stellar strikeout-to-walk ratio (K/BB) of 4.5 (27 K, 6 BB) and a K/9 of 9.1.
Most of his other important ratios, like groundball-to-flyball, swing-and-miss and contact percentage are all in line with his two best seasons. His batting average on balls in play (BABIP) also falls in the league average range of .290-.310, coming in at .306, so he hasn't had poor luck in that regard.
The problem with Wainwright this season is that when batters have made contact against him, they've created optimal damage -- 20.6 percent of all fly balls batters have hit off Wainwright this season have left the park, the highest HR/FB rate in the MLB.
Wainwright is also fifth in baseball in percentage of hits resulting in an extra base, giving up 16 hits that were either a double, triple or home run.
In 2009 and 2010, Wainwright gave up a home run on just 5.8 percent of fly balls and surrendered an extra-base hit on just 27.5 percent of all hits.
There's no way Wainwright's homer percentage is going to stay that high. Even Bronson Arroyo, who gave up a home run just about every other pitch in 2011 while leading the league with 46 longballs against didn't have a percentage in that stratosphere -- Arroyo gave up a homer on 13 percent of fly balls in 2011, although he did allow batters to hit the ball in the air more than Wainwright has this season.
When coupled with his exceptional K/BB, these unsustainably poor ratios give Wainwright quite the positive outlook.
According to FanGraphs, the Cardinals right-hander is fourth in the league in xFIP (expected fielding independent pitching) through Saturday, which attempts to calculate what a pitcher's ERA should be by using the outcomes in the pitcher's control, like strikeouts, walks, hit batsmen and home runs. xFIP substitutes the league average home run rate (9-10 percent depending on the season) in place of their current HR/FB, as most pitchers are expected to eventually regress to the mean in that category.
Wainwright's xFIP of 2.81 is 3.94 runs lower than his current ERA, so you can expect the former 20-game winner's ERA to dramatically improve as the season goes on once his HR/FB ratio regress to the mean.
Considering pitchers coming off Tommy John surgery also naturally improve as they move away from the date of their surgery, Wainwright is an excellent trade target for all owners.
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