Originally written on Baseball Professor  |  Last updated 2/26/13
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Despite finishing last year with a 3.94 ERA and 1.25 WHIP, Adam Wainwright dominated. His strikeout and walk rates were right on par with what he’d done pre-Tommy John surgery, and his ground ball rate sat over 50% for the third straight season.If there was an area where Wainwright struggled, it was his opponents’ line drive rate, which sat at an abysmal 23.0%. With a rate that high, especially when couple with a low 6.6% infield fly rate (league average is around 10% annually), it’s not shocking that Wainwright posted a .254 OBA and a poor-for-Wainwright 1.25 WHIP. Both the line drive and infield fly rates improved after the All-Star Break, though, a sign that Wainwright was building back to the pitcher he used to be.The real blip on Wainwright’s 2012 resume was his poor 67.8% strand rate. For his career he had never been below 72.6%, which is right around the league average every season, and even that mark was his only season below 76.0%. Wainwright excels at stranding runners on base, and for whatever reason he struggled in that respect overall last year. Had he been just league average, which would still be below average for Wainwright, he would have pitched to an ERA right around his 3.10 FIP. If he finished last year with an ERA that low, we wouldn’t be talking about Wainwright as a bargain ace right now. Thankfully, that’s exactly what he is.At a GlanceStrengths: W, K, ERA, WHIP, QS, BBNeutral: LWeaknesses: nonePlayer ComparisonsBest-case scenario: Cole Hamels (PHI)Likely scenario: Zack Greinke (LAD), Madison Bumgarner (SF), R.A. Dickey (TOR)Worst-case scenario: James Shields (KC)Adam Wainwright 2013 Fantasy ProjectionI’m reluctant to draft one of the top-tier pitchers in fantasy because I’d much rather take an elite hitter than an elite pitcher. (Note: I feel this strategy works better in H2H leagues where weekly matchups dictate how you structure your team and pitching categories like ERA and WHIP are harder to fortify and wins are too luck-based for the small seven-day sample size.) As a result, Wainwright and Mat Latos have been two pitchers that I’ve targeted in all of my early mocks.Wainwright will pitch over 200 innings and (likely) rack up a lot of wins for a very good St. Louis team. He still strikes out almost a batter per inning and should sit right around 200 strikeouts as a result, and important number I target for ace-caliber fantasy starters. I’d expect improvement with his line drive and ground ball rates from last year like we saw as 2012 progressed, and that should mean his OBA and WHIP drop from the .254 and 1.25 marks we saw in his first season back.I used the term “bargain ace” in the intro because that’s exactly what I feel Wainwright is. His peripheral stats last year weren’t much different than his last healthy season in 2010, and that year he ranked 10th overall in fantasy. Not 10th among all pitchers, 10th overall. While I wouldn’t draft him expecting a rebound in his strand rate to catapult him that high in the rankings, the point is he could turn in a top-50 season with batting an eyelash, and there’s always the potential that he channels his inner Cy Young candidate and becomes one of the best draft day values among starting pitchers.
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