By The Numbers: Adam Wainwright, Joey Votto, Zack Greinke
But don’t sleep on the boring old veterans.
It’s been years since Miguel Cabrera truly mattered in most fantasy leagues, but the 38-year-old recently smashed his 500th career home run. And while Yadier Molina is more of a fantasy placeholder behind home plate, the Cardinals signed the 39-year-old through 2022, which will be the catcher’s final season.
Other old geezers have offered more assistance to our fake teams. Let’s take a look at three players warding off Father Time in 2021.
Adam Wainwright (SP – STL): 22.4% Called-Strike Rate
Wainwright was, on average, the 130th pitcher select in NFBC drafts conducted from January through March. He’s now the 10th pitcher on FantasyPros’ Player Rater.
After dominating the Pirates twice in recent weeks, Wainwright quietly boasts a 3.10 ERA and 1.05 WHIP with the third-most innings pitched (162.2) behind Zack Wheeler and Walker Buehler. He’s registered a 1.70 ERA in August, which will end with Wainwright blowing out the candles to celebrate his 40th birthday.
Adam Wainwright now has 4 starts this year of 8+ scoreless IP
He's the 1st pitcher with at least 4 such starts at age 39 or older in a season since Randy Johnson in 2004 (also 4)
Last with MORE THAN 4 at age 39+: 1984 Tom Seaver, 5
— Sarah Langs (@SlangsOnSports) August 22, 2021
While this renaissance has surprised most onlookers, he did the same thing last year, posting an identical WHIP with a 3.15 ERA. Few gamers bought the bounce-back because of the small sample size and 4.11 FIP, but he now flaunts a 3.57 FIP in 25 starts.
Wainwright isn’t suddenly throwing in the mid-90s and mowing down the opposition. In fact, his 8.1% swinging-strike rate ties Jorge Lopez for the eighth-lowest of starters with at least 100 innings pitched.
However, he’s still getting plenty of strikes with MLB’s highest called-strike rate:
Wainwright ranked sixth on this leaderboard last year, so there's skill involved. Molina's presence also helps to steal some calls, in addition to Wainwright getting the benefit of the doubt from umpires as a tenured pro.
As a result, the righty has piecemealed his way to 150 strikeouts, five more than Lance Lynn. Even if his 22.9% strikeout rate falls closer to his career 20.6% clip, Wainwright would essentially be what drafters wanted from Kyle Hendricks or the other experienced ace highlighted below.
A soft schedule has also helped his late-season surge; Wainwright has made five of his last seven starts against offenses ranked 20th or worse in OBA. He'll likely return to earth if he ends up encountering the Dodgers and Padres in September. Just enjoy for now, as he's first scheduled to close out his 30s with another chance to pick on the Pirates.
Joey Votto (1B - CIN): .606 xSLG
Over the last calendar year (dating back to August 26, 2020), Votto has 36 home runs, 95 RBIs, and a .399 wOBA in 127 games.
He's already clubbed 17 long balls in 37 second-half games. Votto produced 12 home runs in 2018 and 15 in 2019, recording over 600 plate appearances each season.
Joey Votto has been on an absolute tear since the All-Star break. pic.twitter.com/jdKUGBowhR
— MLB Stats (@MLBStats) August 22, 2021
By most Statcast measures, Votto is the best he's even been. He's already set a personal high with 47 barrels, and a 52.4% hard-hit rate is handily his best since 2015.
Furthermore, Votto's .573 slugging percentage -- his best since an MVP-caliber 2017 -- is not only fully earned, but lower than his expected mark. You might have heard of the other hitters atop the leaderboard:
For those who don't care about his Statcast measures, just know that Votto disagrees.
"You know, I actually have a lot of fun with the Statcast stuff," Votto said on The Athletic Baseball Show, "just because it's been good to me in terms of having goals, and then objectively being able to monitor them."
It will be hard for Votto to aim much higher for September. Sitting on most waiver wires in late July, Votto now has a higher wOBA (.396) and wRC+ (145) than Freddie Freeman. He's not hitting north of .300 like in his heyday, but Votto is once again a top-shelf first baseman who can steer managers to a championship.
Zack Greinke (SP - HOU): 17.5 K%
Every year, drafters shy away from Greinke in fear of regression hitting swiftly. Those concerns have not gone entirely unfounded, as the 37-year-old has his lowest strikeout rate (17.5%) and highest FIP (4.40) since 2005. Just a reminder of how long ago that was, MLB's FIP leaders that year were Johan Santana, Roger Clemens, Jake Peavy, Chris Carpenter, and Pedro Martinez.
Greinke nevertheless still has a 3.41 ERA and 1.11 WHIP, not far off from his career 3.37 ERA and 1.16 WHIP. Unsurprisingly, the durable pitcher has thrown the fifth-most innings (155.2). That's led to 11 victories behind a potent Astros lineup.
Even without the strikeouts, Greinke is the 24th-ranked pitcher (22nd SP) on FantasyPros' Player Rater. That's a solid return on investment considering the preseason discount following last year's 4.03 ERA.
Whether he finishes strong is another question. On August 18, Greinke didn't record a single strikeout for the first time since July 7, 2012. He left that game in the first inning before recording an out. In 485 career starts, this was the only time he didn't tally a strikeout when working more than two innings.
Greinke has only recorded 12 strikeouts in six second-half starts, yet he still wields a 2.90 ERA. Even for a master of command, that's a hard formula to maintain. Then again, he's not getting lit up the way one may expect from an aging soft-tosser pitching to contact. His 87.7-mph exit velocity against and 6.2% barrel rate remain near personal norms from seven years of Statcast data.
There's a thin margin of error from Greinke decaying into a fantasy afterthought. As soon as 2022, he may merely be a solid real-life workhorse who only matters in deeper leagues. For now, the expert craftsman is still getting the job done.
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