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St. Louis Cardinals: Are Adam Wainwright’s days as a starter numbered?

Adam Wainwright first inning struggles

First of all, put down the sharp objects and step back for a moment, and be honest with yourself. Adam Wainwright will be turning 36 in August, and that is an advanced age for any athlete. (Maybe not Vince Carter) Not every pitcher can be Nolan Ryan throwing bullets for 27 seasons. The average pitcher has a career that lasts between 5 and 7 years. What makes you think Adam Wainwright is any different from a normal aging pitcher? There have been a lot of pitchers make the move from the rotation to the pen and extend their career. Perhaps Wainwright could be valuable to the Cards in a role like Andrew Miller had for the Indians last year.

 

From 2008 to 2015 Adam Wainwright had one of the best curveballs in all of baseball. The pitch was so dominant he would seemingly start to walk off the mound as he threw it for strike three. As of late the curveball hasn’t been bending the way Uncle Charlie has been willing it too. In 2014 his curveball had a wCU of 21.0, which dropped to 4.7 in 2016. Not only was his curve well below his career average, but his fastball and cutter were also rated at a career low for pitch value.

 

Wainwright had a career worst in ERA, BB/9, HR/9, BABIP, GB%, WHIP and this spring isn’t showing signs of being different from last year. Could fatigue be a problem? Wainwright gave up a wOBA .318 the first time through the order in 2016, and .328, and .356 second and third time through the order. Slugging percentage also spikes as Waino pitches deeper in to the game, recording a .401/.437/.495 the first second and third time through the order.

 

Wainwright also faded at the end of the season last year. In his last 12 starts of 2016 Wainwright had only 4 quality starts, and pitched beyond the 6th inning twice. He looked like a typical 34-year-old pitcher towards the end of his career. I know it’s hard to accept that Waino could be dwindling, but the signs are all pointing to what Zach Gifford said, “Sorry, Adam Wainwright is just getting old.”

 

Wainwright has had the misfortune of having two significant injuries in his career. Cardinal fans take for granted the amount of adversity it took to come back from both of those injuries. As common as we hear about a pitcher needing Tommy John Surgery, fans can take for granted the percentage of players that never return to form after the procedure. (Try to not think about Reyes)

 

Jon Roegele wrote an article in 2011 discussing success rates of Tommy John Surgery. Of the players between 28-32 that have TJ surgery 80-83% are able to return to baseball. After returning from surgery fewer than 45% of pitchers start more than 100 games. The percentages continue to drop from there. (Wainwright has had 135 starts)

 

Having overcome the recovery of Tommy John surgery, Wainwright seemed to be skating along just fine. When his Achilles tendon tore in 2015 Wainwright once again battled back and was able to pitch in the post season. But what kind of Waino came back? Players in all four major sports have had similar situations like Wainwright’s 2015 injury, some players struggle to return to the athlete they once were before their injury. Is Wainwright one of those players?

 

I hate the idea of it. I am one of the biggest Wainwright fans you will ever meet. What he has been to the Cardinals both on and off the field over the past decade is unparalleled by any other player. This does not stop father time.

 

If moved to the pen, Wainwright could become a player that throws two or three innings per appearance. This is an important role for the Cardinals as no Cardinal starter went over 200 IP last season.

 

For now, it seems like Matheny is content in letting Adam Wainwright start every 5 games. There could come a tough decision for Matheny and Wainwright this year. Currently Wainwright is projected to be a .500 pitcher with 3.98 ERA. If by the end of May, Wainwright has above a 5.00 ERA, I think we will start to see the calls for him to move to the pen. If you disagree with that statement, ask yourself… How bad of numbers can Waino have before you would move him to the bullpen?

 

Allow me to make the bold prediction no one else wants to say: Adam Wainwright will not finish the 2017 season in the Cardinal rotation. If the Cardinals are buyers at the trade deadline, I would expect them to make a trade for a starting pitcher.

Thanks for reading.

 

 

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