37 year old Adam Wainwright struggled in the 1st inning yesterday. After a hard line drive out, he gave up a home run to Eric Thames, followed by singles from Grandal and Shaw. It didn’t look like it was going to be an ideal afternoon. Twitter lit on fire. My mentions were full of screaming how Waino wasn’t a big league pitcher anymore.
He pitched another 5 innings where he gave up 0 runs on 2 hits and 1 walk. It was his 3rd quality start out of 5, and he lowered his team leading ERA to become the only Cardinals starter to have an ERA ABOVE league average. Whatever the reasons the Cardinals rotation has started out as a dumpster fire, Adam Wainwright ain’t the problem. In fact, compared to expectations and his incentive laden contract that accounted for him working out of the bullpen – Adam’s April has been a shining highlight of a first place team.
It also happened to be his 150th career win, quite an accomplishment for a modern pitcher, and a crystal clear reminder of how special Adam has been.
Yet, with each hard hit ball there are screams about Adam needing to retire already. Why?
Pitchers struggle in the 1st inning all of the time as they get their feel for the game. We see this constantly. It’s not unusual at all. Usually these aren’t accompanied by people declaring that a pitcher is done for all time. But it happens for Adam.
OK, there’s a lot of justification there actually. Some of it is just the ranting of the insane that take the phrase “what have you done for me lately” to mean the Cardinals and Adam should be making permanent decisions based upon the last 37 seconds. These are the people who have gone from “RELEASE FOWLER COMPLETELY” to “MOVE HIM BACK TO CENTER PERMANENTLY BECAUSE BADER IS A BUM.”
Let’s ignore the insane for a minute, shall we?
Adam hasn’t had an Adam season – or really even a decent season – since 2014, before his Achilles injury. He’s 37, it’s, uh, fair to question why anyone would think he can still compete at this level.
The Cardinals have missed the playoffs 3 years in a row by margins close enough that don’t exactly warrant giving a below average pitcher start after start in hopes of suddenly being effective.
Adam’s last start against the Mets was absolutely terrible, and it certainly looked like another one was coming down the pike.
So yes, it’s very fair to wonder if each good Adam start might be the last you see. Injury and ineffectiveness catch up to anyone, and a 37 year old that hasn’t been his former self than years is suspect number one for this happening soon.
But I’ll tell you my approach. So long as Adam is pitching, I’m going to appreciate every positive he gives us. Because, who you are watching, sans injuries, is a Hall of Fame player.
No, he’s not going to make the Hall. He may not get a single vote. But Adam had Hall of Fame talent, Hall of Fame competitiveness, and a Hall of Fame work ethic, with a body that couldn’t quite sustain that.
You’re watching someone special take the mound, and the number of times you have to do that is few at best, and Adam should be deeply appreciated.
The Adam of old is gone. The Adam that used to vary his pitching motion to confuse hitters is long behind us. The Adam that dazzled us every 5 days only exists in faded video. But that curve, he still snaps off that curve enough that 4 or 5 times a game it flashes you back and reminds you of what was – and what could have been.
It’s been so long since Adam was Adam, that I think people have forgotten how amazing he used to be. 2014 was a long time ago in baseball years, and he didn’t just fade away. His freaking heel snapped. That’s easily a career ender for most, but not when you work like Adam.
Here’s my point. Instead of worrying about the guy you don’t think has it anymore, look at him like a Hall of Famer at the end. Cherish every curve. Every scoreless inning. Because Adam was a Hall of Famer without the injuries.
OK, this part is going to seem silly to some, but I tried to imagine what a perfectly healthy Adam Wainwright would be over his career just to get a taste of what kind of numbers we’d be looking at had he stayed Nolan Ryan healthy throughout. My methodology sucks and is flawed, and could be rightfully argued a million ways, I get it, but one of my great “what ifs” involves Cooperstown plaques for the Wainos and Chris Carpenters of the world: Pitchers who were truly great enough, but fell short staying on the field.
What I did was pretty simple, because let’s face it, it’s worthless to dig deeper:
2008 I gave him back his 12 starts based upon how he was pitching that year.
2011 I gave him a full season based upon the previous 4 seasons, with weight on the more recent years.
2012 I did the same (Waino pitched a full year, but it was clearly a TJ recovery year) except I based the results heavily on how he actually did in 2012.
2015-2019 I did the same as 2012 to make sure there was plenty of decline for an aging pitcher.
Adam Wainwright is a career 150-87 pitcher with a 3.32 ERA, 1645 strike outs and 38.4 WAR. That’s an awesome career already.
Here is his career in my fantasy scenario:
That’s a Hall of Famer. Yeah, it’s silly. Reality is reality, and 20 minutes of contriving a best case scenario isn’t reality at all. But show this to someone 5 years ago and ask it this seems reasonable. This is at least more like Adam Wainwright in a better world that doesn’t rob him of his best years. It’s the one that fits my eyes before 5 years ago, it’s the one I cheer to see, still at 37, one last time.