PSA: St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Adam Wainwright is going to throw off a mound this week.
While in past years that would be met with the sound of joy, today the idea just makes me queasy. Wainwright turned 36 a little less than two weeks ago, and isn't exactly a solid bet to produce in the rotation these days. While I wrote yesterday that Yadier Molina is fighting back Father Time, Wainwright is slowly getting overwhelmed by it.
A man who once put up a 2.30 ERA and won 18 games like the sun rising in the east is now subject to unpredictable outcomes on a pitching mound-and in return, the old school baseball lovers and new wave staticians are colliding.
On one hand, Wainwright has 12 wins, but he also owns a 5.12 earned run average. He has put up game scores of 60+ on six occasions, but there are more than a few scores in the 30s and even one in the 20s. He's a roller coaster ride of expectations, an old lion trying to hunt one last time.
Just look at his month to month ERA this season:
Wainwright pitched hurt in two of those August starts, miraculously collecting a win over the Atlanta Braves while firing 83 mph heaters at professional hitters. He's a work in progress at an old age with an unknown amount of bullets left in the chamber. Not that he doesn't keep fans and writers guessing.
After a truly disastrous start to the season, Wainwright fired off four consecutive solid starts before getting clubbed by Cincinnati on June 6. After June knocked him down, Wainwright got back up and fought back in July. August wasn't that kind, but he was hurting.
Here's the painful fact about Wainwright and the Cardinals: He's scheduled to make $19.5 million next season, but if he is allowed to start, the Cardinals are doing themselves a disservice. After stating that trading Mike Leake to Seattle was an effort to get younger in the rotation, retaining Waino in the group would be hypocritical and quite comical. I mean, Leake is 29 years old and Wainwright is 36.
What about this season? As tired as he looked in San Diego, I'd like to see what Jack Flaherty has down the stretch. He has shown an ability to strike Major League batters out and that's a plus for a team needing as many fresh arms as they can get.
Also, Wainwright hasn't thrown a baseball off a mount during a game since August 17. Without games to waste in a suddenly exciting playoff race, do the Cardinals really want to send a cold Wainwright to the mound after nearly a month off? Is that the right way to play it at the moment?
I suppose you could throw him on the mound at Busch Stadium-where he's enjoyed steady success this season-in one of these games down the stretch, but more than likely, you'd need 3-4 relievers to finish the game.
Here are the facts: Wainwright's statistics show a pitcher trending in the wrong direction. After a 4.62 ERA and 1.40 WHIP last season, his ERA has risen to 5.12 and the WHIP is up to 1.49. Opposing batters are still reaching him for a .284 average. He hasn't struck out more than three batters in a game since July 8 and hasn't gone seven innings in six of his last seven starts.
Please don't throw the "wait, he's a great leader" speech at me. Veterans can be leaders and not derail their team's hopes in the process. Just look back to the guy that Wainwright once replaced in a role: Jason Isringhausen. Back in 2006, Isringhausen more than agreed with Wainwright taking over the closer role due to ineffectiveness. Izzy's hip was in deteriorating and his performance was lacking, so he handed the ball over. Wainwright is one of the best team guys in the sport and can lead by example by knowing what he can and can't do.
For example, Wainwright shouldn't find himself anywhere near a postseason start if the Cards reach October. Carlos Martinez, Luke Weaver, Lance Lynn, and Michael Wacha all give the team a better shot.
Could Wainwright function as a reliever? Depends, but when he hasn't had it early, teams have pounced, so you would be rolling the dice.
This isn't easy to write, because I want to quietly be proven wrong. Back in May, I was one of many stating the Cardinals needed to make a change. Then Wainwright turned back the clock and beat the Cubs and Rockies. When he flatlined in June, I stated it was time again. Then July happened. Can Wainwright prove the doubters wrong again? I doubt it.
If the division lead is up for grabs in Wrigley or at home against the Cubs, do you want Wainwright on the mound?
Is Wainwright's career over? I won't go that far. But it's safe to assume that the Achilles Heel injury played a strong part in Wainwright's demise. Pitchers don't just bounce back from that injury the way they do from Tommy John surgery. It's a complicated procedure and recovery that eats up careers. Since the beginning of the 2014 season, Wainwright has produced 2.0 wins above replacement in 60 starts. That's not good.
Paying Wainwright next season is a given. Like Chris Carpenter, Wainwright produced such a bargain early on in his six year contract that the last few years of duds is digestible. That doesn't mean starting him is required.
If the Cardinals are striving for the kind of consistency off the field that they aspire to on it, stick with the young guns method. Young guys kept you in the race this season, so stay with their arms until the end.
Relying on Adam Wainwright to make one more comeback as a successful pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals is futile and simply not wise.
But please, Mr. Wainwright, prove me wrong again. I dare you. Heck, I double dare you, #50.
Whether I like it or not, I do believe Wainwright will get to "say when".
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