Wainwright Belongs in Rotation


Rewinding the events of the St. Louis Cardinals home opener which began with the parade of Hall of Famers and then the early exit of Adam Wainwright, I couldn’t help but wonder how social media would’ve treated Bob Gibson the final two years of his career?

One of baseball’s greatest pitchers and arguably the best hurler to ever wear a Cardinals uniform, Gibson went 14-23 in 47 starts during his last two seasons. That was in 1974 and ’75, long before we had the platforms to instantly vent our frustrations on the internet.

But was there the same kind of talk in the seats then that we see online now? That Gibson should be banished to the bullpen. Or just quit pitching. Stop blocking the kids. He hasn’t been the same for years now–was this the conversation at Busch in those seasons?

Just to be clear, no one is trying to make the argument that Adam Wainwright is Bob Gibson.

And there is no argument being made that the St. Louis Cardinals should just let Wainwright stay in the rotation all season win or lose, good games or bad games.

But there is an argument to be made that at least a pause should be taken before any decisions are made about taking Wainwright out of the rotation after just one start.

Allow me to pose a question for those wanting a change right now–if Adam Wainwright had thrown seven innings of shutout baseball in the opener would it have convinced you he was back to Cy Young form for the rest of the season? Or would you have appreciated the game, but reserved your judgment until he had a couple more starts under his belt?

But the counter argument screams ‘this wasn’t just one game, look at his last couple of seasons’.

True. And Wainwright was very clear at the Winter Warm-Up that it’s unacceptable for him to be mediocre. By his own expectations, the team, and the fans. No arguments there.

And so this off-season, Wainwright worked to put himself into a position to succeed and his performance this spring reflected that. Not that his 0.84 ERA tells the whole story, but it’s a partial reflection of good results–certainly good enough results to warrant more than just one start in the rotation.

‘But he only went 3.2 innings against Arizona’, you counter?

Well, take a look at the first outing for the entire Cardinals rotation this season:

Wainwright- 3.2 IP, 4 hits, 3 ER, 4 BB/1 IBB, 3 Ks, 89/50 strikes
Carlos- 4.1 IP, 4 hits, 5 runs/4 ER, 6 BB, 5 Ks, 90/54
Wacha- 4.2 IP, 5 hits, 4 ER, 2 BB, 2 Ks, 2 HRs, 95/52
Flaherty 5.0 IP, 6 h, 1 ER, BB, 9 Ks, 91/57
Weaver 5.0 IP, 5 h, 1 ER, 3 BB, 3 Ks, 92/50
Mikolas 5.2 IP, 7 h, 4 ER, 5 Ks, 3 HRs, 91/64

Not exactly the line expected to be the norm this season. The numbers don’t mean that Wainwright will bounce back the same way as Martinez and certainly unlike Flaherty and Weaver, he has Father Time looking over his shoulder, but it does point out that none of the starters were able to deliver at least six innings the first go-round.

‘What about the velocity?’ Online metrics that showed Wainwright’s velocity dropped each inning were feverishly retweeted last night as evidence for his removal.

“Velocity can be deceiving,” reminded Mike Matheny postgame. “You watch Carlos out there–we know that he can throw 99. We watched him throw most of the game in the low 90s, even dropping down into the 80s at times to put even more movement on. That’s the first thing we see, especially if they’re having trouble locating. Harder isn’t usually better. It’s what do I have to do to establish the strike zone with the fastball.”

“As soon as I started getting out of whack, I tried to tone it back a bit and get it back on the plate,” echoed Wainwright. “When you do that, your stuff is not as good and I wasn’t locating it. When I did that, I probably should’ve just gone back to the way I was pitching early. Some things to work on. There’s some things that we saw on the tape that’s very obvious–quick fixes.”

A quick visit to FanGraphs shows that Wainwright wasn’t that far off of his average velocity of 2014. He went 20-9 that season and averaged 91.2mph with his four-seam fastball. Even with the decrease during the opener, Wainwright had an overall average of 90.0mph.

“People want maybe to see that velocity,” offered Matheny. “You watch a guy like Adam who will respond and say, look what I still have. I don’t necessarily need to use that all the time, but it’s in there. I think if he would have been able to establish the fastball in the strike zone early, you would’ve seen more of those elevated and that highest velocity still there.”

More so than any velocity issues, Wainwright pointed to the lack of sink as being the most problematic with his outing.

“Every time I tried to throw a sinker tonight after the 1st inning, I just got underneath,” he said. “I was getting underneath most of my stuff as the game wore on and wasn’t making the good adjustments as often as I needed to. Pretty much the only pitch I was throwing for strikes was my curveball, at times.”

So back to the issue at hand–should Wainwright stay in the rotation?

Absolutely.

Will he stay there?

Who knows?

That will be decided by his performance–as it should be. But one game, especially the first of the season, should not be the only barometer to make such a decision.

photo credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports, Brian Stull/STLBaseballWeekly.com

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