Baseball has changed since Adam Wainwrigt debuted with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2005, but the 6-foot-7 starter offers plenty of optimism heading into his eleventh season.
As the owner of 121 wins, two gold gloves and a 2.98 ERA over 10 seasons, Adam Wainwright has built a strong track record with St. Louis when healthy. The 34 year-old’s experience arguably makes him the most valuable St. Louis Cardinals’ pitcher of the 21st century, as he is expected to make his fourth straight Opening Day start on April 3, 2016 against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
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Such accomplishments lead to high expectations in 2016 for Wainwright, despite the fact that he missed over five months of the 2015 regular season with an Achilles injury. In the midst of his five-year, $97.5 million contract, Wainwright’s progression will prove critical in the Cardinals’ mission for a fourth straight division title.
Since Wainwright projects to be the oldest member of the Cardinals’ rotation, one personal goal could be reaching the 200 innings mark he had most recently eclipsed in 2014. Not only would this level of production provide ample opportunities for the bullpen to rest, but also could help St. Louis monitor the workload of other rotation commodities, such as Jaime Garcia and Carlos Martinez.
Much of Wainwright’s sustained success has came with his curveball, a breaking pitch that has given him nearly half (47.1 percent) of his career strikeouts. By regaining confidence in his off-speed delivery, Wainwright can control the strike zone to manipulate the weaknesses of hitters that primarily produce on fastballs.
Furthermore, Wainwright’s craft allows him to thrive in situations that may not be evident within the approach of previous Cy Young award recipients. Between the start of 2014 and his injury-shortened 2015 campaign, Wainwright forced only one less double play (26) than Clayton Kershaw and matched Jake Arrieta‘s amount of quality starts (29) from last season.
Familiarity could also help Wainwright succeed in frequent action against the National League Central, considering his 43-30 career record against division opponents. He has never surrendered more than a pair of home runs to any individual opponent currently in the division, limiting damage against power-hittting threats in the likes of Anthony Rizzo, Andrew McCutchen and Ryan Braun.
Wainwright’s postseason background could help the Cardinals execute under late season pressure, most notably recalled when he struck out Carlos Beltran in the 2006 NLCS to move St. Louis in a position to claim their tenth World Series title. Although he transitioned to St. Louis’s bullpen following an unexpected recovery, Wainwright demonstrated efficiency in the NLDS (11.1 pitches/inning) that could prove vital for another late-season surge.
Personal accomplishments may be hard for Wainwright to reach, but he could realistically obtain 1500 strikeouts or the sixth-most wins in Cardinals history (135) if his performance remains on par with recent seasons. While Adam Wainwright’s age may remain a concern to critics, a healthy 2016 campaign could help the veteran reestablish himself as one of the most underrated pitchers in baseball.