Will Adam Wainwright and Trevor Rosenthal return to their former dominance after disappointing St. Louis Cardinals’ 2016 seasons?
Adam Wainwright is a three-time All-Star. He led the staff in 2013 and 2014, hurling a combined 519 2/3 innings, postseason included. He posted a career-low 2.38 ERA in 2014 and earned the All-Star start on the mound. In 2015 he got off to a great start, but tore his left Achilles tendon in April and didn’t return until late September when he was limited to a bullpen role.
He returned to the rotation in 2016 and had his worst statistical season as a big-leaguer, finishing 13-9 with a 4.62 ERA. He allowed the most hits and earned runs of any qualified National League starter. The former staff ace showed flashes of brilliance, but at the end of the season, it was a frustrating and disappointing year.
Wainwright vows he’ll be back in 2017. That hasn’t translated into results on the mound so far this spring. In four starts, he’s allowed fourteen runs in 10 2/3 innings. Opposing hitters are hitting him at a .395 rate in Grapefruit League play.
The question at hand regarding Waino is this: how much of his 2016 performance should be attributed to his injury the previous season, and how much of his performance should be attributed to a decline as he nears the twilight of his career?
He’s 35 years old and the organization has some exciting young talent in its system. His contract expires at the end of the 2018 season. The writing may soon be on the wall for Wainwright.
That could all change, though, with a rebound performance in 2017. I’m bullish on what he can accomplish this season. Believe it or not, he’s only pitched seven full major league seasons in a starting rotation. He should have plenty of innings left in his arm.
He’s still got a five pitch mix, and he had a revelation earlier this spring when he rediscovered the correct grip on his signature curveball. Maybe Wainwright won’t be the best pitcher on the Cardinals’ staff anymore, but he can still be a good one. Let’s see how his regular season starts before proclaiming the end of his career has arrived.
In five big-league seasons, Trevor Rosenthal already has 110 career saves. He was an All-Star in 2015 when he set the franchise’s single-season saves record with forty-eight. He features a fastball that reaches triple-digits, and he’s been absolutely lights-out in the postseason (0.69 ERA in twenty-three games, forty-two strikeouts in twenty-six innings).
Rosenthal entered the 2016 season entrenched at the Cardinals’ back end of the bullpen. He couldn’t repeat the dominance of his previous three seasons, though, and was removed from the closer’s role as the summer began. At the end of the season, he had fourteen saves and a 4.46 ERA in 40 1/3 innings. He allowed nearly two baserunners per inning pitched.
He also ended the season without a clear role in 2017. This spring, he’s made one start, but lat issues slowed him down at the beginning of camp and he’ll begin the year in the bullpen again.
He’s likely to begin the year in a multi-inning relief role that could translate into a high-leverage swing man role, the position we saw Andrew Miller in for the Cleveland Indians during the 2016 postseason.
Rosenthal’s success in whatever role he assumes will hinge on his ability to command his pitches and keep runners of base. It seems so obvious, but his inability to get ahead in counts and his high walk rate were his undoing last season.
Rosenthal has the potential to be a big-time player in the St. Louis bullpen this season. If he returns to All-Star form, he could be a key piece in the Cardinals’ ability to shorten games and bridge leads to his successor, closer Seung-Hwan Oh.