St. Louis Cardinals: Wainwright needs to knuckle down

CHICAGO, IL - JULY 22: Adam Wainwright
CHICAGO, IL - JULY 22: Adam Wainwright /

After Adam Wainwright’s recent slowball outing, my friend Karl, only half jokingly, said that the St. Louis Cardinals pitcher should consider becoming a knuckleballer.  I think he has nailed it.

Since joining the St. Louis Cardinals in the now-legendary trade for disgruntled outfielder J.D. Drew after the 2003 season, Adam Wainwright has become a significant piece of Cardinal lore.

From his powerful arm to his twelve-to-six curveball — the latter immortalized in his NLCS-ending freeze of Carlos Beltran, a game at which a famous guest was present  — to his role as principal team jokester, Adam has been an essential face of the Cards.

The travails of the last couple seasons, however, are starting to suggest his conventional means of getting opposing batters out are waning. Whether from injury (with another one now befalling him) or age, Waino’s velocity has slipped enormously, and his consistency has failed him, the result being huge swings in results.

But one thing we know is — and you hear the analogous phrase all the time relative to football — he’s a ” baseball player.” He knows the game, he’s otherwise in fine shape, he is a master strategist on the mound, and as anyone who’s been a Cards fan for any length of time knows, he can handle the bat with aplomb.

More from St Louis Cardinals News

So with virtually every attribute in his favor, but the ability of his arm to bring it like he used to, what would he have to lose in trying to go the knuckle route?

As we know, knucklers can pitch virtually forever, and many of them have lacked the physical gravitas that Waino possesses.

Those who remember the White Sox’s Wilbur Wood — he of the legendary two-wins-in-one-day — was about as fit as the guy in your uncle’s beer-bowling league.  (Wood, BTW, had a career record of 156-57 with a 3.24 ERA.)

Adam is hardly that. He’s in tremendous shape, he runs well, fields his position smartly, and as noted, hits with the best of hurlers. There would be nothing at all stopping him from pitching into his forties.

Of course, the knuckler is not for everyone, and not everyone can convert to success with it; if that were the case, we’d have shlubs like me offering their services to MLB teams. Well, not me, because I can’t throw that doggone thing.

But the longevity of those who master the pitch is undeniable. R.A. Dickey reimagined and extended his career as a result of it.  The immortal Phil Niekro lasted until age 48.

Waino’s been written off before and he has proven his doubters wrong with strong stretches, even this year. It may be he’ll return from his current DL stretch with renewed velocity and look like at least eighty percent of the Adam of old (though no one, including him, is expecting regular runs of 95 mph fastballs anymore).

If for whatever reason he can’t, however, that knuckle option looks like one to consider. He’d be awfully potent if he could combine a dependable floater with even an 85 mph warmer (because it’s not a heater at that speed) and the legendary  up-and-down curveball that.

Next: Cards waiver arm ideas

From a Facebook post by my friend Karl to God’s ears, may Waino find a new weapon that will extend his career. He’s become a staple of Cardinal lore, and I for one am not ready to lose him.