Adam Wainwright has been a pillar in the St. Louis Cardinals rotation for years, but his performance in 2021 may be his best work yet.
Adam Wainwright has been a foundational piece in the St. Louis Cardinals rotation for almost two decades. But the argument can, and is starting to be made, that what he is doing in his 16th season is the most impressive work of his career.
Wainwright, 40, has a 2.97 ERA in 26 starts. He hasn’t had an ERA that low in a full season since 2014. He has a 155/40 strikeout-to-walk ratio while his 169.2 innings pitched are second most in baseball. His 13 wins are third. His 7.16 hits-per-nine innings are eighth. He is tied for the MLB lead with three complete games.
A reminder: Wainwright is 40. His season warrants MVP consideration, Mike Petriello of MLB.com says, because he has defied the odds and is pitching like an ace when most pitchers are on a steep decline at this stage of their careers. Petriello’s story, which digs deep into what went into Wainwright’s breakout, is well worth your time.
Now, it should be noted that Wainwright will not win the Cy Young Award. That honor will go to Walker Buehler, Corbin Burnes or Zack Wheeler. But that Wainwright is even in this conversation underscores just how impressive his season has been when there were signs his career was coming to an end, with six separate IL stints from 2015 and 2018 and no guarantees that he would be given a spot in the rotation.
Wainwright deserves all the credit for getting to this point. He’s switched his workout and dietary routines. He’s refined his pitching arsenal. But he is finally benefiting from very strong defense behind him, with Gold Glove defenders Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt in the corner infields, and well above-average defenders Tyler O’Neill and Harrison Bader in the outfield.
That, of course, plays favorably to a pitcher who pitches to contact. It’s fueled what has been baseball’s most impressive and perhaps most improbable breakout in what has kept the Cardinals in the playoff hunt despite a disappointing season in many ways.
It hasn’t just earned Wainwright another contract with the Cardinals. It’s earned him the right to be in the conversation as one of the best pitchers in baseball just days after his 40th birthday.