Why Adam Wainwright is the St. Louis Cardinals’ MVP

As the St. Louis Cardinals pursue a wild card playoff spot, they’re being led by a 40-year-old pitcher who is arguably the team’s MVP.

Heading into Tuesday night’s games, the St. Louis Cardinals sit a half game back of the Cincinnati Reds for the National League’s second wild card spot. They’ve gotten there largely on the back – and arm – of Adam Wainwright, who celebrated his 40th birthday on Aug. 30.

Certainly, Nolan Arenado has been a big factor with timely hitting, including 31 home runs to date, many of which have been key blows in crucial games. Paul Goldschmidt has turned it on, too, ripping 25 homers himself and posting a 133 OPS+. And Tyler O’Neill has topped them both in that latter stat, putting up a 140 OPS+ while matching Goldschmidt’s long ball total.

That the Cardinals are finally receiving some good offensive performances late in the year is a much-needed development as they duke it out with Cincinnati, San Diego, Philadelphia and the New York Mets for the NL’s final playoff spot.  But there’s been a clear-cut leader of the team, a savior all season long when the Redbirds have needed to right the ship.

The value of pitcher wins has diminished as advanced metrics have found other ways to evaluate players and as starters throw fewer and fewer innings. However, it’s difficult to quantify the value of a hurler who takes the mound every fifth day and averages over 6-1/2 innings, saving not only wear on the bullpen but ending losing streaks and bringing fading postseason hopes back to life.

Wainwright has done that time and again, making 29 starts to date, compiling 190.1 innings with a 2.88 ERA and winning 16 games, which ranks second in baseball behind the Dodgers’ Julio Urias (17 wins), who pitches for a team that has 18 more victories than the Cardinals.

It seemed like Wainwright was at the end of the line a half-decade ago when his 13-9 and 12-5 records in 2016 and ’17 masked ERAs of 4.62 and 5.11, respectively.  However, since then, he has dropped his ERA every year: 4.46 in 2018, 4.19 in ’19, 3.15 in a shortened ’20 season, and now 2.88 this year.

How does Wainwright do it?  It’s not a dominant fastball, as 90 MPH is not something the radar gun flashes often when he’s on the mound.  But his legendary curveball is about as good as ever.  And of course, he’s working in tandem with his battery mate of over 300 starts, Yadier Molina.  They practically share a mind these days as they work together to carve through opposing lineups like a couple of surgeons.

Some day in the near future, and probably sooner than we all hope, Wainwright will pitch his final game for the Cardinals.  But until then, he’s the leader of the team on its improbable surge toward the playoffs.