Adam Wainwright has been nothing short of dominant for the St. Louis Cardinals this season. Has he been good enough to win his first Cy Young in 2021?
The St. Louis Cardinals have won 10 of the last 11 starts by Adam Wainwright, the National League Pitcher of the Month in August. There’s no question that he has kept the Cardinals in the playoff race, but after this recent stretch of dominating performances, it’s worth asking if he has put himself in the conversation for the NL Cy Young.
I’ve written plenty on how great Wainwright has been this year, but let’s take a look at how this season compares to Wainwright’s best years. Statistically, his best seasons were in 2009, 2010, 2013 and 2014. He finished in the top three of Cy Young voting each of those seasons. He led the league in innings pitched twice, always with at least 227 innings thrown. His ERA was between 2.38 and 2.94. And his WAR was above 6.0 each season as well.
Wainwright is 24th all-time in Cy Young voting shares – the highest total for a player who hasn’t won. Is 2021 the year that the all-time Cardinal great gets recognized?
This year, Wainwright has thrown 190 innings. While he is on pace to finish with just under the 227-inning mark of his best years, the way the game has changed in 2021 has put him in second place in the entire MLB for innings pitched. He’s behind only Zack Wheeler in this category.
Wainwright currently holds an ERA of 2.88. This is right in line with his best Cy Young finishes, coming in as his fourth best full-season. He places eighth in the National League, but if the Cardinals knock around Marcus Stroman (2.87 ERA) on Tuesday night, Wainwright would move up to seventh.
In terms of WAR, Baseball Reference has Waino at 3.5. This is considerably lower than his Cy Young-level years of the past, but with a few starts left in the season, it is still the highest number he’s reached outside of ‘09, ‘10, ‘13, and ‘14. In the NL, Wainwright is the 14th ranked pitcher.
Looking at how Adam Wainwright measures up in other categories is revealing. He ranks 11th in ERA+, 9th in WHIP, and 12th in FIP. With his remarkable season at age 40, Wainwright is definitely garnering consideration for the Cy Young this season.
With the exception of 2009, each of Wainwright’s best Cy Young seasons have come during historical campaigns from his competition. In 2010, Roy Halladay was a unanimous selection as the most dominant starter in baseball. In 2013, Clayton Kershaw won with an incredible 1.83 ERA. And in 2014, Kershaw was a unanimous pick, posting perhaps his most best season ever.
In 2009, Wainwright finished third in the Cy Young voting behind St. Louis Cardinals teammate Chris Carpenter and winner Tim Lincecum, despite receiving the most first-place votes. It was the first time the pitcher with the most first-place votes had failed to win the award. A very different situation than his other best seasons, but Wainwright still missed out.
There’s no question that Wainwright has been dominant this season. So, is 2021 more like 2010, 2013, and 2014, where he will fall short to a Hall of Famer? Or is this 2009, where it will come right down to the wire?
Unfortunately for Wainwright, it looks like he’ll once again be up against the odds. There is a case for Zack Wheeler and Corbin Burnes, but no one has been as dominant as Max Scherzer. He either leads the league or is top five in ERA, WAR, WHIP, ERA+, and FIP, and he is on one of the best teams in baseball. Scherzer is otherworldly, and it just seems impossible that anyone else will beat him out for his fourth Cy Young.
All this being said, nothing will take away from how great the Cardinals legend has been in 2021. This is one of his best years ever, and even if Adam Wainwright doesn’t win the Cy Young, his performance deserves to be recognized.