There is no denying that Adam Wainwright, who is currently 39 years old, has had an amazing career, with an excellent 3.38 ERA and 41.3 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) in 2,169 1/3 innings, all with the St. Louis Cardinals.
He started his career as a valuable reliever, and became a fantastic starter for the redbirds, winning World Series and other accolades in the process.
That’s why, when Wainwright hit the open market this year, the expectation all along was for him to re-sign to stay and finish his career in St. Louis.
The Cardinals ended up inking him to a one-year, $8 million contract to pitch in the 2021 season, and he was never close to joining any other team.
Veteran right-hander Adam Wainwright, who ranks among St, Louis Cardinals' all-time leaders in several pitching categories, agreed to re-sign with the team for the 2021 season, according to multiple reports Thursday. https://t.co/NxX5XD7iBr
— Reuters Sports (@ReutersSports) January 29, 2021
He earned his payday by virtue of being lights out in 2020, with a 3.15 ERA and a 1.05 WHIP (walks and hits allowed per inning pitched.)
However, at his advanced age, it is fair to wonder: how good can Wainwright be for the Cards this season?
Expecting A Repeat Of Last Season’s Numbers Is Unfair
It’s fair to point out that Wainwright’s final numbers in 2020 were in a smaller sample size than the regular, normal 162-game campaign.
He did pitch well in 2020, but had four straight seasons of an ERA over 4.00, from 2016 to 2019.
Before 2016, he had opened his career with nine seasons of a sub-4.00 ERA.
If there is an encouraging sign in Wainwright’s profile, and the one that the Cardinals should hold onto as a token of hope, is the fact that the righty had his best swinging strike rate of his career in 2020, with a 10.9 mark.
It’s not a secret that a pitcher will have better numbers if he is able to get swinging strikes in bunches.
Swinging strike rate is what we get if we divide whiffs (swings and misses) by total pitches thrown.
Another crucial reason behind Wainwright’s 2020 success was his command.
Jumping ahead in the count is huge for a pitcher like him, without truly overpowering stuff, and he managed to do that to 67.6 percent of the batters last season, by far a career-high.
Wainwright also had his lowest BB/9 (walks conceded per nine innings) mark in five years last season, with 2.06.
Yet, he was also lucky in some aspects, like his abnormally low BABIP (batting average in balls in play) of .247.
Expecting the veteran pitcher to deliver another sub-3.20 ERA season over a full slate of games is probably not fair.
Adam Wainwright’s 2021 Outlook
So, what can the St. Louis Cardinals expect from Adam Wainwright this season?
Most projection systems are giving more weight to the past four or five years than the small sample of 2020.
THE BAT, ATC, Steamer, ZiPS, and Depth Charts, all famous projection systems, forecast an ERA over 4.00 for Waino.
It’s difficult for his body to endure the aches and pains of a long, grueling season, but there is still talent left in his right arm.
Even if he ends up having an ERA in the low-4.00s, he would be a useful piece in the Cardinals rotation.
That’s something he can do if he keeps the swinging strike gains he made in 2020, when he relied more on his cutter, slider and curveball and lowered the usage of his four-seam fastball.
Adam Wainwright, Curveball (Side view w/ Tail). pic.twitter.com/fa1tATwiyD
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) September 12, 2020