Since his recovery from a ruptured Achilles Tendon, Wainwright has lost his ace-like stature. Having posted a 4.57 ERA this season, is there any chance we will every see Wainwright regain his dominant form?
An achilles tendon injury is one of the worst an athlete can experience. In the NFL, around 37% of players who rupture their achilles never play another minute in a game (1). In the NBA, the same trend is evident; of 18 players who tore their achilles from 1992 to 2012, seven of them never saw another minute of action. Even for athletes who undergo “full” recoveries, those who attempt to come back from the brutal injury usually perform worse than they had previously.
Before Wainwright’s injury in 2015, he was looking absolutely dominant.
Coming out of a 20-9, 2.38 ERA season in 2014, Wainwright looked even better in the few games he pitched during 2015 season—where he posted a 1.61 ERA. That’s what made the injury even more distressing. Well that and the fact that the injury didn’t occur on the mound, but instead while he was with a bat in his hands. There’s actually something quite ironic about the fact that Wainwright got injured at the plate. This season he’s posting better offensive numbers than former Cardinal Jason Heyward.
.224/.250/.483, 89 wRC+
.232/.305/.325, 71 wRC+
Top is Adam Wainwright, bottom is Jason Heyward. #STLCards
— CardsBlog.com (@cardsblog) September 21, 2016
Wainwright’s bat may have some contribution towards his somewhat unexpected winning record of 11-9, but his abysmal ERA of 4.57 is a far away from the number we’re used to seeing.
In last night’s game, Wainwright struggled once again. Sure he had a huge lead, thanks in part to his 2-2 night at the plate, but posting 4 earned runs in only 5.1 innings of work isn’t something to be proud of, even if it did occur in the Mile High City. It for sure isn’t a promising thing for a team in a tight playoff race. In a race where every game matters, it’s fantastic that the Cardinals got a win, but going forward, Wainwright needs to do better. He can’t expect his team to score ten or more runs every time he makes his start.
The question becomes can Wainwright step it back up before and/or during this season’s playoffs.
Unfortunately, Wainwright has two pretty big things against him: his achilles injury and his age. Although I don’t think it’s possible for him to return to the form he possessed during the 2014 and 2015 seasons because of these factors, I do think it is possible for him to pitch better. Significantly better.
The possibility of this can be reaffirmed by a string of starts Wainwright had in the middle of the season. In four consecutive starts, Wainwright went an average of 7.1 innings, posting ERAs of 0.00, 1.29, 0.00, and 3.00 in that order. Additionally, one of those games was a complete game shutout.
It’s been wonderful. I remember I was at work when he called and told me that he was getting traded to St. Louis. I actually work with quite a bit of people who are from the St. Louis area and they are all Cardinals fan, so they were pretty excited.
However, since then, Wainwright has done pretty poorly—posting an ERA of 5.43. Unfortunately, it’s kind of hard to expect a guy who has posted such bad numbers in the second half to suddenly reproach an ace-like nature right in time for the most important time of the year.
The good news here, if you subscribe to theory of “clutchness”, is that Wainwright is a veteran. As such, he’s had a ton of experience in the playoffs and high pressure situations. As the stakes become higher, Wainwright’s experience is something that could become a factor. Although Wainwright has a 4-4 record in previous postseasons, every postseason is different. Everything seems to reset in this time of the year; regular season records matter less, regular season batting averages are irrelevant, and a pitcher’s regular season ERA means little.
So do I think Wainwright will ever be in the form he once was?
No, at least not consistently. He could very easily have an amazing postseason if the Cardinals make it, but to say that Wainwright could ever routinely post a 2.00 or 2.50 ERA ever again is extremely over zealous.
(1) Parekh SG, Wray WH, Brimmo O, et al. Epidemiology and outcomes of Achilles tendon ruptures in the National Football League. Presented at American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons 73rd Annual Meeting, Chicago, March 2006.
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