In a story first reported by STLtoday baseball writer Derrick Goold, Adam Wainwright is returning to the Cardinals in 2023 for his 18th season with the franchise.
Here are three reactions.
The opinion that you’ll dislike is listed at No. 3, in the bottom part of the column.
1) Wainwright’s longevity is remarkable. When Waino officially goes to work for the Cardinals in 2023, he’ll be in exclusive company. In the history of major-league baseball only five pitchers have performed for one team – and one MLB team only – for more seasons than Wainwright as a Cardinal.
– Walter Johnson, 21 seasons, Washington Senators.
– Red Faber, 20 seasons, White Sox.
– Mel Harder, 20 seasons with the Indians/Guardians.
– Jim Palmer, 19 seasons, Orioles.
– Mariano Rivera, 19 seasons, Yankees.
Next are Wainwright and Bob Feller (Indians/Guardians) with 18. And Waino already is the longest-tenured, Cardinals-exclusive pitcher, having moved ahead of Bob Gibson (17 seasons) in 2022.
The constancy of Wainwright’s St. Louis career deserves maximum respect and admiration. True, he’s missed significant time with injuries. There was elbow surgery in 2011, a torn achilles in 2015, and more elbow miseries in 2017 and 2018. But the injuries were mere interruptions and not his fault. And the lost time doesn’t detract from Wainwright’s prominence as a Cardinal. His career is even more impressive because of the setbacks and adversity he endured. He made a series of strong comebacks to resume his important role as the team’s No. 1 starter. He’s the second-best starting pitcher in franchise history. And that’s saying a lot because historically this is one of the great franchises in professional sports.
2) Cardinals fans have another Hero Tour to enjoy and embrace. This season it was the Farewell Tour for Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina. Even though he hadn’t made plans to retire, Wainwright was the third-man in on the Pujols-Molina goodbye. In 2023, the Hero Tour is his alone – the attention, the accolades, the celebrations. He’ll love it. The fans will too. And Cardinals ownership will love it, because Waino is fantastic for business.
– The ‘23 season will give Wainwright the opportunity to reach several milestones, and that’s meaningful to him. He needs five individual-pitching wins to attain 200 for his MLB career and strengthen his resume as a candidate for the Baseball Hall of Fame. Since 1900 only 98 big-league pitchers have amassed 200 career wins. In the post-expansion era (1961-present) only 51 have notched 200 wins. And since Wainwright broke into the majors in 2005, the only pitchers to stack 200 wins are Justin Verlander (244), Zack Greinke (215), Max Scherzer (201) and Jon Lester (200.) CC Sabathia had 197 victories at retirement. Among active MLB starters, Clayton Kershaw (197) and Waino are on the cusp of 200.
– Wainwright already is second to Bob Gibson for most strikeouts in franchise history and won’t catch Gibby. But there are other goals to grab. Waino ranks third in franchise history for pitcher wins (195) and needs 16 more to move ahead of Jesse “Pop” Haines (210) and into second place behind Gibson (251.)
– With 91 and ⅓ innings, Wainwright will surpass Bob Forsch and go into third place for most innings pitched in franchise history. (Forsch has 2,658 and ⅓.) Gibson and Haines rank No. 1 and No. 2 and on the innings list and Waino isn’t within range of catching them. No chance.
– With 12 more starts, Wainwright would have 402 in his career, one ahead of Forsch and in the No. 2 spot behind Gibson (482.)
– Grover “Pete” Alexander holds the franchise record for most wins by a pitcher age 40 or older. Next in line are Haines (20), Jim Kaat (19) and Wainwright (11.) Obviously, it wouldn’t be a big leap for Waino to move into second place on that list.
I’m sure there are other milestones out there for Wainwright, but I just wanted to mention a few that I’m aware of.
3) Pardon my pragmatism, but I don’t know what to expect from Wainwright in 2023. I have some doubts … or at least more than I used to. Will he be viable from start to finish? Will he be good? Will he continue to decline? These are the questions that must be asked when a 41–year-old pitcher is about to go into his 18th MLB season. Wainwright’s Hero Tour will be warm and wonderful and more than enough for a large percentage of the fan base. But what about performance? What about winning as many games as possible? Does it matter? Well, it should.
This season, his age 40 season, Wainwright showed clear signs of decline. It’s something that I wrote about on several occasions. Here’s a quick review: He had his lowest strikeout rate (17.8%) since his injury-impacted 2017 season. His swinging-strike rate (6.7%) was a career low. The contact rate against him (84.5%) was his career high, as in worst. The contact rate against him on strikes (91%) was the second-highest (as in worst) of his career. Same with his 43.2 percent ground-ball rate. And his fastball velocity (88.1 mph) was the lowest of his career.
Based on his strikeout-walk ratio and the quality of contact against him in 2022, Wainwright had an expected ERA of 4.53. In Waino’s first 15 starts of ‘22, the Cardinals had a record of 10-5. In his last 17 starts of the regular season, the Cards had a record of 7-10.
Say this for Waino: he is a reliable supplier of innings, and there’s obvious value in that. Other parts of his profile are problematic for a pitcher who will turn 42 years old late in the ‘23 season. Wainwright has an abundance of guile and is probably the most resourceful pitcher in the majors at finding ways to trick and befuddle hitters to get outs. But with his “stuff” eroding, how much longer can Wainwright keep doing the magic act?
In 2022 he had a 3.09 ERA in 26 starts through the end of August. But in his last six starts of the regular season Wainwright was extremely vulnerable, getting smoked for a 7.22 ERA. Opponents batted .358 with a .869 OPS against him over the six outings.
Wainwright later attributed the poor performance to a delivery glitch – a short stride – caused by getting struck on the leg by a batted ball in late August. Sorry, but I’m a bit skeptical of that. I hope he’s right about the faulty-delivery theory. We’ll know a lot more when Wainwright begins competing in the 2023 regular season.
I do know this: the Cardinals must strengthen their starting pitching by adding a top-of-the-rotation talent – plus more strikeout pop. They have too many No. 3 starter types, and their starters ranked 24th in the majors with a strikeout rate of 18.5%.
Jose Quintana was the team’s best starting pitcher down the stretch, and pitched brilliantly in his Game 1 start against the Phillies. He can become a free agent. With Wainwright coming back, Quintana is highly unlikely to return. (Not that the Cardinals prefer to have three lefties in the rotation, anyway.)
For now, here are the first set of (six) starters in the mix for 2023: Miles Mikolas, Wainwright, Steven Matz, Jack Flaherty, Jordan Montgomery and Dakota Hudson. That’s workable, and decent … but hardly imposing. With Wainwright slotted in the rotation again for 2023, the Cardinals presumably will have less payroll space to work with. And that probably will limit their pursuit of a top-level starter. The Hero Tour is a guaranteed financial success. But will it make the Cardinals a more successful team in 2023?
Thanks for reading …
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All stats used here were sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant, Brooks Baseball Net and Spotrac.
For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.
While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.
Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.