Ageless Adam Wainwright.
Awesome Adam Wainwright.
Adam Bloomin’ Wainwright.
He’s 39, going on 40, going all Bob Gibson, still going stronger than oodles of young starting pitchers who can’t match his endurance, his brain, his stuff, his competitiveness, his resourcefulness. And he’s having more fun than any of ‘em. He’s still crazy — as in crazy good — after all of these years.
Wednesday night in Pittsburgh, Wainwright gave the Cardinals, their fans and major-league baseball a stunning tour de force in his team’s 4-0 victory over the Pirates.
By now you know the details but let’s roll them around our heads again: A two-hit shutout requiring only 88 pitches.
A gorgeous rendering that bedazzled the Pittsburgh hitters as he breezed through the lineup and waltzed through the evening. There were no walks and seven strikeouts as Wainwright faced only one batter over the minimum 27.
A complete-game shutout with fewer than 100 pitches is called a “Maddux.” It was that, and more. This was a master work.
And as if to remind everyone in the place that he was the boss, Wainwright picked up a bat and trudgeoned the Pirates with his offense. Wainwright had two hits — the exact number collected by the 12 different Pirates that combined for 28 plate appearances against him.
Wainwright drove in a run and refused to allow a run. That resulted in another type of scoreboard: Wainwright 1, Pirates 0.
With the double, Waino topped the Pirates in extra-base hits, 1-0.
Wainwright’s double and single gave him three total bases as a hitter; as a team the Pirates had only two. According to “Scoops” impresario and TV star Dan McLaughlin, the last time the Cards had a pitcher hit for more total bases than the opposing team’s hitters in a game was Murry Dickson vs. the Cubs on Aug. 19, 1956.
This from STATS: since 1988, the first year that pitches were officially tracked, Wainwright is the only MLB starter to throw a shutout with fewer than 90 pitches while also producing two hits and an RBI at the plate.
Waino’s 11 shutouts are the most by a Cardinals pitcher in the Wild Card era.
It was the second lowest pitch-count total in a shutout by a Cardinal; Bob Tewksbury needed only 79 pitches to blank the Astros on Aug. 17, 1990.
Since 1900, Wainwright is only the fifth Cardinal pitcher to post a shutout in his age 39 season or later — joining Pete Alexander (five times), Murray Dickson (4), and matching Jim Kaat (1) and Chuck Finley (1).
Waino is the oldest pitcher to throw a shutout since Bartolo Colon, age 42, got it done in 2015.
“He was in complete control the whole game,” Pirates manager Derek Shelton told reporters via Zoom.
“He was missing barrels,” Pirates outfielder Anthony Alford said. “He was making pitches, making us put the ball in play and getting outs. Kept his pitch count down.”
“He had it all going,” said Wil Crowe, Wainwright’s opposing starter. “Even on his misses, they were on the corners.”
The Pirates were impressed. The Cardinals were impressed.
Who wasn’t impressed?
I’d like to continue this discussion by breaking it up into three parts.
WAINO IN FRANCHISE HISTORY
- Third in wins (178) behind Bob Gibson (251) and Jesse “Pop” Haines (210.)
- Second in career strikeouts, behind Bob Gibson.
- One of only three pitchers to amass double-digit win totals in 11 different seasons. Gibson and Haines are the others.
- Fifth in career starts, with 349.
- Sixth in career innings, 2,318.
- With 39.1 career WAR, Wainwright ranks third to Gibson (81.7) and Dizzy Dean (39.9.) I used the Baseball Reference version of Wins Above Replacement.
- Fifth in Wins Above Average, or WAA.
- Among Cardinals with at least 200 career starts for the team, Wainwright ranks third in adjusted ERA. Only Harry Brecheen and Gibson are ahead of him.
Gibson stands alone. But I believe there’s a case to be made for Wainwright as the second-best starting pitcher in franchise history. Others would choose Dizzy Dean. No disrespect, but Dean was a Cardinal for seven seasons. This is Wainwright’s 16th season of pitching for the Cardinals.
Granted, Dean was more electric with his profound win totals during his career-peak years. And Dean is enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame; that’s a big plus. Waino’s longevity, long-term consistency and presence in eight postseasons would be the deciding factor for me. Oh, and this guy was just about perfect in the closer role during the 2006 postseason that climaxed with the Cardinals’ first World Series title since 1982.
WAINWRIGHT IN 2021
Through Wednesday the Cardinals are 57-56 this season with Wainwright as the mainstay in their rotation. That record is mundane, but that misses the point. How bad would the season record be without Wainwright’s stabilizing and dependable performance? The Cardinals have used 12 different starters this season; the chaos is extreme.
When Wainwright starts, the Cardinals are five games above .500. In the team’s other starts, they’re four games below .500. He’s provided 25 percent of the total innings pitched by the team’s starters. He’s averaged 6.5 innings per start; the other starters (combined) have averaged 5.0 innings.
Pitcher win totals can be misleading, but I don’t think we’re distorting the true picture with this: Wainwright has 11 wins; no other STL starter has more than six.
Wainwright leads the team in starts, innings, wins, quality starts, and average game score. He ranks second among NL starters for most innings (148.2.) He’s tied for fifth with 23 starts, ranks tied for fourth with 11 wins, and is 11th in the NL with a 3.27 ERA. And he’s doing all of this at age 39. He’ll turn 40 on Aug. 30. He earns bonus points for that. At that age, and at a time when pitchers are breaking down with alarming frequency, Wainwright shouldn’t be pitching this well. But he is.
Wainwright’s 11 wins during his age-39 campaign rank fifth all-time in a season by a Cardinal pitcher 39 years or older.
Wainwright has a 3.27 ERA in 23 starts this season. During the expansion era (1961-present) that ERA would rank sixth by a starting pitcher in their age-39 season. This consists of those who made 23 starts or more. The list: Gaylord Perry (2.78) in 1978, Phil Niekro (2.88) in 1978, Joe Niekro (3.04) in 1984, Rick Reuschel (3.12) in 1988, Ferguson Jenkins (3.15) in 1982, and Waino in ‘21.
In the Wild Card era (1995-present) Wainwright’s 3.27 would rank No. 1 among pitchers in their age-39 seasons that started 23 games or more. Next: Jamie Moyer 3.32 in 2002, and Mike Mussina 3.37 in 2008.
Since the start of last season, among MLB pitchers that have made at least 25 starts over that time, Wainwright is fourth in innings, third in wins, tied for fourth in quality starts, first in complete games, and 14th in adjusted ERA. And that covers his age-38 and age-39 seasons. Remarkable.
WAINWRIGHT DURING JACK FLAHERTY’S ABSENCE
Flaherty went on the IL after tearing an oblique muscle in his May 31 start at Los Angeles. Jack is scheduled to return to the rotation for Friday’s game in Kansas City.
Wainwright’s value to this team has been quantified and reinforced during Flaherty’s time away from the rotation. The numbers tell a powerful story that reaffirm the excellence of Wainwright’s season — and his importance to his team.
The best way to show you is to rattle off the rotation-related numbers from June 1 through Wednesday’s game at Pittsburgh:
➤ The Cardinals are 27-32 without Flaherty. But they’ve gone 10-3 in Wainwright’s 13 starts, or seven games above .500. They’re 12 games below .500 (17-29) in all other games. Wainwright has an individual 8-2 record since June 3.
➤ Waino has averaged 6.8 innings per start since his first post-Flaherty outing on June 3. The other starters have averaged 4.7 innings per start.
➤ Wainwright is responsible for 30 percent of the total rotation innings since June 3. And again, the man is 39 years old.
➤ Wainwright has pitched 88.2 innings since Flaherty went down; no other STL starter has worked more than 54 innings.
➤ Since June 1, Wainwright has worked at least six innings in a start 12 times. The eight other starters — combined — have gone 6+ only 11 times.
➤ Wainwright has gone 7+ innings eight times; the other eight starters have done that only three times combined.
➤ Wainwright has stretched through seven innings or more in five consecutive starts. Talk about saving a bullpen.
➤ During Flaherty’s absence Wainwright is 8-2 with a 2.63 ERA. Going into Thursday’s game, the eight other starters are a combined 8-18 with a 5.25 ERA.
➤ Seven times since June 1, the Cardinals have won seven times with Waino on the mound in a game that immediately followed a loss.
Obviously, I’m filled with positive thoughts. Adam Wainwright makes it easy to tap into the praise, and flow with it. The way modern trends are going, I doubt that we’ll see many like him in the future — a tough, terrific starting pitcher, still thriving, still on top of his game, and still among the best in the business only 18 days from his 40th birthday. That’s another big reason why it’s so enjoyable, and meaningful, to watch him go to work. We’re watching something rare.
But I must say I also feel some sadness. Wainwright is giving us a special season. Maybe it will be his last great season, or even his final season.
Considering the circumstances, 2021 is one of his best seasons. Unless the Cardinals pull off a shocking run and sprint into the postseason, the St. Louis front office will be guilty of wasting a magnificent opus from Wainwright. And that would be shameful.
Thanks for reading …
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* All stats used here are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant and Brooks Baseball Net unless otherwise noted.
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.