I don’t know what else to say about Adam Wainwright. I don’t want to be mean. I maintain high respect for the man and his exemplary career as the second–greatest starting pitcher in St. Louis Cardinals history.
I guess I can go ahead and update the statistics that tell us about the clear and honest and obvious truth that no one really wants to talk about … hell, let the numbers do the talking.
The short version: Waino has a 7.45 ERA in 10 starts this season, the worst by a big-league starting pitcher that’s worked at least 40 innings in 2023. He has the lowest strikeout rate (10.9%) and swinging-strike rate (5.5%). No starter has allowed a higher batting average (.358) or contact rate (92.2%) on pitches in the zone. Only one MLB starter has been roughed up for a higher slugging percentage than Wainwright, .581.
In his last 16 starts going back to the start of September 2022 – when his pitching began deteriorating and collapsing in slow motion – Wainwright has a 7.36 ERA in 77 innings. And even Waino’s usual safe space at Busch Stadium has been violated by a 7.88 ERA against him in his last 10 home starts.
There were too many sad scenes on Thursday night. We watched Wainwright face 14 Astros and get tattooed for six hits, three walks and six earned runs while lasting only 1 and ⅔ innings. We watched Wainwright take a seat in the dugout, the emotion pouring out of him, with manager Oli Marmol approaching to provide comfort and a reaffirmation of support.
At a moment like this, even the hardest of hearts would feel compassion for a proud 41-year-old pitcher who can’t be 27 or 28 again, standing taller than the rest as he bedazzled the hitters, took Uncle Charlie out for spins, and counted Cy Young votes that put him second or third in the voting.
The Astros routed the Cardinals 14-0 but probably didn’t enjoy it as much as we’d expect them to. Manager Dusty Baker felt empathy for Wainwright. Baker liked only one thing about seeing Waino chased after getting only five outs: his own team did it, and won the series, and that’s just competition.
“I’ve been watching him for years. He’s a quality guy,” Baker said, as quoted by MLB.com “He’s one of the best guys you’ll ever meet. We had to do what we had to do. You hate to see him walk off sadly like that, but it happens to all of us. He’s had a great career, and I’m hoping he gets those two victories he needs or more for 200. Like I said, he’s one of the best guys you’ll ever meet.”
Where does Wainwright go from here?
My answer might surprise you.
I’m not writing a column imploring him to retire, or put him on a guilt trip, or otherwise pile on.
No. I say give him the ball for his next start.
And keep giving him the ball for every scheduled start as long as he’s injury-free, feeling feisty, determined to compete, and wants to keep working until the end of the season. That will lead him to his planned retirement. His final few home starts should be happy occasions – celebratory and grateful for all that Wainwright has done for the Cardinals since making his big-league debut in 2005.
Having said that, I’m going to venture into another area of this discussion. It may seem jaded to some of you, but that’s not my intention. Here’s the other way I look at this:
1. As long as Wainwright is healthy and willing to pitch, Oli Marmol won’t pull him from the rotation. So what’s the point of hollering and screaming about this or writing a HOT TAKE column demanding the immediate termination of Wainwright’s career? This would be irrelevant. Marmol threw down after Thursday’s disaster by saying “People can give up on him all they want. I won’t. He’ll make his next start.”
2. Remember that Marmol planned to start Waino in Game 3 against the Phillies in the wild-card series despite the pitcher’s late-season downfall. The Philles saved Marmol from potential embarrassment by eliminating the Cardinals in two games. Oli is absolutely devoted to Wainwright and will ride with him until the end of the line. With Waino, Marmol is incapable of being objective.
3. Do you think president of baseball operations John Mozeliak will intervene? Forget about it. That won’t happen because (A) Mozeliak loves Wainwright as much as Marmol does; (B) Mozeliak and chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. really, really wanted Wainwright to return for a farewell season, believing that he’d crank out innings and pitch effectively. They backed that up with a $17.5 million salary and planned on huge crowds showing up at Busch Stadium to spend money on tickets, food and drink, and Waino-related merchandise.
4. You may be asking: what about the team? No disrespect to Wainwright, but shouldn’t the team’s priorities come first? Wainwright’s fuel tank appears to be empty and the Cardinals have lost five of his last six starts (8.33 ERA.) The Cardinals are in last place, 9 and ½ games out of first. Isn’t it important to win as many games as possible?
5. Is it fair to his teammates to keep Wainwright in the rotation if he can’t do any better than this and win some games? And when is the local media going to raise hell about this?
– His teammates love him. They probably feel sorry for him. They aren’t going to turn on him.
– All but a select percentage his teammates need to look in the mirror to assess their own performances.
– The local media won’t raise hell. The local media won’t even growl a little about Wainwright’s presence in the rotation. His ERA could be 75.80. Wouldn’t matter. Wainwright is perhaps the most media-friendly, media-savvy pro athlete in our sports town’s history. Other than his family, no one loves Waino more than the STL media.
– According to FanGraphs, the Cardinals have a 8.5 percent chance of winning the NL Central as they head into the weekend series against the Yankees. Baseball Reference gives the Cards a 2% shot of reaching the playoffs. So if Wainwright can’t find the means for a pitching revival, there are no repercussions. They’re toast.
– And even if Marmol and Mozeliak shock us by removing Wainwright from the rotation, who steps in? I’m unaware of a budding Cy Young candidate standing in the wings, waiting for an opportunity to shine. The Cards can put Steven Matz back in the rotation, or commit to keeping Matthew Liberatore in the rotation, or rush some young (and unprepared) dude up from the minors. Again: what’s the point? The offense is OK, but otherwise this team is pretty much a joke in all other phases of the game: starting pitching, bullpen, defense, baserunning, teaching the fundamentals, etc. That big mess sort of works against the idea of a long, prosperous, miracle winning streak.
I’m sincere when I say this … if Wainwright (as expected) stays in the rotation, it’s appropriate.
It fits. It was part of the business plan.
It makes perfect sense.
This season isn’t about winning.
Never was about doing everything possible to win.
That’s one of the reasons Wainwright was brought back — enthusiastically — for 2023. The Cardinals weren’t going to spend big on a free-agent starter. It was really simple and easy to go one more year with Waino — despite the obvious warning signs about his pitching that surfaced late last season. And he was good for marketing and branding.
The Cardinals front office had a lazy offseason, signing free-agent catcher Willson Contreras before returning to hibernation. Obvious needs were ignored. A 40-man competitive balance payroll that ranked 7th in the majors in 2019 and 9th in 2021 now sits at 15th in 2023. Where was the motivation to improve the team in a substantial way? Didn’t exist. Not much, anyway. Management stayed with the plan to pick up 89 or 90 wins, stroll to first place in the hapless NL Central, then hope to get lucky in the postseason after a sequence of humiliating failures.
I’m speaking for myself here, but I see no reason to make some big show of the Wainwright predicament by bouncing him from the rotation. For a third consecutive season, the front office and ownership largely neglected an obvious offseason need to strengthen the rotation, and we’re seeing the consequences. Again.
So leave Wainwright alone and hope he can get to 200 career wins. At least that would make the fans happy and give them something to feel good about. He’s highly motivated. He cares deeply. He’s trying as hard as he can.
And that’s more than we can say about the people who run this team.
Thanks for reading …
Bernie invites you to listen to his sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS-AM. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the show podcast at 590thefan.com or the 590 app.
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All stats used in my baseball columns are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Baseball Savant, Sports Info Solutions, Fielding Bible and Baseball Prospectus.
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.