Having completed my 2022 review of St. Louis Cardinals position players, it’s time to turn my attention to the pitching staff with reports on individual starters and relievers.

NEXT UP: Adam Wainwright, who will return in 2023 for his 19th and final season with the Cardinals.

HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE: Wainwright missed the entire 2011 season after undergoing elbow surgery, so this will be his 18th season of actual pitching for St. Louis. But Waino was a member of the 2011 team, involved in everything except appearing on the mound in games, and that counts for me. This will be his 19th straight year of wearing the Birds on the Bat.

Heading into his final campaign, Wainwright ranks second in Cardinal franchise history in strikeouts and is third in wins (195), starts, and innings pitched. In my view he’s the second-greatest pitcher, to Bob Gibson, in team history,

With his 195 career victories Wainwright needs only five more in 2023 to become only the 98th pitcher in big-league history to reach 200 in a career. Among active pitchers only Justin Verlander (244), Zack Greinke (223), Max Scherzer (201) and Clayton Kershaw (197) have more wins than Wainwright.

A LOOK AT 2022, THE GOOD: Wainwright began the season at age 40 and turned 41 on Aug. 30. But he continues to endure at an impressive level, ranking 13th among MLB starters with 191.2 innings. And over the past three seasons Miami’s Sandy Alcantara is the only MLB starter to pitch more innings than Wainwright. A high innings-pitched count is valuable, and Waino continued to supply a load of innings in 2022.

In his first 26 starts last season Wainwright crafted a 3.09 ERA and the Cardinals went 15-11 with him on the mound. He was particularly effective in May (2.13 ERA) and August (2.50 ERA.)

Among Cardinals starters Wainwright ranked second to Miles Mikolas for most innings pitched and was tied with Mikolas for most starts.

As usual, Wainwright did his finest pitching at Busch Stadium, posting a 2.15 ERA in his first 14 home starts. He finished the season with a 2.98 ERA at Busch.

Wainwright had a respectable 3.86 ERA in nine starts against teams that qualified for the MLB postseason.

The wily Wainwright had the highest percentage of called strikes (21.1%) among 61 MLB starters that pitched at least 150 innings.

Though his walk rate increased a little in 2022, he’s still good at limiting walks, allowing only 2.54 per nine innings.

Wainwright stands among the best in limiting home runs. He gave up an average of 0.75 homers per nine innings last season – 12th best among MLB starters.

A LOOK AT 2022, THE CONCERNS: Wainwright collapsed in September, getting rocked for a 7.22 ERA in six starts and allowing opponents to hit .358 with a .406 OBP, .463 slug and .869 OPS. He later attributed the deterioration to a delivery malfunction. According to Wainwright the root cause was getting struck on the left knee on a hard-hit ball by Atlanta’s Austin Riley on Aug. 28.

“Without knowing it, after that game my stride length got shorter by almost a foot,” Wainwright wrote on his Twitter account. “Timing was thrown (off.) That had never been a problem for me in the past. My stride length has always been very consistent. Because my timing was so badly off, my front arm started to try and create power by pulling. And when that happens, you just pull yourself off target.”

Wainwright did not pitch in his team’s two-game elimination by the Phillies in the NL wild-card series, though manager Oli Marmol planned to start him in Game 3 if the Cardinals got to that point.

Wainwright had a 4.30 ERA in 15 starts against NL Central rivals.

Waino has a 4.66 road ERA since the start of the 2019 season, and the trend continued in 2022 with a 4.73 road ERA in 14 starts. Last season Waino was 7-4 at home and 4-8 on the road.

Individual pitcher won/lost records can be terribly misleading, but in 2022 Wainwright had his first losing record (11-12) in a season in which he worked at least 50 innings.

After pitching to a 3.00 ERA before the All-Star break, Wainwright had a 4.69 ERA in 14 starts after the break. Much of that ERA inflation occurred during the final month.

After posting 3.8 WAR in 2021, Wainwright fell off to 2.8 WAR in 2022.

Wainwright’s swinging-strike rate (6.7%) was the worst among the 61 starters that worked 150+ innings. This continued a downward trend; Waino had a swinging-strike rate of 10.9% in 2020, dropped to 8.1% in 2021, and went down to 6.7% last season.

Wainwright’s strikeout rate plummeted to 17.8 percent, or 6.71 punch-outs per nine innings. The 17.8% strikeout rate was the seventh–lowest among the 61 starters that threw 150+ innings. As a point of reference Wainwright had a 21% strikeout rate in 2021 and averaged 7.59 strikeouts per nine innings.

Opponents had a contact rate of 91 percent against Waino on pitches in the strike zone … that was the highest contact rate on strikes against any of the 61 MLB starters who pitched 150+ innings in ‘22. And the overall contact rate against Wainwright (84.5%) was the second-highest among the 61 starters. His rich called-strike rate has saved Wainwright from more trouble.

In 2020 the overall contact rate against Wainwright was 76.2 percent, increased to 81.3% in 2021, and jumped to 84.5% last season. The contact rate against him on strikes has increased by nearly 5% over the last three seasons.

Wainwright’s four-seam fastball velocity declined to an average of 88 mph last season, per Statcast. As recently as 2019, his average four-seam was clocked at 89.6 mph.

Wainwright had a 3.05 ERA in 2021, and that went up to 3.71 last season.

Let’s look at ERA+, which adjusts for ballpark and league factors for a neutralized (and fair) accounting. The league average ERA+ for pitchers is 100, and the higher the ERA+, the better the pitching.

Here’s Wainwright over the last three seasons:

33 percent above average in 2020
28 percent above average in 2021
3 percent above average in 2022.

TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE? Well, to some extent anyway. But Wainwright’s famous curve is his best pitch. And in 2022, it wasn’t as effective. Here’s the trend based on opponent batting average, slugging percentage and whiff rate against his curveball:

2020: .191 average, .245 slug, 28.9% whiff
2021: .209 average, .333 slug, 26.8% whiff
2022: .248 average, .344 slug, 22.4% whiff

Uncle Charlie is still an effective pitch. Just not as dominant as before.

CONCLUSION: Except for the final month of the regular season, Wainwright did an admirable job of getting the best of hitters despite a drop in velocity and declining swing-and-miss stuff. His intelligence, savvy and pitch variations still keep hitters off balance, but that part isn’t getting any easier. The contact rates against him continue to elevate to put him at a greater risk of absorbing damage, but Wainwright is still effective at limiting hard contact, a skill that still keeps him safe. And he’s still supplying a load of innings, and that isn’t easy to find.

THE GRADE: B minus.

WHAT ABOUT 2023? That’s the question. The Cardinals brought Waino back for a Hero Tour, and the fans love him, and his return will add to ownership’s revenue flow. As for the pitching, there’s been obvious slippage. In the Bill James formula for rating starting pitchers, Wainwright ranked 15th overall at the end of the 2021 season but was No. 50 by the close of the 2022 regular season. I’m thinking Wainwright has enough guile and competitiveness left to put together a solid season in ‘23, but the ominous trends tell us that his challenge will likely be more strenuous in 2023.

MARMOL IS AN IMPORTANT FACTOR: Next season it’s imperative for Marmol to set up the rotation in a way that gives Wainwright a higher percentage of his starts at home. Like the Cardinals managers before him, Marmol has a tendency to defer to Wainwright, and that’s not always the right thing to do. In 2022 the numbers showed a few things that should be kept in mind going forward: (1) Waino became more hittable after reaching 75 pitches in a start; (2) he was more vulnerable in late and close situations; (3) he wasn’t effective in high-leverage situations; and (4) when Waino faced a lineup for the third time in a start, the the OBP against him went up 16 points, and the slugging percentage increased 29 points.

Thanks for reading …

— Bernie

Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated and analytical 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.

Follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz

Listen to the “Seeing Red” podcast on the Cardinals, featuring Will Leitch and Miklasz. It’s available on your preferred podcast platform. Or follow @seeingredpod on Twitter for a direct link.

All stats used here were sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant, Brooks Baseball Net and Spotrac.

Bernie Miklasz
Bernie Miklasz

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.