Adam Wainwright has been terrific in 2014, but how does his performance compare to one of the Cardinals all-time greats?

Joe Scarnici

2014 Adam Wainwright versus 1968 Bob Gibson: How do they match up?

Through 16 starts in 2014, Adam Wainwright finds himself in the top two or three of the NL Cy Young Award candidacy list. If you are anything like me, you are still quite worried about the short-term and long-term health of Wainwright's elbow, but at the same time, you are savoring the moment, enjoying each and every pitch from one of the organization's all-time best pitchers.

Wainwright does not have overpowering stuff by any means, but he mixes his pitches extremely well in order to be effective on a consistent basis. The way Wainwright attacked Yasiel Puig last night is a perfect example of how advanced he is as a pitcher, in terms of pre-game approach, the setting-up of pitches, and pitch location. In four at bats versus Puig, one of the best hitters in baseball, Wainwright threw 16 pitches. Despite throwing only five pitches in the strike zone, he retired Puig all four times, with two being of the strikeout variety. Knowing Puig has some "trouble with the curve," he threw it seven times, and more often than not, it was in the dirt, making Puig look quite foolish. When I look back on the 2014 season, especially if Wainwright is able to take home the Cy Young Award, I will always remember his performance against Puig on June 26, 2014.

Yeah, four at bats against one hitter isn't the best way to analyze the resume of a pitcher, so what puts Wainwright near the top of the NL Cy Young Award 16 starts into 2014? The way his numbers stack up against the rest of the league tell the story. Wainwright is first in the national league in complete games (3) and innings pitched (116.1). He is second in ERA (2.01) and third in batting average against (.197). Finally, he is in the top ten of strikeout percentage (23.5%), walk percentage (4.9%), and BABIP (.252). These are obviously some pretty impressive numbers and they put Wainwright near the top of the league, but how do these same numbers look when compared to those of 1968 NL Cy Young and MVP Award winner Bob Gibson?

Player

CG

IP

ERA

BA

BABIP

K%

BB%

WPA

GSc

1968 Gibson

12

142.2

1.12

.174

.210

19.6%

5.4%

3.88

75

2014 Wainwright

3

116.1

2.01

.197

.252

23.5%

4.9%

2.71

67

Let me start by saying that it is not fair to compare the numbers of players from different eras. The basic rules of the game may be the same, but the way baseball was played, both on the field and from the dugout, in 1968 is quite different than the way it is played today. However, it is still quite entertaining to compare the numbers of two of the organization's all-time greats, especially when you were not around to see one of them pitch. In my opinion, it helps you appreciate both pitchers, knowing that both were the class of their respective eras.

Of the eight statistics I looked at, Wainwright topped Gibson in just two of them: K% and BB%, and it wasn't by all that much. Gibson has many more complete games and innings pitched than Wainwright, but that can largely be attributed to different bullpen use between eras, combined with Wainwright's injury history. The two statistics that stand out to me most are ERA and batting average against. Given that these aren't counting statistics, I feel much more comfortable comparing the two.

As I stated earlier, Wainwright is currently second in the national league in ERA and third in BAA, and yet, Gibson's numbers make Waino's look ordinary. A 1.14 ERA and .174 BAA through 16 starts? That's not fair, and yet, somehow Gibson actually lowered his ERA (to 1.12) by the end of the '68 season. One would reasonably expect both Wainwright's ERA and BAA to rise as the season progresses and still be considered as one of the top pitchers in the league. There is one last statistical comparison I would like to point out. Gibson's average Game Score over his first 16 starts was 75—a score Wainwright has exceeded in just five of his first 16 starts. Wow.

In conclusion, as fans of the Cardinals, we are fortunate to have been given the opportunity to witness such great pitchers in Gibby and Waino. The numbers show that Wainwright is not quite on the same level as Gibson, but that's not a knock on Adam considering the otherworldliness of Gibby. Let's just hope Wainwright's elbow holds up for the rest of the 2014 season so that he has a true opportunity at attaining his first and the organization's fourth Cy Young Award.

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