When healthy, Adam Wainwright is the best pitcher on the St. Louis Cardinals and a top five pitcher in all of baseball. The Cardinals would not be facing off against the Giants in the National League Championship Series without Wainwright's 227 regular season innings, 2.38 ERA, and 2.88 FIP. Because of this, it is unfortunate, but also very clear, that Wainwright is not healthy—not in the least bit.
Two starts into the 2014 postseason, he has pitched a grand total of nine innings (4.1 IP in the NLDS and 4.2 IP last night). To put this in perspective, Wainwright has pitched nine innings in a single start (also known as a "complete game") 21 times in his nine-year career. Over these nine 2014 postseason innings, Wainwright has allowed 17 hits (1.889 hits per inning) and has walked four batters. For his career, Wainwright has allowed 0.911 hits per inning and 2.3 walks per nine innings. This is terribly worrisome.
Are two starts an incredibly small sample size? Absolutely, but the issue at hand has very little to do with the poor results/outcomes we have seen in his last two starts. The issue is the process—Wainwright is no longer pitching like himself. When Waino is at his best, he's painting corners, both up and down, with his fastballs (fourseamer and sinker), setting up two-strike cutters off the outside corner or devastating Uncle Charlie's in the dirt. Since returning from Tommy John surgery in 2012, Wainwright has thrown fastballs 43.67% of the time (16.58% fourseamers, 27.09% sinkers). In two postseason starts in 2014, his fastball percentage is 29.5%—over a 14% drop in usage.
With this dip in fastball usage, his curveball/cutter usage has skyrocketed to 60%. Considering both of these pitches are tremendous, this isn't necessarily a bad thing. However, as someone from the FOX broadcast (I believe it was Tom Verducci) stated on numerous occasions last night, Wainwright lacked that "put-away" pitch after getting to two strikes. Why did he lack that put-away pitch? Because he was using his normal put-away pitches to get strikes one and two in the count. The Giants could basically cross fourseamer/sinker off their checklist of pitches to look for when stepping to the plate last night.
Side note: I noticed that 20 pitches over the last two starts were classified as sliders on BrooksBaseball. This didn't make sense to me because Wainwright doesn't have a slider. He throws a cutter. Thus, I went to the source, and this is what he had to say:
@stlCupofJoe more depth than normal, but we're thinking those 'sliders' in the last two starts are just bad cutters, he's not 100%.— Harry Pavlidis (@harrypav) October 12, 2014
@stlCupofJoe yea, after his post-game comments, hearing about the skipped bullpen, the shorter extension ... shitty cutters.— Harry Pavlidis (@harrypav) October 12, 2014
Wainwright is clearly not right. In an interview with Fox Sports Midwest's Stan McNeal, the Cardinals ace blamed "faulty mechanics" for his poor outing last night. McNeal expanded on the situation further:
"Wainwright said that after exiting he watched video with backup catcher A.J. Pierzynski and they noticed that the release point for the 6-foot-7 right-hander was off. Wainwright said that he was 'dramatically late getting the ball out of my glove.'
'That doesn't allow your arm to have time to get into the proper position to throw the ball,' Wainwright said. 'My stride length is about a foot shorter than it should be, so it's not getting my arm enough time to get where it needs to be.'"
The Cardinals need to bench Randal Grichuk
After hitting well for a few weeks in September, Randal Grichuk looks out of his depth in October. The Cardinals can't afford to continue playing the rookie in the NLCS.
If only it were this easy. While Wainwright's issues very well may be a result of faulty mechanics (i.e. shorter stride, shorter extension, etc.), I am not in the slightest bit convinced that it's going to be magically fixed after a short film session with Pierzynski, a catcher who has caught him only a handful of times. As Wainwright has stated himself, his "[right elbow] is not 100%." It is supposedly "100% percent better than last time," but back-to-back outings of less than five innings pitched for the first time since 2006 (when he was a reliever) says otherwise. Next time he pitches, "he expects it to be better." This problem has lingered since June 10th (124 days ago), so what makes him believe it's going to be "better" four days from now? Plus, how do we even define "better" in this situation? "Better" than how he's been puts him right around average. Is right around average better than available alternatives?
Why not give the ball to Marco Gonzales in game five? Sure, he's a rookie and the bright-lights of the postseason can be daunting, but he has blossomed since returning to the big-league club and has performed well in the playoffs thus far. Or, for the baseball romantics, what about Michael Wacha? He has reportedly been throwing his bullpens on the same days as Waino's starts, so if deemed to be healthy (and given that he is on the NLCS roster despite not pitching in the NLDS, he better be), he'd be in line for a game five start as well. Heck, a Gonzales/Wacha tandem start could even work as well.
When his career is over, Wainwright will go down as one of the best pitchers to ever don the Birds on the Bat. He has absolutely nothing to prove to the organization. He has been an endless warrior as shown by the fact that he has thrown nearly 750 total innings since returning from Tommy John surgery. It is now time for him to take a step back. He helped carry the team throughout the regular season, but the younger, healthier arms can take it from here.
I want Adam Wainwright to succeed. I really do. I just don't think four more days of rest will put his arm in a position to allow him to.