In 2005, Adam Wainwright made his major league debut. That was only a year after Mark Zuckerberg left Harvard to work full-time on Facebook. Now, Wainwright is in the last year of his contract and struggling to show he is still a big league pitcher, and Zuckerberg is defending himself before congress against charges his company’s data was used to manipulate a Presidential election.
Life comes at you fast.
Today, Wainwright will be making his 2nd start of the season, under tremendous scrutiny, in a game streaming exclusively on Facebook. So... could this be the last start of Wainwright’s illustrious Cardinals career?
The most likely answer would be no. Waino came into the season tapped to start the 2nd game of the season, and the home opener, before a brief injury setback. And of course, if you were going to make a list of Mike Matheny’s priorities, I’m not sure anything would top showing deference to Adam Wainwright.
But I think the ledge UncleCharlie50 is walking is thinner than many realize.
The biggest reason is Jack Flaherty. The Next Big Thing was great in his MLB start in Waino’s place, and has continued to be great in the minor leagues. He’s eligible to return to the majors before Wainwright’s next start, and it’s hard to imagine the club wants to burn too many more great, healthy performances in the Pacific Coast League. Michael Wacha has been rather lackluster this season as well, but Waino would seem to be the most likely to be leap-frogged by Flaherty.
Also looming is Alex Reyes. While the talk during spring training had mostly involved Reyes pitching out of the bullpen this season, with the decision to rest him until the end of May AND the late addition of Greg Holland... I wonder if the club might thinking more seriously about giving Reyes his limited innings this season in the rotation.
So in terms of staying in the race to remain in the rotation, that’s two guys who very well could lap Waino by June 1.
In terms of performance, if you follow the media reports, we often seem to be riding a rollercoaster with Wainwright. He lost his curveball; he got his curveball back; he watched a video and re-learned an old trick... Even in his first start of this season, there was the highly dubious story that his velocity - which dropped precipitously each inning - was lowered intentionally in an attempt to harness control.
When you set aside all the explanations for Wainwright’s ups and downs and take the long view, the picture is far from rosy. Something I hadn’t really noticed until Bernie Miklasz pointed it out on a recent Seeing Red Podcast is that Wainwright’s ability to get left-handers out has really diminished.
In his career up through 2015, left-handers posted a .302 wOBA against Wainwright. Since 2016, Wainwright has allowed a .361 wOBA against lefties. Of 123 right-handers to face at least 300 lefties over that span, he ranks 109th.
When you look at the guys who rank in the bottom of that list with him, the term “fringe MLB stuff” comes to mind. The evidence continues to pile up to suggest that’s all Wainwright has left.
Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to see another resurrection from Adam Wainwright. But if his stuff continues to look worse than we expected, and the guys behind him continue to look better than we expected, I don’t think the team can wait much longer for that to happen... at least not in the rotation.
I do wonder if it’s time to see if Wainwright’s stuff could play up a little better in the bullpen. We’ve seen a number of guys with big curveballs who couldn’t quite stick in a rotation become quite valuable in relief over the last couple seasons. Maybe pitching just an inning or two at a clip could help Waino gain back a little bit of fastball velocity, the decline of which has been a huge factor in his overall slide.
Does Adam Wainwright have any desire to pitch beyond this year? Maybe not. But if he does, the only way I could imagine him doing it is as a useful reliever. Showcasing that skill this season could extend his career another year or two.
Whatever Waino’s future with the Cardinals, I hope it gets sorted out very soon... possibly even today on Facebook. Of course we all want to see a graceful ending for one of the franchise’s greatest pitchers of all-time. But continuing to send him out, to the detriment of the team and the growing ire of the fans, is not going to accomplish that.
Maybe we’ll get some answers today... on Facebook.