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What we learned from watching Adam Wainwright in the booth

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“Great view up here. I don’t hate it.”

NLCS - San Francisco Giants v St Louis Cardinals - Game One Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Adam Wainwright is one of the longest tenured and most affable players in the league, so when he expressed an interest in broadcasting, it’s not surprising he skipped his way past Zoom call-in pregame guest all the way to in-person color commentator.

I watched most of the Braves/Marlins game yesterday to get a feel for Waino The Broadcaster. Here were a few of the highlights:

Waino defends the shift

Early in the game, a real trap was laid as the crew began discussing the merits of The Shift. This is the point where often, the ex-player wonders why these players don’t simply hit it the other way, as apparently every player did back in their day.

Waino did not take the bait.

“Guys swings are formed a certain way where they can’t hit the ball the opposite way,” Waino said. “They can hit it that way, but they can’t hit it on the ground that way.”

This is 100% correct, understood by every team and any fan who has read even just a bit of modern analytics, but still misunderstood by approximately every ex-ballplayer commentator.

His boothmate AJ Pierzynski tried to lay the blame on the modern players for not practicing hitting the other way, saying they spend batting practice just trying to hit bombs.

“It’s really hard to do it at velocity,” Waino countered. “Only elite hitters can do that.”

Adam Amin followed up with Pierzynski to ask if he called games differently with the infield shifted, and AJ admitted teams didn’t shift much when he played.

Pierzynski retired just four years ago.

That’s the rub when it comes to the ex-ballplayer commentator. Their insight is their experience inside the game, but the game now changes faster than it ever has before. Waino is the rare current player to man a booth, so you can’t get more inside than that. But the challenge for him or any ex-player is to actively maintain that level of understanding after they take the uniform off.

Active non-HBP Leader?

Somewhere in the discussion after Ronald Acuna was drilled by a pitch, Waino said he believed he was the active leader in not being hit-by a pitch. Turns out, he’s right.

Most PAs without HBP:
Adam Wainwright 772
Trayce Thompson 589

Leave your starter in

Max Fried struggled early and often, leading to two visits from the pitching coach and ultimately just 4 IP. Near the end of his time on the mound, Waino took a position that one would assume Mike Shildt has heard approximately every five days:

“You’re playing five (games) in a row, going to have to save some bullpen innings... Who better to do it with than your #1 pitcher?” Waino asked.

Clubhouse leaders

Waino himself is quite clearly a leader in the Cardinals clubhouse. But when the subject came up, he said every team has a few guys who add tremendous value simply by their presence. His list of those guys:

Marcell Ozuna
Joel Piñeiro
Gerald Laird
Dexter Fowler

That’s quite a list. Fowler - I think we all knew that. Ozuna - not necessarily his reputation, but a very good player and a big personality. Makes sense. Gerald Laird? Joel Piñeiro? These are the insights I crave.

Conclusion

While Adam Wainwright is set to once again become a free agent, it’s safe to assume that he wants to return to the Cardinals and the team wants him back for at least another one-year contract. So this foray into broadcasting is more likely a preview of coming attractions rather than the new normal.

I was quite impressed by Adam in the booth. And I was not alone:

If Waino does in fact pursue a career in broadcasting when his career ends, there’s a good chance it begins or at least includes stints in the Fox Sports Midwest and/or KMOX booths. So for those of us who consume mass quantities of those broadcasts, it’s nice to know that Waino will be a pleasant companion.

He would also be carrying on a bit of a tradition of former Cardinal aces in broadcasting. Dizzy Dean followed-up his playing days with a nearly 3-decade broadcasting career. While Bob Gibson didn’t spend nearly so many years in the booth, he did have stints on ESPN and ABC.

Wainwright will be part of the team for the remainder of the Braves/Marlins series.