Most years, leading baseball in innings pitched and almost doubling your career strikeout-to-walk ratio while winning 19 games would get you in the news. This year, Adam Wainwright was overshadowed in-season by Clayton Kershaw and in the postseason by his own teammate. For those among us catching the narratives a little late, some quick reasons why the St. Louis Cardinals' best starter:
He's cashing in some bad luck at the wrong time
Before elbow surgery, Adam Wainwright was a Baseball Reference pitcher—his rWAR outpaced his fWAR because his ERA was consistently better than his FIP. After, he's been a FanGraphs pitcher; in his first year back, in 2012, his peripherals would have supported a 3.10 ERA but he ended up at 3.94. In 2013 he shaved a walk per nine innings off his career walk rate and ended up with the third-best ERA of his career for his troubles.
I don't think anyone seriously thinks Wainwright's worse since the elbow surgery, at this point, but 2012's weirdness was enough to leave people worrying going into 2013.
He got blown out just the once
One briefly terrifying subplot to the 2013 season that will inevitably be forgotten: In two consecutive starts straddling August and September, Adam Wainwright gave up 15 runs in eight innings to the Cincinnati Reds. At the time, his ERA was 2.58; afterward it was 3.14.
Instead of derailing the season—or at least forcing Shelby Miller into being passed over for Jake Westbrook, in addition to Joe Kelly and Lance Lynn... well, nothing really happened. He won his last four decisions, came within a win of 20, and brought his ERA back down to very-good-but-not-Cy-Young. In the postseason he's looked exactly like the Adam Wainwright who didn't pitch against the Reds.
Something Something Clayton Kershaw
Two signs the Cardinals might have gotten a bargain with their (still-very-large) Adam Wainwright contract: Clayton Kershaw's rumored contracts, and the one Tim Lincecum actually got, for two years and $35 million. It's difficult to argue with a sub-2 ERA, but according to FanGraphs Kershaw and Wainwright's seasons were basically indistinguishable.
"According to FanGraphs etc. etc.," unfortunately, doesn't get a pitcher noticed in-season. Kershaw was a twentysomething taking the next step toward a possible Hall of Fame career; Wainwright is a 32-year-old having a season that was not immediately distinguishable from two he'd had before.
But now awards season's over, the Reds are eliminated, his long-term BAbip trends are a non-issue. Now he's just got to be better than Jon Lester.