Adam Wainwright watchers will have a lot to think about in 2013. The St. Louis Cardinals ace is going into his second season since elbow surgery; his huge contract extension doesn't even begin until 2014; he's reaching an age when even great starters often find their repertoire and their strategy changing. But there's one thing worth remembering about 2012 as we look forward to our first look at what he might do in 2018: He was better, last year, than he looked. Possibly much better.
That is, his basically league average ERA is hiding strikeout and walk rates almost identical to his breakout season in 2009. In 2009 he overperformed those numbers, with an ERA of 2.63 against a fielding-independent approximation (FIP) of 3.11. In 2012 those numbers were 3.94 and 3.10.
The difference? Well, he left far fewer runners on base than he used to (an LOB% of 67.8% against 80% in 2009 and 2010) and his BAbip was a little above normal (.315, against a league average around .300 and a career average below that.)
That's one reason why his 2013 projections (FanGraphs aggregates several) are pretty optimistic; ZiPS, for instance, offers an ERA of 3.42. Which is not to say his 2018 projections will be optimistic—only that the last year of his old contract looks like a pretty fair bet.