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Adam Wainwright's workload a concern in 2015

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The recent abdominal issue for Adam Wainwright has continued discussions about his workload and the likelihood he will be able to pitch up to his normal standards after offseason surgery.

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We started our community projections today. First up is Adam Wainwright. Go here to make a projection for the 2015 season.

Concern for Adam Wainwright is not going away anytime soon. His strikeout rate decreased in 2014. He is 33 years old. He admitted he was not completely healthy during the season. He had surgery in the offseason that was characterized as minor, but was to the same part of the body he had surgery for in 2011 when he missed the entire year. He came into camp, and before throwing could get ramped up, he strained his abdomen causing a flight back to St. Louis to check with specialists. He has thrown more than 500 innings the past two seasons, and more than 700 over the past three which is the most in all of baseball.

Scrutiny will follow Wainwright all season long. Every start when he is not as his best, there will be questions about a possible injury. No matter how well he pitches, there will be many, presumably including those on the Cardinals, looking for even the slightest indication of an injury. For Wainwright this season, those questions will come with the territory given his past. The concerns will not go away, but it is necessary to recognize that part of the reason he is seen as vulnerable is also a reason for optimism. Wainwright's innings provide reason for worry, but also supply confidence in his durability.

As Bernie Miklasz noted after Wainwright's abdominal issue, Wainwright has been a workhorse for the Cardinals.

If you include the postseason, the big righthander has thrown more innings (733.1) than any MLB pitcher over the past three seasons. That's an average of a little more than 244 innings.

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Waino has thrown 10,933 pitches since 2012, many in high-stress situations. The pressure of the postseason is intense, with pitchers having to max out and reach for something extra. And no MLB pitcher has faced more batters (276) or thrown more pitches (1,051) than Wainwright over the last three postseasons.

Wainwright's arm has a lot of mileage on it, but that he has done it before gives confidence that he can do it again. From 2012-2013, Wainwright pitched just over 490 innings, including postseason. He did have problems in 2014, but still pitched another 243 innings and in the regular season put up a 2.38 ERA and 2.88 FIP good for an fWAR of 4.5 and a bWAR of 6.1. Hopefully, he will not be asked to pitch quite as many innings in 2015 as he has in the past couple seasons, but Wainwright will not shy away from asking for the ball. From a Derrick Goold story prior to the abdomen injury:

"As long as we're talking about limiting starts now and not in the regular season, I'm fine with that," Wainwright said Friday. "Here's the thing in my mind: I have a lot of confidence in my ability and when I'm performing I think it makes a difference. ... If I take starts off (last year) we may not get to the postseason. Getting there, to me, seems pretty important. When I'm feeling healthy and I'm feeling good I don't want to be watching the team. I want to be playing. I want to be competing."

I'm not a big believer in taking starts off, so on that note I am in concert with Wainwright. I'd rather see shorter outings than fewer starts, and hopefully that is something the Cardinals aim for this season. Wainwright is not the first pitcher to take on a lot of innings. In the past decade, seven pitchers at least 30 years of age have had a combined 11 two-year periods where they exceeded 450 innings. Some of those pitchers are among the best in baseball during that time: Randy Johnson, Chris Carpenter, Roy Halladay, Livan Hernandez, John Smoltz, R.A. DIckey, and James Shields have all done what Wainwright has over the past few seasons.

Here are the seasons after taking on a big workload:

Year After IP ERA FIP fWAR
Randy Johnson 2006 205 5 4.27 3.5
Chris Carpenter"]" style="padding: 2px 3px 2px 3px; vertical-align: bottom;">Chris Carpenter 2007 6 7.5 3.24 0.1
Livan Hernandez 2007 204.1 4.93 5.77 0.2
John Smoltz 2007 205.2 3.11 3.21 5.2
Roy Halladay 2009 239 2.79 3.06 7.2
Roy Halladay 2010 250.2 2.44 3.01 6.1
Roy Halladay 2011 233.2 2.35 2.20 8.1
Roy Halladay 2012 156.1 4.49 3.69 2.4
Chris Carpenter 2012 17 3.71 4.09 0.2
R.A. DIckey 2014 215.2 3.71 4.32 2.1
James Shields 2014 227 3.21 3.59 3.7

Chris Carpenter made this list twice, five years apart, which is pretty amazing and speaks to how much he was willing to give in order to play at a high level. That he played poorly after shouldering a large burden is unfortunate, but the highs his career provided vastly outnumber the lows. The group above is a mixed bag. Shields played well. A 42-year old Randy Johnson could have been excluded due to his age, but pitching decently considering the run environment at the time makes his inclusion necessary at least as a bit of trivia. Dickey, the knuckleballer had an average year last season, while Livan Hernandez was terrible in 2007. John Smoltz had a great year in 2007 and Halladay had a continued run of excellence that could get him in the Hall of Fame.

The group above had two years of high innings. Wainwright has now had three. Over the last decade, only Halladay in both 2007-2009 and 2008-2010, Cliff Lee from 2009-2011, and James Shields the past three years had three-year periods exceeding Wainwright's regular season inning totals as well as had over 700 innings including postseason. Halladay's results in 2010 and 2011 are excellent and shown above. Cliff Lee had a very good 2012, posting a 3.16 ERA, 3.13 FIP and 4.8 fWAR.

Wainwright has pitched a lot of innings the past few years, and it is expected that he will pitch quite a few more this season. His track record brings worry and question marks, but it also brings consistency and excellence. Pitchers get hurt, miss seasons, and lose their effectiveness seemingly overnight. I have my concerns about Wainwright, but I would not bet against him having another great season in 2015.