2012 Key Players: It’s Wainwright, or it’s way wrong

Can’t lie, I’m pretty excited about writing this piece for i70 this year.  I’m hoping to look like I actually know what I’m talking about, and maybe just go ahead and extend my streak to two.  You see, last year, for the “Key Player” project, I wrote about a young man by the name of David Freese.  My incredible good fortune insight, luck stunning analysis, and fluke happenstance major league scout-like analysis identified the eventual NLCS and World Series MVP more than 7 months ahead of time.

Even a broken clock is right twice a day.

Is there a single player, let alone pitcher, whose 2012 season will be more important to the St. Louis Cardinals’ success this year?  To borrow a phrase from the recently departed Tony LaRussa, if Adam Wainwright isn’t, then he’s certainly tied for first.  The organization, the fan base, and the entire National League had high expectations for Wainwright’s first season back to the bump following his Tommy John surgery a year ago.  For months, everyone has anticipated his return, and many of us have expected/hoped for dominance–an important arm if the Cards are to return deep into the 2012 postseason.  And that was before Carpenter went down.

“Hey, maybe one of these days, we can pitch during the same season again. Whaddya say?”

It’s been a year and a half since we’ve seen Waino pitch in a game, so it’s easy to see how a person could forget exactly just how dominant this guy has been.  For those who remember him as “pretty darn bueno”, but exactly how bueno is escaping you at the moment, here’s a quick recap on the last two years he’s pitched.

Year

Wins

ERA

CG

IP

K

K/BB

WHIP

CY Vote

2009

19*

2.63

1

233.0

212

3.21

1.21

3rd

2010

20

2.42

5

230 ⅓

213

3.80

1.05

2nd

So, let’s see…something along the lines of 21 wins, an ERA near 2.21, 10 CGs, 214 Ks, a sub-one WHIP, and a Cy Young Award, all in about 227 innings should pretty much meet expectations, right?  Holy 12-to-6s, those are some ridiculous numbers!

Honestly, it’s probably ludicrous to think Waino’s 2012 campaign will be anything close to either of his past two seasons.  The one thing that drives many of these numbers (save ratios, and the “all important” win category), is IP–a number sure to be significantly lower this year.  I said in another post on another site that I could see him going more than 200 innings this year, a number that I’d now argue against.  170 to 180-ish seems more like reality at this point, though, you just never know for sure.

One thing is certain, though, with Carpenter out indefinitely, all eyes will be focused on Wainwright every time he takes the ball.  I remember many very similar conversations a year ago, though the names were exactly the opposite–let’s hope Wainwright’s April & May turns out better than Carp’s did last year.  The reality is, Wainwright’s season probably lands somewhere between Carps’s low points of April & May (a 1-7 start, with win #2 coming on June 23rd), and the highlights (wins in deciding games 5 vs. Halladay in the NLDS & game 7 of the World Series).

Big picture, long-term, though…I trust that John Mozeliak will work with Mike Matheny to be sure that Adam Wainwright & his workload are handled in 2012 in a way that’s best for Waino over the course of his career.  So, if we don’t see the Wainwright that we know he can be (and maybe even better with that new arm), be patient–better to have him long term & healthy than sacrifice it for a run at another ring, and risk a more serious injury, and threaten his career.

Remember when they shut Jamie Garcia down down the stretch in 2010?  If you don’t think that worked, maybe you haven’t considered all sides of the argument.  And before you jump in with the “but Chris Carpenter…” rebuttal, remember Waino is 30 and if he keeps doing what he’s done, he’s headed for a $20MM/yr range-type deal.  Carpenter, on the other hand, will be 37 in one month, and just inked a two-year $21MM deal–likely the last deal of his career.

My supposition is that by the time June rolls around, we’ll know if we might be talking about the future possibility of Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright pitching in the same rotation ever again, and by the All-Star Break, I’ll bet we know one way or the other.  One thing’s for sure, Adam Wainwright is going to be a critical piece going forward in 2012 and beyond!

*Way to go, Kyle McClellan.

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