The Cardinals have gotten fantastic work from Adam Wainwright for the bulk of his career, and that’s again been the case in 2021. Despite having just turned 40 years old, the veteran right-hander has been one of the better pitchers in the National League. With no signs of diminishing effectiveness, Wainwright intends to return for the 2022 season, he tells Jeff Jones of the Belleville News-Democrat (Twitter link).
Wainwright was a multi-time All-Star and Cy Young award contender at his peak from 2009-14, but he looked to have lost some effectiveness in the immediate aftermath of an April 2015 Achilles tear. The veteran had his worst four seasons from 2016-19, looking as if he’d settled in as more a competent back-of-the-rotation arm than the ace-caliber hurler he’d been earlier in his career.
That changed last season, when Wainwright posted a 3.15 ERA over 65 2/3 innings. Because of the truncated nature of the 2020 campaign, it seemed easy to write that level of performance off as a sample size blip and expect Wainwright to return to something closer to the cumulative 4.58 ERA he’d managed over the prior four seasons. Even the Cardinals seemed a bit apprehensive about buying completely into Wainwright’s 2020 resurgence, as he re-signed on a lower-cost $8MM guarantee last winter.
It’s impossible to dismiss Wainwright now, though, as he’s been excellent over a full season’s worth of work. He owns a 2.91 ERA across 176 innings, the sixteenth-lowest mark among the 104 pitchers with 100+ innings pitched. Wainwright’s 22.6% strikeout rate and 6.1% walk percentage aren’t far off his best marks in those regards, and he’s induced ground-balls at a solid 46.8% clip. While he doesn’t have overpowering raw stuff, Wainwright has generally succeeded at avoiding damaging contact with pinpoint command of his sinker and more liberal usage of his signature curveball, as Ben Clemens of FanGraphs recently explored.
Wainwright is again scheduled to reach free agency this offseason, although it’s hard to envision him landing anywhere other than St. Louis. Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported last week that the club intended to present a one-year extension offer to Wainwright in the near future. And after bringing back franchise catcher Yadier Molina for one final run in 2022, it stands to reason the St. Louis front office is equally motivated to work out an agreement to keep Wainwright in the fold for the seventeenth consecutive season.