Adam Wainwright again takes our annual recognition for the top hitting performance by a St. Louis Cardinals pitcher.
Though the St. Louis Cardinals seem to be falling just short of the major awards across the National League, it is time once again to recognize one top player on the club, the best-hitting pitcher of the year. Previously, I had bestowed the title of the Allen Watson Award on this recognition.
While former Cardinals greats such as Bob Gibson may first come to mind when considering hitting prowess by a St. Louis pitcher, Watson, an otherwise obscure pitcher who spent less than three years with the mid-1990’s Cardinals, is worthy of having this award named in his honor.
In the modern history of the Cardinals franchise, no pitcher with at least 30 plate appearances in a single season has ever approached Watson’s success at the plate in 1995. Watson’s .975 OPS that season was so extraordinary that the next closest mark by any other qualifying pitcher in the last 110 years was just .880, posted by Mark Mulder in 2006. Bob Forsch logged three of the top ten seasons in team history.
The winner of the 2010 Allen Watson Award is the same as in 2009, Adam Wainwright. His .457 OPS was tops among the four qualifiers, those pitchers with at least 30 place appearances. All pitchers with PA’s this season are listed for reference. Data courtesy of the Complete Baseball Encyclopedia.
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At the plate, Wainwright collected hits in 13 of his 32 starts in 2010, with his only multi-hit game on August 1 at home against Pittsburgh. In that contest, the 29-year-old went 2-for-3 with an RBI and a run scored. Wainwright plated three runs, half his season total, with a July 4 double against Milwaukee. Alas, he fanned his other three times up that day.
Wainwright was called upon to pinch hit four times this past season, twice in extra-inning contests. Oddly, they were almost exactly four weeks apart in late May, June, July and August. He went hitless each time, but did reach once on an error and came around to score.
Had Brad Penny stayed healthy long enough to receive ten more plate appearances and Jeff Suppan had seen enough more innings to have seven more PA’s, the two could have passed Wainwright as the 2010 Watson winner. Of course, they would have needed to maintain their respective paces, which would not have been assured.
Wainwright’s .457 OPS may be best among his qualifying peers, but is not particularly impressive, especially when compared to his own past results. 2010 represents the fourth consecutive season in which his OPS dropped since his amazingly small sample six-PA 2006 debut.
In fact, the Cardinals pitching staff at a whole had a worse season than the year prior in most offensive categories, though they did drive in four more runs and take five additional walks.
Here’s hoping hitting coach Mark McGwire will spend some more time in the cage with the pitchers and help reverse the trend.