The Cardinal Nation blog

Brian Walton's news and commentary on the St. Louis Cardinals (TM) and their minor league system

The Cardinal Nation Blog 2011 top story #13: Wainwright’s lost season

A warning flag as related to the precious right arm of St. Louis Cardinals right-handed pitcher Adam Wainwright first flew late in the 2010 season. It hung question marks on the conclusion of the now-30-year-old’s best year ever.

The right-hander finished second in the National League in wins (20), ERA (2.42) and complete games (five) that summer. He tied for second in shutouts, was third in innings pitched and fourth in strikeouts, while allowing the third-fewest walks per nine innings in the NL.

After Wainwright came close in 2009 with 19 victories, it became his first 20-win season. He was named a National League All-Star and improved from his 2009 third-place showing in the NL Cy Young Award voting to finish second.

Wainwright seemed to run out of gas late in the season, however. In six starts between August 18 and September 14, he went 1-5 with a 4.73 ERA, a stretch that may have cost him the Cy Young.

On September 27, it was disclosed that Wainwright had been dealing with right elbow stiffness in his prior two starts. Could it have been even longer? The next day, the problem was labeled as not being serious, and was attributed to Wainwright simply having slept awkwardly on his arm.

It did not end there, however. After an MRI and examination by team physician Dr. George Paletta, it was decided that Wainwright would skip his final start of the 2010 season due to what was then called a right forearm muscle strain. A slight tear remaining in the elbow ligament was also noted, a problem first identified in 2004. A rehab route was initially recommended and taken.

Though five months of off-season calendar time then elapsed, it was the briefest time possible on a baseball field. Not long after reporting to spring training camp, on February 21, Wainwright experienced elbow discomfort. One week later, he underwent season-ending Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery, formally known as ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) reconstruction.

In hindsight, having the procedure late in 2010 would have been the ideal route. However, at least the surgery was required early the following spring. That allowed the club – and Kyle McClellan specifically – to prepare for the season knowing Wainwright was out. In July, Edwin Jackson was acquired and essentially filled Wainwright’s rotation spot the rest of the season.

Though surely numerically fitting, the fact this story could rank only number 13 is a tribute to the resiliency demonstrated by the other players on the Cardinals 2011 roster. After all, they went ahead and achieved the ultimate, a World Championship, anyway. (Wainwright still had his place in the victory parade, as the above photo documents.)

The time that passes until Wainwright returns to peak efficiency could be one of the most important Cardinals questions of 2012.

Link to The Cardinal Nation Blog’s top 20 stories of the year countdown

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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24 Responses to “The Cardinal Nation Blog 2011 top story #13: Wainwright’s lost season”

  1. crdswmn says:

    Personally, I think this story should be ranked higher. But I will reserve final jugment until I see what stories 1-12 are. 😉

    • crdswmn says:

      Judgment. I really hate not having an edit function.

      • Brian Walton says:

        Sorry, I haven’t figured out how to turn on the edit function for the reader.

        You hit on an interesting point. This story was obviously very newsworthy, but in the grandest scheme of things had no direct impact on the end result. I originally placed it in the lower part of the top ten, but as I reconsidered, I moved it down near the bottom of the top 20 before settling around the middle at #13.

        • crdswmn says:

          Well, that’s certainly true if you view the end result through a narrow scope. The prevailing wisdom after Waino went down is that the Cardinals didn’t have a chance. I question whether the “Never say die” attitude that was touted during the run to the postseason wasn’t in large part due to the negativity toward the Cardinals after the loss of Waino. Would the Cardinals have won the WS if Waino had pitched? On paper it would seem so, but I wonder sometimes. I know the sabremetrically inclined tend to downplay or disregard any mental aspects to the game. They are more likely to credit the changes to the team as a result of the Rasmus trade for the late surge even though it didn’t come until a month later. I happen to give more credence to mental influence than they do. And what about the presence of Waino in the dugout, what effect did that have? Most pitchers who are out with TJ surgery don’t stay with the team the entire season like Waino did.

          I may be one of the few that considers these things, but the fact that I do is why I believe Waino’s lost season may have had more of an impact on the final result than others do.

          • Brian Walton says:

            I am not sure how narrow the scope was. I am looking at my top 12 again and would have a hard time moving this story up more than two places under any circumstance. Then again, there is no right or wrong. This kind of ranking, one person’s opinion by its very definition, makes for good winter discussion fodder.

            • crdswmn says:

              Well, your statement that Waino’s loss “had no direct impact on the end result” revealed to me a narrower scope than mine. That is what I was referring to. It’s potato, potatoe of course, and it’s your list. I was just trying to explain why I view this story as more important than you do.

          • LarryBird says:

            I never really cared for Wainwright as he always said he was so great and never proved it. But in 2010 he finally proved he was what he said and I started to like him. And after 2011 he proved to me he is so much more than a great pitcher. He proved he is a team player by being at all the games he could be at. He is the only player on injured reserve that I have ever seen in the dugout.

            • crdswmn says:

              I wrote a paper in my college psych class about the effects of human emotion on human actions. That is a very broad summary of what it was about, but it included a look at gender differences in terms of linear and non linear thinking, and whether there was such a thing as “women’s intuition”. Suffice it to say I would never share my thesis on this board, seeing as how I am the only female, and I don’t think my theories would be welcome with open arms. 🙂 But it does creep in now and again when sharing my baseball opinions.

              • bigchieftootiemontana says:

                Adam Wainwright is going to have a huge impact physically and psychologically on the 2012 Cardinals. 11 titles in franchise history in 2011 and then you get the ace back for a run at
                12 in ’12 !!

                Hard to forget the way his curve froze Beltran in ’06 .

    • blingboy says:

      Winning the WS anyway might have dropped the stories relative importance.

      • blingboy says:

        story’s. ditto edit function.

      • WestCoastbirdWatcher says:

        Bingo…………….BB you’re the smartest guy around………….. that is also the answer to your questions Nut…………………. They are running the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Geneva………. studying and observing many things……… they are creating the parameters that define the “relevance” of their ability to measure events that happen within……….. it is that process thats evolving…….. All you might read about is the glamorous “Higgs boson” or God Particle news……because folks that pay for this work need something to believe…….and thusly………something to tell you to believe………so you pay them…..

        Bottom line……….. we are the reigning champs……….. what ever was done “must by definition” have been the right thing……………….. I would have to say this though……..if you Knew how the nonlinear differential equation acted (concerning BD’s evolving profile) when it achieved “focus”……….it would blow your minds ………. but to the very “religious” …I’m guessing that “validating” the God particle isn’t going to bother you on “Sunday” or “Game day”………whatever your preference maybe……..
        I’m a big Bill DeWitt fan at this point………. I approve of all his moves………. I would say that he has arrived……and all is little “scams” are his own business……….. I can only applaud him at this point. He was masterful in handling the AP “sting”………… Henry Gondorff would have been deeply moved….

        Coaches contracts are a bit different than player guarantee’s………….. how?

        • T8Ball says:

          If I hadn’t received and watched The Big Bang Theory DVD’s for my birthday earlier this year, I wouldn’t have the foggiest idea what the hell your post was about. I don’t know whether to be happy and elated, or saddened and scared that I followed your post word for word.

          • WestCoastbirdWatcher says:

            Knowledge is always the domain of science T8…………… the field/void caused by the dismissal of the relevance of knowledge, is termed ‘FAITH” and is embraced by the religious minded to escape the inevitable conclusions of linear time based thinking………which is all science is now………in its vain attempt at becoming religious………………………………… here is a Christian Story that has been designed by me to aid Christians and those trying to understand them……..based on the hypothesis above …… I believe it to be a very compassionate metaphor to those that can understand it…………..

            The Pilgrim

            “As pilgrims, we often find ourselves on pathways ancient and worn, that to our feet, will still seem newly christened,” said the Sage. “Treading these pathways, we will come upon barriers both great and small, some within our own ego centered consciousness, some amongst the grandeurs of the physical world,“ he gestured gracefully. “All of these labors and challenges, with their sorrows and joys endured, further our journey toward a self realization which purifies the soul, enabling us to create even greater works in our Creator’s image”.

            “One pilgrim on his journey“, the sage said smiling, “a child like man of great beauty and accomplishments, and above all great courage, reached out and touched the face of God that had appeared before him. “My father“? he asked questioningly, recognizing their likeness. God, smiling said “yes“! “And as we are once again joined by your touch, I am well pleased to call you my son”. And upon the moment of this pronouncement, the child again began to suffer the great pains of birth and separation, as do all saints and pilgrims who are sent again to labor in his kingdom.

            The young pilgrim then awoke from what seemed a very long sleep. He recognized that as many as 40 days and nights had passed during his vision quest, and that the world he had known, had somehow changed. He sensed that even within the heart of this desert into which he had journeyed, the thirst he had known, and the harsh denial of its beauty, had now passed from his life.

            The Sage had now sat down by the fireside, slowly stirring the tea pot which was now filling the room with an aroma of indescribable mysteries. He began with much ceremony, carefully pouring the tea into delicate porcelains ,whose beauty and fragility might give one pause as to how their offering might be received. This was of little concern though, for he had learned long ago that this was the very nature of beauty, fragile in appearance, yet savage with desire to fulfill its destiny.

            He recalled after a moments reverie, the tea having its desired effect, that to finish the story, he would need mention the existence of the rough hewn timbers tied together in the shape of a cross, a difficult moment he had experienced many times in this telling. It was during this moment of hesitation, that the hope came upon him again, like the sight of a dear friend long journeyed approaching. Yes, perhaps it would be this day, that the tears which well up in his eyes every time he speaks this truth, might find solace in the dry desert air, avoiding their usual passage across his weathered cheeks………

          • LarryBird says:

            I do not even try to read WestCoastbirdWatchers posts. So kudos to you for even reading it.

        • Kansasbirdman says:

          There was a huuuuge psychological element to the 2011 season IMHO, clutch plays and winning with backs against the wall and when underdogs seem to be circumnstantial evidence of that. Also the torty craig and happy flight mottos

        • blingboy says:

          I enjoyed the Henry Gondorff reference, Westy. Had this image of Bill’s mug on jars of spaghetti sauce.

  2. blingboy says:

    The Cards have 4 of the first 50 picks in the draft. 19, 23, 36, 50.

    I think those last two, in the supplemental, could get bumped down some depending on free agent signings yet to come.

    So, who is in charge of the draft this year, and does the Luhnow defection matter?

    Also, do the Cards have any history of trading first round picks?

    • Brian Walton says:

      Luhnow’s replacement has not yet been named.

      MLB prohibits the trading of draft picks.

    • T8Ball says:

      Those picks are
      1) 19 ~ Angels first round pick
      2) 23 ~ Our regular pick
      3) 36 ~ Albert’s comp pick
      4) 50 ~ Dotel’s comp pick
      5) TBD ~ Jackson’s comp pick?? We’ll have a 5th pick in the first 50, correct?

      • blingboy says:

        I had forgotten about the Jackson comp pick. That will make 5 before the second round. What a haul. Mo better make a smart hire with Luhnow’s replacement.

        If I understand, the Cards should save money on first rounder signing bonuses under the new rules.

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