Who is the ace of the Cardinals? Carpenter. Who are the best pitchers in the National League? Well...let's see...There Lincecum and Halladay...ummm...Santana...that kid in Miami...umm...Latos. Those are the typical answers. How about a pitcher who is 45-17 in his last three years? How about a guy who led the National League in innings pitched and still had a 2.64 ERA? How about a guy who already has 15 wins this year and a 2.16 ERA? Yeah, that's a pretty good pitcher.
You hear his name every now and then. An announcer talking about the Westbrook deal (an excellent deal by the way) might mention the Cardinals' two aces, Carpenter and Wainwright. But it's a quiet thing. He doesn't overwhelm you. And he's still pretty young. Wainwright won't be 29 until the end of August. So he has a lot of good baseball ahead of him.
The thing that is so impressive about Wainwright is that his numbers have improved every year he's been in the big leagues. His first full year was 2007 and his ERAs since every year starting with that one: 3.70, 3.20, 2.64 and 2.19. Just in case those figures were flukey, the ERA+ confirms the improvement: 119, 133, 157 and 184. His K/9 has improved every year. You wouldn't think of Wainwright as a power pitcher, but 8.3 strikouts per nine innings is pretty darn effective. Let's break Wainwright down a little bit further.
First, Wainwright is uncanny in his consistency. His highest ERA for any month this season is 2.45. He is not streaky. He's just a constant machine of precision. The second thing you notice is that he doesn't particularly care whether the batter is lefty or right-handed. He is equally good against both. Wainwright is unbeatable at home at 10-0 and somewhat beatable on the road. He is clutch. When the game is close and it's late in the game, Wainwright has a .465 OPS against him. When there are two outs and runners in scoring position, he has a .481 OPS against. Those are tremendous numbers.
Here is an interesting statistic: Wainwright's ERA in the first three innings is 2.35. In innings 4-6, his ERA is 2.18. And in innings 7-9, his ERA is 1.78. That's a guy who doesn't waver. He doesn't crack. He keeps you in the game. He gives you a chance to win.
Adam Wainwright is overshadowed by other pitchers in baseball. Those other pitchers can be brilliant and flare brightly and then have other nights where they look brutal. But day in and day out, if the Fan was going to be able to pick one starting pitcher to create a rotation around, it would be Adam Wainwright because he is that good and that consistent.