Adam Wainwright: Back, Exactly

Adam Wainwright of the St. Louis Cardinals delivers a pitch against the New York Mets at CitiField in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

Adam Wainwright's 11-10 record and 3.87 aren't anything special. But what's the real difference between this year's Wainwright and the version who won 20 games in 2010?

If you're just eyeballing Adam Wainwright's numbers, you might guess that he's still recovering from the Tommy John Surgery that cost him the whole 2011 season.

After all, in 2010 Wainwright went 20-11 with a 2.42 ERA and finished second to Roy Halladay in the Cy Young balloting.

In 2012, Wainwright is just 11-10 with a 3.87 ERA that would, if the season ended today, be the highest of his career.

So Wainwright's not all the way back from his elbow injury, right?

These were Wainwright's home runs allowed per nine innings, his walks per nine innings, and his strikeouts per nine innings in 2010, his very best season:


These are his same figures in 2012:


It's spooky, almost. When it comes to the things a pitcher controls, Wainwright has been exactly the same in 2012 as 2010. So why the big ERA jump? Batting average on balls in play.

In 2010, Wainwright's BABiP allowed was just .281 (lucky), and this season it's been .317 (unlucky). His career mark is .296, which is roughly league-average and roughly what we should expect to see during the rest of this season (though in such a short span of time, just about anything could happen).

Now, we should note that Wainwright is probably not throwing as hard this season as before; his fastball and his slider and his phenomenal curveball are all coming toward the batter just a tick slower than they used to, suggesting that perhaps Wainwright is still not exactly the pitcher that he was before the elbow surgery.

But the great majority of the differences in Wainwright's record and his ERA are due simply to luck. This hasn't done the Cardinals a great deal of good yet; they're seven games out of first place, and essentially deadlocked with three other teams in the battle for Wild Cards.

The good news is that, ERA notwithstanding, Adam Wainwright really is an ace, one of the five or six best pitchers in the league. Which will serve the Cardinals well down the stretch and, if they make it, in October.

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