Did The Adam Wainwright Injury Flash Warning Signs Last Season?

By now, of course, you know that Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright is set to undergo Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. The injury deals a devastating blow to the team's chances of making the playoffs, and it isn't at all the way Cardinals fans wanted to begin what might turn out to be Albert Pujols' final season in St. Louis. When an injury like this takes place, a natural question is whether there were warning signs, and as Buster Olney tweeted earlier on Thursday:

A couple of scouts say this: they saw wainwright's arm angle dropping down the stretch last year, a sign of trouble.

So a few scouts say there were red flags late in 2010, which is a claim that raises the eyebrows. Are they right? Did the rest of us miss something?

There are a few ways of looking at this. First of all, we can simply look at a couple images of Wainwright pitching. Let's interpret "down the stretch" as "September". I'm going to show you two pictures of Wainwright pitching. Can you tell me which is from September, and which is from June?

179344_diamondbacks_cardinals_baseball_medium Gyi0061546172_medium

All right - that's only two pitches. So let's go to the data stored over at Texas Leaguers. The following two charts show Wainwright's release point (A) until September, and (B) in September. Do we see anything here?

Wainwright1_medium

Wainwright2_medium

If you see anything, you have a better eye than I do. Wainwright's release seems to be clustered in the same area, with no discernible change.

Beyond those images, we don't see anything clearly significant in Wainwright's velocity data, nor do we see anything clearly significant in his performance results. Wainwright's strikeout-to-walk ratio in September was actually the highest of any month of the year. Over his final two starts, he allowed two runs in 14 innings.

And, as the final nail in the coffin, we get this line, from Cardinals.com:

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported early Wednesday that Wainwright's elbow had been examined in November and that the pitcher was told the joint was stable.

So we can't see anything different about Wainwright's arm angle or release point down the stretch, and Wainwright himself was checked out in November and told that everything was peaches. A pitcher who lowered his arm angle to compensate for discomfort or injury down the stretch would not have checked out fine two months later.

Those scouts say they saw something funny. And who knows - maybe they did. Maybe they saw something that's completely lost in the data. But me, I can't find any compelling evidence of red flags or danger signs, particularly with regards to Wainwright's arm slot. I don't think Adam Wainwright was broken last season. I think Adam Wainwright was broken on Monday.

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