Adam Wainwright is back to "ace" form. (Credit)
Obtaining an overall ace in the Major Leagues is not an easy task. Although the majority of teams have an ace of their staff, an overall ace (something I came up with approximately two seconds ago) is a pitcher that would be an ace on over half of the teams in the MLB.
That does not sound like much, but with an overall ace on the mound, you would feel extreme confidence that your team is in a good position to win.
The St. Louis Cardinals had two overall aces in 2009 and 2010, but both have suffered injuries since then. Without Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright, the Cardinals’ rotation was left with no head.
Since Wainwright underwent Tommy John surgery in 2011 and missed the entire season, he struggled to reclaim his perch on the overall ace tree. His April last season consisted of an 0-3 record and a 7.32 ERA, and his June was not much better, as he recorded a 2-3 record and a 5.21 ERA. Those numbers look more like an overall stiff than an overall ace, but Wainwright did turn it around in the second half of the season. In July, he went 2-2 with a 2.76 ERA and in August, he dominated his way to a 5-1 record and a 2.75 ERA.
These numbers are more like the ones that we had become accustomed to expect from Wainwright. His ascent to overall acehood began in 2006. During the season, he was used as a middle reliever and when closer Jason Isringhausen had season-ending surgery in September, he was promoted to the closer role for St. Louis’ World Series run.
In 2007, he was awarded a spot in the starting rotation and quickly emerged as the team ace with Chris Carpenter lost to injury. He posted a 14-12 record and a 3.70 ERA. But, it was not until 2008 that Wainwright became an overall ace.
Despite a finger injury that cost him two and a half months, he finished 11-3 with a 3.20 ERA. Fresh off of his new four-year deal worth $21 million that he signed in March, Wainwright proved that he was worth the price.
And on his climb up the overall ace tree, in 2009, he finished 19-8 with a 2.63 ERA. This was the first full season that he proved his worthiness among overall aces. He won the player voted NL Most Outstanding Pitcher and despite receiving the most first place votes, he lost the Cy Young award race to Tim Lincecum.
2010 is the year where he climbed to the highest branch of his career on the overall ace tree. He posted a 20-11 record with a 2.42 ERA, 213 strikeouts and a 1.05 WHIP, all of which are career highs. He was a runner-up in the Cy Young Award race to Roy Halladay and the sky was the limit for the young Wainwright.
And then on Feb. 24, 2011 came the announcement Wainwright was to undergo Tommy John surgery. The recovery generally takes 12-15 months, so it was definite that he would miss the entire 2011 season, plummeting from the overall ace tree in the process.
After missing the entire 2011 season and his inconsistent 2012 season, it seems that people have forgotten how good Wainwright really is.
He is now trying to become the poster boy for how little Tommy John surgery affects pitcher’s production post-surgery. Like how Adrian Peterson and others have proven that ACL tears are not as devastating as they used to be, the Wainwrights and Stephen Strasburgs of the MLB are trying to prove the same holds true for Tommy John surgery.
Wainwright is well on his way this season, going 6-3 in 10 starts with a 2.38 ERA. His season is going a bit under the radar, but by the end of the season, people will know whether Adam Wainwright is back. As they say, it’s not about falling from the tree, it’s about trying to climb up again. And although Wainwright is back on the trunk of the overall ace tree right now, it should not be long before he is at the top once again.
By: Matt Levine