Over the weekend St. Louis Cardinal ace pitcher Adam Wainwright suffered yet another injury which will cause him to miss significant time, this time the remainder of the 2015 season. This marks the second time in his career he has suffered a season ending injury, the first coming in spring training of 2011 when he needed Tommy John surgery on his pitching elbow. For Wainwright it is just another moment of unlucky breaks for one of the game’s most dominant pitchers, when healthy.
This is the fourth time in his career in which he will have missed significant time due to an injury. In 2005 he pitched in just 12 games in the minors before being shut down due to an elbow strain. After signing a four-year extension with the Cardinals in 2008 he left in the middle of May with a strained finger on his pitching hand, missing 2 1/2 months and making just 20 starts that year. Then in 2011 he suffered a torn elbow ligament in spring training forcing him to miss the entire year. And now Wainwright is out yet again for a full season with a torn Achilles tendon.
All of these unfortunate injuries of Wainwright bring back memories of a former Cardinal ace, Chris Carpenter. Carpenter himself would miss five full seasons (2003, 2007, 2008, 2012, and 2013) and most of a sixth (2002). Combined the duo have missed seven full seasons and most of two others since 2004, when Carpenter first arrived.
And in thinking about the duo, I wonder how these two men’s careers, while both still outstanding, would have been different had they not suffered these untimely injuries. The shame of it all is that the pair only had two seasons of their nine as teammates in which they pitched in the same rotation. Otherwise one or the other was out with an injury. How scary is it to think that even without those two in the same rotation the Cardinals were still able to win two World Series.
The Wainwright and Carpenter situation is unique because they played for the same club during the same period of time. Carpenter and Wainwright have been linked before with their similar build, types of pitches, and on the mound attitude. Although Carpenter was a little more surly and Wainwright plays more of the joker role, no one can deny their intensity on the rubber.
Carpenter battled not only through injuries but early career struggles, eventually becoming arguably the best pitcher over a three-year period on TWO separate occasions. From 2004-06 Carpenter averaged 17 wins and just six losses with a 3.10 earned-run average and 183 strikeouts while topping 180 innings all three years. Then after missing two seasons he came back and from 2009-2011 he won 34 games, twice topping 16 wins, with an earned-run average of 3.02 and 171 strikeouts per season.
Wainwright meanwhile has always been the more polished pitcher, consistency is his calling card; never finishing with an E.R.A. over 3.94 and recording six seasons with and recording six seasons with an E.R.A. below 3.20. Wainwright recorded at least 14 wins in all of his full seasons pitched, including two 20 win seasons and two 19 win seasons. He topped 190 innings pitched in all six of his healthy seasons.
I’m not going to use some fancy algorithm that takes into account a player’s natural decline or anything like that. But let’s imagine a Carpenter and Wainwright career without injuries. As stated Wainwright is super consistent, in his healthy seasons he averaged nearly 18 wins per season. And this includes his “worst” full season in 2012 when he was coming off his elbow surgery and had a 14-13 record and a 3.94 earned-run average. His career numbers are already impressive with 121 wins and a career E.R.A. of 2.98 but you can easily assume another 35-40 wins and an E.R.A. below 2.90 without injuries. Coming into next year he would be 34 years old, so with a couple of years left in the tank he would be within striking distance of 200 wins in his career. Which is certainly becoming more of the pitching milestone mark for the Hall of Fame than the 300 win club. The Carpenter look back is more interesting because his dominance began in 2004, after missing two full years. Was it is time on the D.L. that allowed him to better understand pitching? In any case if you average his two three year stints he averaged 15.8 wins per season. His time missed during his peak, I feel would offset any decline at the end. So let’s just say that he didn’t miss the two year’s between those periods, or the two year’s at the start of his career or the two years at the end of his career and won an average of 15 games per missing season. That is 90 wins he would add to his already 144 career wins, pushing him well into the 200 win club.
Obviously injuries are part of the game. Whether it is looking back at Mickey Mantle’s career or my favorite player to imagine having an injury free career, Ken Griffey Jr., it is hard to not play the “what-if” game. Besides isn’t that what makes following sports so fun? Asking what if? What if our team signs that player, what if we make a trade, what if we draft that once in a lifetime player and he lives up to the billing. What if?
I may be coming across as a homer, but as someone who has seen these two men start games over the years; there is no doubt that they are Hall of Fame caliber pitchers. As evident by his performance against Roy Halladay in Game 5 of the 2011 NLDS, there was no other pitcher that can surpass Chris Carpenter’s desire to win and leave it all on the field. And for a go-to #1 starter you can rely on, few can beat Adam Wainwright, while his dugout presence and leadership make him a true great. In the end their numbers probably won’t be enough for the Hall of Fame. But sometimes numbers don’t tell the whole story.