It seems to be common knowledge that some players across Major League Baseball are an easy choice as first ballot Hall of Famers, people like Derek Jeter, Ichiro Suzuki, Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera. Then there are others who may have to wait but eventually get in, such as Adrian Beltre. Some of them are still young, like Mike Trout, Clayton Kershaw and Craig Kimbrel, but are all headed in the right direction to Cooperstown. Then there are the borderline candidates, the maybes, the ones who may have a case but could use more work. One of those maybes has to be St. Louis Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright.
This past weekend was the Hall of Fame induction ceremony. The Atlanta Braves had pitching royalty with Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, both of whom were enshrined as part of the Class of 2014, as well as John Smoltz, who probably also cracks the 75% threshold in his first year of eligibility next year, if not awfully close to it. Atlanta could’ve continued that trend had it not dealt Wainwright in 2003 to St. Louis.
Since then, all the Redbirds have had is one of the best starters in the game today, period. That includes this season and is probably one the five best pitchers around right now, along with Kershaw, Felix Hernandez, Chris Sale and Johnny Cueto.
Wainwright was on the mound when the Cardinals won the 2006 World Series when he was a rookie closer and later moved to the rotation. Sometimes it pans out, sometimes it doesn’t. In this particular case, St. Louis has made a superb decision to convert him to a starter. He finished 3rd in NL Cy Young voting in 2009 and placed 2nd both in 2010 and 2013.
Based on the numbers heading into Wednesday, his ERA+ is 187, WHIP is 0.962 and this is in 149.2 innings thrown so far. Even if he never wins a Cy Young in his career, Jim Bunning, Phil Niekro, Nolan Ryan and Bert Blyleven were all pitchers who never won a Cy Young in their career, and they all did just fine considering all of them are Hall of Famers. Wainwright’s very durable and is a great candidate to go the distance and pick up a shutout. He led the NL in innings pitched in 2009 and had more innings last year than any starter in all of MLB.
Just as an argument could made supporting Wainwright, there’s also a few things that could ruin his chances. In 2007 he had some bumps as a starter and was much improved the next year, but he wasn’t the upper echelon pitcher that people know him as today. After two very good seasons in 2009 and 2010, he missed the entire 2011 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery and the Cardinals won its second World Series crown while he was in the organization. He did return in 2012, but his performance took a dip that season before he resurrected himself last season and is adding on this year.
Time is not on his side, either. Kershaw is only 26 years old. Justin Verlander pitched wonderfully in 2011 and 2012 but has struggled since then, though he has a little more time at 31. Tim Lincecum hasn’t been his old Cy Young self, but he’s still just 30, which isn’t a kid, but he has some more years. Wainwright turns 33 a month from Wednesday. 33 isn’t a dinosaur, but he’s not getting any younger. Randy Johnson won the Cy Young every year from 1999-2002 and was pushing 40. Though most certainly that’s something Wainwright could do, how often does this game see somebody like a Johnson who could show such dominance at a later age?
Discussing Wainwright potentially as a future Hall of Famer is certainly not egregious. He has had a few Hall of Fame seasons, but needs to be more consistent and very quick, if he is to have a Hall of Fame career as a whole.