Impact Analysis: Adam Wainwright, St. Louis Cardinals

by Tim Heaney on June 10, 2008 @ 12:32:27 PDT


He helped his team to the 2006 World Series title after moving to the closer role and won 14 games with a 3.70 ERA in his first full season as a major league starter last year. Thus, fantasy owners were high on St. Louis Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright (finger) heading into this season as a middle-round upside pick. The right-hander has rewarded that optimism early in 2008, going 6-3 with a 3.14 ERA while posting an impressive 3.10-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

His momentum was halted, though, when he was placed on the 15-day disabled list Tuesday, June 10, with a sprained right middle finger. Wainwright left his start Saturday, June 7, in the sixth inning after feeling soreness in the digit during his warm-up pitches. When he tried to throw a curveball to the second batter, he felt a pop in the finger and had to come out when he couldn't put a grip the ball. The move is retroactive to June 8.

At the time of the Wainwright transaction, the Cards had 10 pitchers on the disabled list. This latest injury robs them of their ace and strips fantasy owners of a strong No. 3 hurler.

Promise fulfilled

Wainwright has been a pleasant source of stability as the anchor of the surprisingly effective Cards staff; the 26-year-old has lasted at least six innings in 11 of his 13 starts. He tossed 202 innings in his first go-round in the rotation last year, so he seems to be developing into a reliable innings-eater. With only 20 walks this season, he also has improved on the control that saw him walk 70 batters in '07.

One problem with Wainwright has been his increasing rate of home runs allowed. He has surrendered 10 gopher balls this season after only giving up 13 all of last year.

Putting a finger on it

Wainwright has been told not to pick up a baseball for at least a week and is currently wearing a splint to immobilize the finger. The right-hander had trouble bending it and compared it to being jammed; he said the finger likely won't need surgery, and it is scheduled to be re-examined next week.

The injury to Wainwright's pitching hand is somewhat worrisome. He was just beginning to harness a slider that has become a reliable complement to his 12-to-6 plus curveball.

The sprain will likely affect the consistency in Wainwright's grip. He doesn't have overwhelming speed on his fastball - it normally registers in the low 90s - so he relies heavily on his location and breaking pitches to keep hitters off balance.

Broken rotation

Wainwright joins a slew of banged-up hurlers in St. Louis. Breakout pitcher Todd Wellemeyer (elbow) was scratched from his scheduled start June 10 due to inflammation in his elbow, but he is expected to return later in the week. He is 7-1 with a 2.93 ERA on the year.

Starter Kyle Lohse has been erratic this year but has a 7-2 record with a 3.92 ERA. He only has 37 strikeouts in 80 1/3 innings, but the righty has allowed three runs or less in each of his last five starts.

Right-hander Brad Thompson (elbow) had a successful stint as a starter this year, posting a 2.53 ERA in two starts before moving to the bullpen. He's currently rehabbing from elbow inflammation at Triple-A Memphis, giving up three runs in a June 9 start that lasted 3 2/3 innings.

The team called up prospect pitcher Mitch Boggs, who excelled at Triple-A Memphis (5-1, 3.28 ERA) and was scheduled to start for the big league club Tuesday, June 10. His duration in the majors is unknown, but with the injuries, he could stay up if he proves himself.

Right-hander Joel Pineiro (groin), who also is expected to rejoin the Cards this week, has had an underwhelming year. He's 2-3 with a 4.50 ERA in eight starts, but he has a 1.36 WHIP and a 1.77-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

The Cardinals have a long-term plan to transition relief pitcher Kyle McClellan to the rotation, but the current state of the rotation could force their hand to make that move sooner if they run out of options. In 32 1/3 relief innings, the rookie has a 2.51 ERA, one save and a 3.25-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Another possibility would be 21-year-old southpaw Jaime Garcia, who is 3-2 with a 3.16 ERA at Memphis and is one of the team's top youngsters. The team has not indicated they would call him up, though. Right-hander Anthony Reyes (1-1, 3.14 ERA at Memphis) could be another option, but he struggled in his last few seasons in the majors and likely wouldn't have a job for too long.

Fantasy baseball outlook

Owners in all formats should stash Wainwright on a DL spot if possible as he isn't expected to miss much time. You might want to use caution in his first start back, possibly holding off on returning him to the active lineup until he proves to be effective on the rubber.

Those in leagues that have an innings limit should consider holding off on cycling below-average hurlers just to fill Wainwright's spot; they should save those innings for a reliable pitcher or until Wainwright returns. Those who feel they must find a replacement should look to the waiver wire instead of the trade market.

Owners in deeper leagues also can take a chance on any of the Cardinals starters; outside of Wellemeyer, who isn't likely to be available anyway, the remaining Cards hurlers aren't known for strikeouts but have worked around trouble often this season. Boggs or McClellan also could be fallback plans if either earns a long-term spot in the rotation. Garcia could also be a sleeper target in NL-only leagues if he were to receive the call.

There are some reliable options outside of the Cards staff. Depending on the matchup, Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Matt Garza (4.38 ERA, 1.39 WHIP in 11 starts) could be a solid fill-in option. Detroit Tigers hurler Armando Galarraga was moved back to the rotation to replace starter Jeremy Bonderman (shoulder); Galarraga had a 3.42 ERA with a .183 batting average against in nine starts this year. Colorado Rockies righty Aaron Cook (8-3, 3.16 ERA) could still be available and has been relatively effective with a 1.21 WHIP.

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About Tim Heaney

Tim's work has been featured by USA Today/Sports Weekly, among numerous outlets, and recognized as a finalist in the Fantasy Sports Writers Association awards. The Boston University alum, who competes in the prestigious LABR and Tout Wars, has won numerous industry leagues in both baseball and football.

He appears frequently, including every Sunday, on Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio, as well as every Wednesday on 1570 AM WNST in Baltimore.

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