Yogi Berra once said that in baseball, “Ninety percent of the game is mental and – the other half is physical “. If Adam Wainwright didn’t read that somewhere and buy into it, then he must have learned it somewhere else………or maybe he just figured it out himself.
Because everything about this right hander of the St. Louis Cardinals suggests that he prides himself in being a pitcher and not a thrower. He’s also a thinker on the mound who is constantly making adjustments to the hitters he is facing game by game – and sometimes pitch by pitch.
By the way, this is in stark contrast to a number of pitchers who never seem to “get that” and suffer later when their physical attributes decline and hitters catch up to them or develop the ability to outthink the pitcher themselves. One of those I wrote about the other day (C C Sabathia) who seemingly has yet to grasp the fact that 93mph slider has disappeared and he needs to adjust to that fact of life.
We’ll cite some of Wainwright’s stats in a minute, but suffice to say they compare with any of the elite starters in the game today. In 2016, he will be coming back from a Achilles Heel injury that delayed his first start of 2015 to September. Needless to say, the Cardinals will be counting on him heavily as they take an aging (more on that later too) lineup into this season in a power division that promises to be heavily contested.
Adam Wainwright, the thinking man’s pitcher and a throwback to the Greg Maddux’s of the baseball world, is someone to watch and listen to this year and here’s why………….
Adam Wainwright summed up his approach to pitching this way (CBN.com) , “I like to think of myself as a guy who can mold into whoever I need to be for that given game,” says Adam. “If a guy has a glaring weakness and it matches up against one of my strengths, then I attack it. So my style can vary from game to game.” Adjustments – a thinking man’s pitcher.
Wainwright has been at this for a while. He is 35 now and hears all the talk about the Cardinals being too old to win in a division stacked with young and talented teams. Typically, he thinks about it differently saying “Nobody likes being called old, right? But I think they’re right, for the most part. We are aging. We’re just becoming more wise. Somebody has to get old. If we’re still playing and older it means we still have some ability. The more people talk about it, the more we laugh because we just know Matt Holliday is still going to hit well. We know that Yadier is still going to catch well. And hopefully we know I’m going to pitch well.”
His approach has also brought him success……..he’s won 65% of his decisions (121-67) logging more than 200 innings each season (excepting 2015) while compiling a ERA under three, and appearing in three All Star games. Not exactly a Hall Of Fame career but a stellar one nonetheless.
A thinker off the field as well as on the field, Wainwright is free to offer commentary on a wide range of issues. For example, here’s one from left field on the prevalence of Viagra ads during baseball telecasts, “I shouldn’t have to turn the channel every single comm break because of erectile disfunction ads. Millions of kids watching” (posted on Twitter).
Wainwright also excels in other ways too as the recipient of the Hutch Award given to the player who “best exemplifies the fighting spirit and competitive desire” of Fred Hutchinson, by “persevering through adversity”. (The News Tribune)
Wainright also weighed in on a recent hot button topic in baseball taking a divergent view on Bryce Harper’s claim that baseball is “tired “. Here’s how Wainwright put it, “If a pitcher struck one of these great hitters out and then did a cartwheel off the mound, then the hitter’s going to throw everything, they’re going to bench-clear,” Wainwright said. “But if a hitter hits a homer and throws a bat 26 feet up in the air, they think it’s OK? I don’t know if that’s OK. I think you can have fun, but be respectful at the same time.” (ESPN.Go)
So you may be wondering…….what does this have to do with anything? Good question, but it has everything to do with pitching in the big leagues. And whether or not we agree with anything Wainwright says off the field, the fact is that his curiosity and “thinking” abilities translates into success when he’s a pitcher is on the mound and especially when he’s facing a hitter who is also thinking.
In sum, pitching is a craft that needs to be caressed and grown over the years. Because, do you think that Ardolis Chapman (for example) is taking the time now to master his craft …….. And what will happen when he loses the ability to blow hitters away and suddenly needs to THINK to get outs? Adam Wainwright doesn’t need to worry about that…….he already adjusts on the fly because it’s part of his DNA……………He’s a thinker in life and that automatically transfers itself to the mound.
Don’t misread this……….Adam Wainwright does not stand alone. Instead, he merely typifies the message here. How, for example, could Jamie Moyer spend 25 years in the big leagues winning an impressive 269 games (Baseball Reference) while topping the gun at 85-87 on a good day if he had not learned how to pitch!
Interestingly, Wainwright’s co-star this season is John Lackey who has bounced around more than a pinball lately. He too exemplifies the ability to transform himself from 95 to 90 successfully. For that reason alone, it should be interesting to watch these guys as the season moves on in the NL Central………….