Adam Wainwright on July 20, 2008

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And just like that, a cloud developed over the Cardinals’ 2011 season. Let’s start with a couple of quotes… then I’ll guide us through the plethora of opinions and input (links, links, links) on what this means for the Cardinals in 2011 and beyond after the jump.

From the Post Dispatch’s Joe Strauss:

Adam Wainwright, the Cardinals’ ace, projected opening day starter and two-time Cy Young Award contender, will receive a second opinion today after an initial exam found enough damage to a ligament near his right elbow to suggest surgery that would put him out for this season and a large part of 2012.

And from the injury expert himself, Will Carroll, at Sports Illustrated:

If Wainwright has Tommy John surgery, he’ll miss the 2011 season while undergoing the nine-to-twelve month rehab. He should be able to come back without any real challenge, following the same path as Joe Nathan, the Twins closer who is returning from elbow reconstruction. Nathan tore his ligament at a similar part of spring training in 2010 and is throwing without limitations now.

Some are questioning whether Wainwright’s elbow was more of an issue last season than previously admitted by the Cardinals. To be fair, the team hasn’t always been forthcoming about players’ injuries and prognoses. Buster Olney even tweeted about how scouts believed his arm angle had dropped. Jeff Sullivan puts that idea to rest with data from Texas Leaguers’ website that reveals no discernible difference.

Christina Kahrl, from Baseball Prospectus, twists the knife (behind pay wall) by reminding us that PECOTA projected Wainwright to be the seventh best pitcher in the league (WARP). She acknowledges that the bullpen can expect added stress if the Cardinals entrust two-fifths of the rotation to Lohse and McClellan. With that said, it’s easier to find a reliable bullpen arm than rotation stabilizer. Let’s hope this doesn’t give LaRussa cause to hoard an extra arm in the bullpen, eh?

At FanGraphs, Jeff Zimmerman announced that there would be a DL Tracker available throughout the 2011 season. In the spreadsheet, the WAR lost to a team due to player injury is calculated by estimating the time of that player’s absence and plugging in a projected FIP value. Given 200 innings and a FIP of 3.20, Zimmerman determines that the Cardinals are losing nearly 6 WAR. Of course, this depends on who takes his place in the rotation. If they manage to find an average performer (2 WAR), the damage would be reduced to 4 WAR. Is that type of player already in-house? I might take a closer look at that this weekend if I find the time.

In a post at ESPN’s Sweet Spot, Matt Philip, or Pip as we know him from Fungoes, calls attention to the inability to overcome injuries as a contributing factor in the Cardinals’ disappointing 2010 season. While Wainwright’s injury is clearly a greater loss than Brad Penny or Kyle Lohse, contending in 2011 isn’t an insurmountable proposition. Pip astutely reminds us that Mozeliak’s advantage is found in having time to assess the situation rather than having to scramble to patch up the hole immediately, such as the circumstances demanded last season. And let me also suggest that the pitching staff should not need to be as perfect assuming that Freese can stay healthy, Schumaker’s luck normalizes, and Berkman’s 2010 was an outlier.

Conveniently enough, Dave Cameron linked to an article by Dan Szymborski at ESPN Insider (I don’t have that subscription – behind pay wall) in which it’s revealed that the injury costs the Cardinals four wins in the standings and nearly 50% of their playoff odds according to ZIPS projections.

In that same post, Dave explains how Wainwright’s injury doesn’t only hurt the Cardinals in their win/loss column, but it’ll also hurt their bank account. Because they are forfeiting games in the 84-94 range, this results in a net loss of $2.5 million per win, or $10 million in total since ZIPS expects them to lose four more games. Combined with the loss of revenue by dropping out of contention, and they’re losing a net value of $16 million. That’s a tough pill to swallow considering Pujols’ expected contract demands.

Jonah Keri posed a scenario in which Wainwright’s injury actually allows the Cardinals financial flexibility to sign Pujols long term. Hypothetically, the team could save $21 million since they’d no longer be obligated to exercise Wainwright’s 2012 and 2013 options, and they could invest that money in Pujols. Taken together, Keri and Cameron’s scenarios nearly offset one another from a financial point of view. Personally, I have a hard time believing that a team willing to guarantee Brad Penny $7.5 million in 2010 will pass on an opportunity to pay one of the top pitchers in the game $21 million over two years. Even if Wainwright only pitched 1.5 seasons over that time, he’d only need to post approximately 3.5 WAR to justify the contract. Given Wainwright’s recent history and the successful nature of Tommy John surgery these days, it’s not difficult to imagine him being worth 6 or 7 WAR. Mozeliak would have a difficult time finding that kind of value elsewhere.

At Baseball Prospectus, Colin Wyers reveals the Cardinals’ diminished chances (behind pay wall) of making the playoffs as calculated by PECOTA. Losing Wainwright costs them 13.2% chance of winning the division and 1.2% chance of winning the Wild Card, combining together for a 14.5% reduced chance of making the playoffs at all. As depressing as that might sound, amazingly, our team is still the favorite. Don’t give up on the season yet. It’s been a long winter, baseball fans. And actual, real-life games are about to begin.

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Andy Beard

Proud STL resident. Baseball enthusiast. Music lover. Theology thinker/reader. MA in Clinical Psych. Never met a pizza I didn't like.

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