With the MLB regular season looking likely to be delayed for at least all of April and possibly beyond, we seem to facing the very real prospect of having a full missed season in combination with the 2020 season. This is actually not at all unusual in MLB baseball. The 1918 and 1919 MLB seasons were shortened to 140 games due to World War I and the Spanish flu pandemic.
Then there are the player strikes. In 1972, the season started 13 days late and the games were not made up, which meant not every team ended up playing the same amount of games. The players struck in the middle of 1981, which led to a 107 game season. Both the 1994 and 1995 seasons were shortened due to a player strike, ending the 1994 season on August 11 and a 125 game season the next year. Technically, this is the first lockout that will cause missed games.
But since this post is about how the missing games are affecting two specific careers, there’s more missing games that affected careers that need to be mentioned. Some players missed the 1918 games due to being drafted for World War I. Many, many players missed a season or multiple seasons during World War II. And while not as extreme, a good number of players missed seasons due to being drafted for the Korean War as well. There is a long history of players happening to play at the wrong time, and who probably had a potential Hall of Fame career affected by the missing seasons.
And while that is an argument I might be interested in having in the future over both Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt, whereby a missing season in their relative primes will definitely matter, we probably have to see their career play out to see if one missing season will really make that much of a difference. Which brings me to the topic at hand, the battery combo of Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina. Thankfully, I doubt their Hall of Fame cases will be affected.
Wainwright will not get elected by the writers no matter how he ends his career, and if he somehow finds himself with a sympathetic Veteran’s Committee group, I tend to think the missing season won’t matter either. Whatever argument is used to put him in will not really be a stats thing since he’s not a Hall of Famer by the stats and wouldn’t be even with another season of baseball (except maybe if 2011 Wainwright got to pitch in that missing season) . And Molina seems like a done deal already, and even if he’s not, his last few seasons haven’t really added anything to his Hall of Fame case either.
But what could be affected is that record. Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina have made the fourth most starts together, as a pitching and catching duo, in baseball history. When they make their first start of 2022, they will tie the third place group of Red Faber and Ray Schalk. Their 11th start will tie Warren Spahn and Del Crandall. Their 19th start will tie them for first and their 20th will put them past Mickey Lolich and Bill Freehan. They just need 20 starts to have a record, a record that looks pretty damn unbreakable if they manage to pull it off.
The record could be a lot more too if it wasn’t for those damn injuries. Molina and Wainwright have not had what I would call an especially high amount of injuries, but they’re rarely injured at the same time. They did not start a game together until the beginning of 2007, Molina’s fourth season. Molina missed a month of games in that middle of 2007 and he played his last game that year with about a week to go as well. Molina was healthy in 2008, but Wainwright only made 20 starts. Wainwright missed all of 2011 to injury. Molina missed 15 days in 2013 and nearly two months in 2014. Wainwright made 66 starts in those seasons, but just 4 in 2015.
Wainwright only made 23 starts in 2017 and just eight starts in 2018. With all the relatively minor injuries by Molina and more major ones by Wainwright, it appears that 2018 was the first time both spent time on the IL at the same time, which is kind of crazy. Molina missed a month in 2018 while Wainwright missed most of that year. Wainwright hasn’t really missed time since then, though Molina has made trips to the IL in the past four seasons, including 2020.
So here’s my question: for Wainwright and Molina to break the record, when does the season need to start? A full season would give them a healthy dose of security. 20 starts when a fully healthy starter would make 32 starts in a season gives them some amount of wiggle room. The delayed season effectively removes the wiggle room, best case scenario. Worst case scenario, they both could be fully healthy all year and not have enough starts to break the record.
Wainwright made his 13th start of the 2021 season on June 14th. So that’s the absolute latest you want the season to start if you’re interested in that record being broken. He could make 20 starts fairly easily if the season started by June 14th. If he’s healthy all year. And if Molina is healthy all year. It’s probably fair to say if the season started on June 14th, the record probably isn’t being broken, so let’s aim for earlier.
We’re going to ignore the prospect of a Wainwright injury, because frankly, that’s pretty much a wrap. History tells us that a Wainwright injury typically isn’t for 10 days or 20 days. In a season he’s been injured, the most starts he’s ever made was 23. That’s nine missing starts and actually more like 10 with his normal being 33 starts at the time. With an entirely full season, there was at least a possible way Wainwright could get injured and the record could still be broken. That seems unlikely now. Hence, the loss of wiggle room.
What we will account for is a Molina injury. Molina, as mentioned above, has been injured at least once in the past four seasons. Well, in 2020, he had COVID, so that’s at least a little unfair, but I’d be more inclined to ignore it if it was a 162 game season. He still missed time. So in 2018, he missed 26 games, in 2019 he missed 29 games, and in 2021 he missed 11 games. He missed eight games in 2020. That’s an average of 19.5 missed games in a season, which we can round up to 20 games, because that’s four starts for Wainwright.
So the absolute latest we’d want the lockout to last for the sake of the record involves enough games for Wainwright to be on pace to make 24 starts. Obviously, both for the record and as baseball fans, we do not want the season to start anywhere near this late. But this is the premise of my post, so we’re focused on the record and how late the season can start with the record still looking beatable.
Wainwright made his 9th start on May 23rd in 2021. That’s our date. I want to see this record broken very badly, so I am acknowledging that the season will be missing April and that’s a bummer, but please get the season going in May so this can happen. All of May, or the vast majority of it, would be vastly preferable as the wiggle room would increase quite a bit.
It would genuinely be a bummer if Wainwright and Molina do not break the record, because they would probably not have a whole lot of trouble beating it in the alternate scenario where we have not missed the first four months of 2020 and at least the first month of 2021. And while there’s nothing that can be done with the pandemic, it does feel like games were left on the table due to negotiations that would put them closer to the goal. Another month for instance is another 5 starts and that’s 5 less starts than they need this year, which would make an enormous difference.
But alas, nothing we can do about that now. Let’s hope the season starts by May – hell let’s hope it starts earlier – and see Wainwright and Molina cement their place in history.