Thursday, September 16, 2010

Speak Softly and Carry a Big (Cain)

From ESPN Stats and Information: MLB - How They Won (Cain)

How Giants starter Matt Cain dazzled the Dodgers: - Fastball. The Dodgers were 2-17 (.118) against Cain's heater. For the season, the opposition is hitting just .239 against Cain's fastball. - Control. Cain didn't walk a batter - the 3rd time this season he hasn't issued a base on balls. - Moved it around. Cain threw at least 10 pitches to seven of the nine "sections" of the strike zone. Only "middle/up" and "up/in" were neglected.
I read this on and felt immediately compelled to write about the Giants’ prized No. 2 starter. First, let’s take a look at his numbers over the past five seasons.

It’s pretty remarkable how consistently this kid has performed from 2006 through 2010 at the ages of just twenty one to twenty five. You couldn’t possibly ask for a more consistent no. 2 starter. I’ve had some harsh criticism for Cain because it seemed at times he just wasn’t making pitches when it mattered most and he couldn’t win the big games. Luckily, he finally beat the Dodgers this year and has now done it two starts in a row. He may never be Roy Halladay or Johan Santana or Tim Lincecum, but that’s just fine. Perhaps this is from where the criticism was stemming, expecting too much. On the other hand, Roy Halladay wasn’t ROY HALLADAY when he came into the league. In fact, he came into his own right about the time he was twenty five, which is exactly how old Cain is. By the time Halladay was 26, he had about 40 wins or so. Cain already has 56* and is deserving of quite a few more.

*He’s actually the perfect example of how preposterous awarding Cy Young’s, giving contracts and evaluating pitchers with wins and losses is. It’s so obvious that he wasn’t deserving of his 15-30 mark from 2007-2008 based on his numbers. Any every single Giants fan could tell you that. But anyway, this isn’t meant to be another example of why pitcher wins are so bogus, this is about the soft spoken, southern Matt Cain.

There’s nothing terribly sexy about his numbers, but they’re very good. From 2007 to 2010 Cain has keep his K/9 somewhere in the seven’s, thrown 200 innings every year, rendered less than 1 HR/9, and continued to lower his walk rate. This year it’s at a solid 2.55/9. What’s particularly interesting is the consistency with which his ERA is better than his FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching). I see no reason why he can’t continue to do this so long as he continues to locate that power fastball and provided he’s backed with solid defense, which is at a premium inside AT&T and should be a priority to management.

Last nights game against the Dodgers was a perfect example of how he’s grown, and how despite his age, he was more of a pitcher than Mr. Cy Young, Tim Lincecum. Cain knows that you pitch off the fastball. Lincecum, on the other hand, learned a harsh lesson on this very subject this very season. Lincecum lost some velocity and stopped pitching off his fastball. Perhaps he struggled locating it because he was simply trying to throw harder to get back to his previous velocity. But what I think we’ve seen in his last few starts is that he’s trusting his mechanics and fastball command once more and throwing his other pitches off of it. Cain, like Lincecum, is throwing softer now than he ever has – they both lost about 1 MPH of velocity in 2010 from 2009. But he, unlike Lincecum, is having greater success. Lincecum can, and perhaps already has, learn a lot from his slightly younger mate. Together they can be the two-headed ballast of the Giants’ rotation and take the National League by storm over the next five years.

Cain has finally come into his own and is also finally playing for a team that is scoring him at least a few runs while playing good defense. I honestly believe 2010 is the floor for what Cain is capable of. He’s just been so consistent at such a young age that I feel confident in saying that. This is what you’re going to get. Until – with a lot of hard work and a little luck – Matt Cain becomes MATT CAIN.

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