Why Matt Cain is better than you
I’m repeating myself when I say that there’s no shame in being shut out by Ubaldo Jimenez. The guy is a space assassin from the Glornak 7 galaxy, sent to make a struggling Giants offense look even worse than they normally do. On his home world he was genetically engineered in a lab and given the ability to throw a baseball 140 miles per hour. While Earth’s atmosphere has since reduced it to a mere 100 miles an hour, it’s still safe to say that he’s very very good at what he does.
That said, some shame can be found scoring only one run off of Jason Hammel. This is the same Jason Hammel who, even after giving up one run in 6 and 2/3 innings, still possesses an ERA over 6. On our end, Barry Zito pitched an amazing game only to get a no decision for his efforts. Down two games to none in a three game series against a division rival, the Giants needed a hero in the final game to salvage some semblance of dignity. That hero was Matt Cain.
As the title of this post suggests, Matt Cain is better than you. He’s young, he’s talented, and he has an eery resemblance to Bobby Hill. On the cusp of a back-breaking sweep at the hands of the Rockies, Cain took it upon himself to conquer the Rockies lineup. He realized that there’s a certain embarrassment to be had in losing to a team whose mascot is a purple triceratops. Rockies hitters were rendered helpless as Matt Cain single-handedly vaulted the Giants to third in the NL West standings.
All joking aside, Cain has quickly become the best pitcher in a rotation headed by reigning Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum. While he’s been a tad lucky (evidenced by his .228 BABIP), there’s been a marked improvement with his offspeed pitches across the board. In 2009, Fangraph’s pitch values rated his slider, curveball, and changeup at -1, -4.1, and 3 respectively. In 2010, each pitch has improved (0.8 slider, 1.9 curveball, 4.1 changeup). For a guy who pitches primarily off of his fastball (he throws it 65% of the time), having an effective arsenal of offspeed pitches is essential to success. With this, Cain currently has career high in the percentage of pitches out of the strike zone that hitters offer at (30%, versus 27% last season).
In the midst of this, it’s easy to forget that he’s only 25 years-old, and a few months Tim Lincecum’s junior. Cain has improved in every season he’s been in the Majors, showing a willingness to learn and adjust relative to a constantly changing league. Yesterday against the Rockies, he played the role of the stopper, turning what was a grim, heart-wrenching series against a division rival into a slightly less grim and heart-wrenching series.
Now we head out on the road with at least some momentum, beginning the trip against the Pirates, followed by four games against the surprising Cincinnati Reds. It’ll be a mercifully short trip for a team that has struggled on the road, followed by the beginning of interleague play. In June, the Giants draw the Pirates, Orioles, and Astros. Such a schedule could give us a chance to climb the standings (at least when we’re not playing the Dodgers, Red Sox, and Blue Jays). For now, we have a much-needed day off from the torture of Giants baseball.