By: Ben Leonard
I think I’m qualified to speak for Giants fans here: Matt Cain holds a special place in my heart. He’s the guy everyone wants to get behind: the tough-luck horse who never backed down and never took no for an answer. I was an early adopter of his jersey back in the good ‘ole days of 2006 (When Ray Durham was hitting third) and have always longed for him to return to his former dominance. Okay, dominance is probably a stretch. Perhaps pretty dang goodness is more apt.
We’ll always remember him starting in the All-Star Game and all three postseason clinchers in 2012. And his alpaca hair.
Oh yeah, and that perfect game.
But as much as we all love him, the Giants can’t keep running him out there every five days in the midst of a pennant race –(Update: Bochy finally listened to me). He’s like that old rusty car you’ve had for years that’s finally breaking down — you know you should get rid of it, but your heart tells you that you can’t.
However all sentimentality aside, it’s painfully obvious to everyone in the ballpark — he has lost the feel for his pitches. Whether if it’s because he’s still adjusting to having a healthy arm after getting bone chips removed in his elbow, he’s throwing from a different arm slot, and it’s not working. It’s not intentional, but he’s dragging his arm, which leaves a lot of hangers and location mistakes. We pretty much know he’s healthy, because his velocity isn’t down.
With ten starts under his belt, we’ve had a large enough sample size now to draw meaningful conclusions about Cain’s future projectability. There used to be reason for cautious optimism for his future because of the after-effects of the surgery, but now it’s turned to very very very very cautious optimism, if that.
Cain has posted a brutal 6.15 ERA in those ten starts, posting career-low strikeout rates. And despite his inflated HR/FB rate (16.7%) he hasn’t necessarily been a victim of poor luck. Opposing hitters are making hard contact a whopping 10% more often against Cain, 35.9% as compared to last season’s 25.8% mark. He’s struggled to hit his spots consistently, and hitters haven’t been missing. His fastball has more closely resembled a meatball at times, but the unsettling thing is that he’s had enough decent starts to convince manager Bruce Bochy that he can improve.
Cain has had a lot of flameout games, where he dominates the first time through the order and then implodes the second or third time through. The numbers back it up: As the San Jose Mercury News pointed out, opposing hitters hit just .225 against Cain the first time through the order, and .413 the second time. The Giants need someone who can eat up innings to help rest a taxed bullpen, and Cain, a former bell-cow, has just contributed to their fatigue.
Bochy sees it too, and finally did something about it, putting him on the DL. Before, Chris Heston couldn’t come up from the minors for ten days unless someone went the DL, Tim Hudson was old and bad, and Tim Lincecum had disappeared and fallen off the face of the earth altogether. Now, they’ll stick with Heston until he comes off the DL, when rosters have already expanded in September. Don’t expect another start from him this season. But he won’t be giving up the Giants’ cream uniforms anytime soon– his contract is too big to be unloaded, and we all love him too much. It must pain him more than anyone else that he’s been unable to help the team win recently. Hopefully, a good long normal offseason could help him turn it around. We all want it to.
Cover Image: Chicago Cubs’ Kyle Schwarber, center, rounds the bases after hitting a three-run home run off of San Francisco Giants pitcher Matt Cain (18) during the third inning of a baseball game in San Francisco, Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2015. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)