Community Projection: Matt Cain

Since the expansion era, here are the pitchers who have thrown three seasons of 200+ IP with an ERA+ of 110 or better before they turned 25:

Steve Avery
Bert Blyleven
Mark Buehrle
Matt Cain
Dennis Eckersley
Dwight Gooden
Greg Maddux
Jon Matlack
Tom Seaver
Frank Tanana
Carlos Zambrano

Matt Cain’s worst ERA+ mark in his 200 IP seasons was 118, so I lowered the bar to avoid cherry-picking accusations. What does this list mean? The names range from arm casualties to inner circle Hall-of-Famers, but the list doesn’t have any predictive value. It’s not like you can extrapolate something nutty like "Cain is now likely to have a long, long career like Seaver, Blyleven, Maddux, and Tanana.". It’s mostly worth noting because a) the list is so danged short, and b) there are some great names on that short list. Pitchers as young, durable, and effective as Cain are rare, rare creatures. And the Giants have one.

It’s amazing that he’s usually only thought of as a mere part of a collective – "Part of the Giants’ 1-2 punch," or "A member of one of the better staffs in the league", etc… —as opposed to a star in his own right. Of course, his career record is only 44-51. He probably isn’t bunting well when he comes up with runners on base.

So Matt Cain is a gift, a treasure, and we have him for at least two more seasons, at which point we’ll have Barry Zito, Aaron Rowand, and the memories of Matt Cain. Ah, those sweet, sweet memories.

Cain’s splits are usually pretty worthless in determining how he’ll perform the next year. In 2007, everyone was abuzz about Cain’s low strikeout rate in the first half, and they were agog about his high strikeout rate and newfound control in the second half. This reversed itself in 2008, with folks afeared that his second-half strikeout rate was a harbinger of doom, only to be abashed by his 2009 performance in the first half. So while I hope that his pinpoint control after last year’s All-Star Game is a trend and not an aberration, I know better than to read too deeply into Cain’s splits.

Was Cain a different pitcher last year? It’s hard to see how. For all of the nonsense about Cain learning how to win in the first half (and forgetting in the second half), he was certainly luckier. He gave up eight hits with runners in scoring position and two outs last year…out of 94 plate appearances! That’s just freaky, and it’s not likely to happen again. But there are subtle indicators that Cain is learning how to pitch better. He’s getting more swings at pitches out of the strike zone, and he’s throwing more first-pitch strikes than he was as a youngster. But he also allowed more home runs last year than he ever had.

Ah, who am I kidding? I don’t know how to interpret "stats" and/or "data." I’m just a hack looking for his next knock-knock joke.

Knock knock!

Who’s there?

Matt.

Matt who?

Mah’ team stinks at scoring runs for me. How about getting some real hitters?

Much better. And I’m quite bullish on Cain, if only because he’s secretly awesome and underrated, like Link Hogthrob. I guess that would make Lincecum some combination of Kermit and a touring member of Dr. Teeth and The Electric Mayhem, but now we’re just getting silly.

Here's last year's community projection thread, and here are the established projection systems for 2010:

PECOTA - 201 IP, 169 K, 69 BB, 3.65 ERA, 21 HR
ZiPS - 217.2 IP, 179 K, 80 BB, 3.51 ERA, 20 HR
Bill James - 225 IP, 194 K, 80 BB, 3.36 ERA, 21 HR
CHONE - 190 IP, 157 K, 69 BB, 3.69 ERA, 18 HR

I’ll err on the side of not-so-wild optimism here, and it comes out with similar runs allowed totals from last year, but with healthier indicators for repeat success.

Matt Cain:

IP: 223
ERA: 3.15
K: 182
BB: 67
HR: 17

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