We love Matt Cain. Some of us more than others. He's a little too beefy for me, but whatever floats your boat. Lust-worthiness aside, we can all agree that Cain is a good pitcher. And now that he has a revised contract, we can look at how he and the contract compare to a couple of contemporaries: Felix Hernandez and Justin Verlander.
While doing some reading recently, I thought the immediate comparison between these three was a bit lazy considering that Hernandez and Verlander just signed contracts this winter. But in reality (as opposed to the Looney Toons cartoon that is my mind), the three pitchers are very similar:
So they are all close in age and have pitched roughly the same number of innings. For what it's worth here are their physical measurements as per Fangraphs:
So, how about what matters: performance. I will be using Fangraphs FIP, WAR, and dollar value for the numbers below. Right now I want to limit this analysis to the years 2006-2008. This is a three year period that eliminated each player's first year which was short for each player and of varying number of innings. I am also eliminating each player's 2009 year which will become apparent later.
It's really remarkable how similar these pitchers are for the first full three seasons. Just a guess, but I think you would be hard pressed to find three more similar pitchers during this period. Additionally, they are of similar age, body type, and have thrown basically the same amount of professional/college innings.
So... that brings us to 2009. Cain was good in 2009. His "old school" stats were better this past year. Even with a historically anemic offense, the Giants still managed to score 3.9 runs/IP for him, the best since 2006 and he won 14 games, going 14-8, for his best record in the ML yet. His ERA was 2.89, almost a run better than his previous career low. The above numbers are buoyed by a .268 BABIP and 81.6% LOB% which is 6.3% higher than his career high.
Here's how Cain's numbers in the metrics we care about compared to that for Hernandez and Verlander for 2009:
We know this. Matt Cain was pretty much exactly the same pitcher he was in 2009 that he has been his whole career. He is a very good pitcher, but not a superstar like Lincecum. That is excellent; no one is begrudging him for being a good pitcher.
The thing is, Hernandez and Verlander pitched MUCH better in 2009 than they had in 2006-2008. And in 2009 they pitched better than Cain.
Up to this point, I have presented what the results are for each of these pitchers and how their respective histories make them very comparable. Three particular questions remain:
1. Why did Hernandez and Verlander have better seasons in 2009 than Cain? Why did they have a "breakout" year?
2. What do each of their peripheral stats tell us about the future for each player?
3. In the context of the recent contracts for Hernandez and Verlander, was Cain's extension a good move for the Giants?
So I kind of reach the end of my "skill-set" (NEEDS MOAR TOOLZ!!!) when it comes to predictions and utilizing peripherals to glean some sort of trend for players. I can say broadly that Cain's declining K/9 rate is not a good sign, though he has managed to reduce his BB/9 rate at the same time, so this might cancel things out. Likewise, one reason Verlander was more successful this year was his 10.09 K/9 rate which was almost 2 K/9 higher than his previous career high. His fastball also regained the velocity he lost in 2008 (and then some), so I'm pretty sure that Bumgardner should at the very least become Facebook friends with him. I think both the increased K-rate and re-finding of velocity are unusual, but probably not unheard of. Hernandez's K/9 and BB/9 did not change dramatically, but his HR/9 dropped from a career low of 0.76 to 0.57, which I think accounts for most of the change in his FIP. I don't know enough about him to know whether this is sustainable.
I think it would be awesome for somebody to expand on the above paragraph, looking into all the peripherals for these three players for a sort of Part 2 of this analysis. Like I said, it's a little over my head.
How about the contracts? The Giants clearly made a wonderful decision to sign Matt Cain to a long-term deal early in his career (hindsight being 20/20 and all). Here is how his contract looked prior to Sunday:
Here is what we know of the new contract:
Basically, the new contract awarded Cain with a guaranteed 2011 for the same money, and a guaranteed 2012 for a lot of money.
Meanwhile Hernandez and Verlander signed new contracts within a couple of weeks of each other this winter:
So, after all this shit that you have read, you probably want an answer. Was Cain's contract good for the Giants? Answer: it depends, I don't know, and sure why not.
I would be a little wary of giving a 5-year contract to any pitcher, so I like that the Giants didn't go crazy like Seattle and Detroit did. And if Cain continues to be the same pitcher he has been from 2006-2009, then 2010-2011 continues to be a steal. 2012 is a little more uncertain. But there is loads of uncertainty that year with the Maya calendar ending and all, so who cares. Off hand, I would say that $15M in 2012 is too much, but not WAY too much. I also am not quite sure why Cain was offered what likely amounts to a one year extension. I'm sure the Giants have some reason that makes little sense. Bottom line is that I like Matt Cain and I'm glad he's around a while longer. Will he get better or worse and will this contract be positive or negative? I guess we will just have to wait and see. What do you think now that you know the above? Thanks for reading.
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