The Matt Cain conundrum

Matt Cain has had all-star caliber results this year, which has been a huge part of our success to this point as well as why he is a candidate to start in next week's all-star game. We've all marveled at his 2009 and how he's grown as a pitcher, improved his changeup immensely, and essentially "broken out" to be the ace we've all hope he could always be.


However, has Cain really broken out or improved at all?

To the eye, the biggest improvement I see in Cain this year is in his changeup. It's become a great pitch for him and he's using it more and more (although I'd want him to use it even more). However, what else is really that different with Cain from year's past? Run support has finally been there, but it hasn't affected his peripheral stats.


Let's take a look at Cain's '09 stats


Contact%: 80.1%    (06-08: 81.2%)

K/9: 7.26                   (06-08: 7.81)

BB/9:  3.59               (06-08: 3.80, 07-08: 3.65)


K/BB:  2.02               (06-08: 2.05)

HR/9:  0.86               (06-08: 0.75)

HR/FB%: 7.7%         (06-08: 6.3%)

FIP: 3.89                     (06-08: 3.90)

BABIP: .266               (06-08:  .288)

LOB%: 86.1%            (06-08: 72.6%)

GB/FB: 0.79                (06-08: 0.78)

FB Velo avg: 92.2      (06-08: 93.1)


Basically, on paper, Matt Cain is pretty much exactly the same pitcher he has been for the past 3 year's. In fact, his velo's a little down and he's not striking out as many guys, whilst surrendering HR's at a higher rate. So why is Cain doing so well? Is he really any better? If not, can we really expect this good fortune to continue?


1) Is it defense?   The Giants rank 6th in the majors in UZR up 3 spots from 9th last year. It's not been a huge leap, but a decent sized one nonetheless. However, the two biggest positions we've experienced this leap is at 2B and 1B, both of which are infield positions that likely wouldn't benefit Cain to a large degree given his extreme flyball tendencies. The OF defense might be a tad better this year, but it's more or less the same personnel logging the majority of the innings, maybe a slight boost there though.

I think the improved defense has helped Cain, like it has all our pitchers, but not nearly to the extent of Cain's improvement. We have a solid defense, so pitcher's should be outproducing their FIP's, but not to the degree of Cain.


2) Has Cain gained composure in tough spots, thus stranding more runners?  First of all, I think Matt Cain has always had excellent composure, he'd have to to pitch through the lack of support he's gotten over the years. So I really don't think Cain is stranding runners at a higher rate because he's "grown", the truth of the matter is, Cain's just been very lucky to strand runners at the rate he has. Almost all pitchers average a LOB% between 68-73%, there is certainly soem degree of control to this, but not to large degree's. Cain's 86.1% rate is just way too high to be considered sustainable. Sure, defense helps here as well, but once again, not to the degree it's helped Cain.


This rate is certainly going to lower leading Cain to yield more and more run and build higher pitch counts forcing him to leave games earlier.



The truth of the matter is, Matt Cain is pretty much the same pitcher he has been for the past 3 years, which is still damn good, but he has really not shown too much this year to suggest he is going to continue yielding the results he has so far in '09.  He has some regression coming his way, and while this season will certainly go down as his best yet, it would be foolish of the Giants FO to think we can count on another 115 IP of 2.42 ERA ball in the 2nd half when trying to calculate just how much we need to improve to make the playoffs in 2009.


I love Matt Cain and I do believe he certainly has Cy Young potential in the future, but I don't think he's made the leaps a lot of people feel he's made this year. He was probably under appreciated in the past and is now a bit over appreciated in the present.  The true growth for Cain will be cutting those walk rates by about 1 BB per 9, that is when Matt Cain will truly take the next step in his career as a pitcher.


Perhaps I'm wrong and Matt has already taken the "next step", but someone would have to clarify it for me so that I can understand why

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