Madison Bumgarner is the Opening Day starter for your 2014 San Francisco Giants. This makes sense because he's one of the best baseball pitchers on the planet. This is surprising because Matt Cain exists.
There's no sense looking at it from Bumgarner's perspective. He's just about the Opening Dayiest starter who ever Opening Dayed. He's consistent, reliable, and fantastic. He would have been in the discussion, if not the favorite, to start Opening Day for about 23 or 24 teams, Of course he's starting Opening Day. He's Madison Bumgarner.
The part about Cain not getting the nod is what sticks in my head. Let's update that list of Giants pitchers with Opening Day starts since AT&T Park opened:
Tim Lincecum: 4
Livan Hernandez: 3
Jason Schmidt: 2
Kirk Rueter: 2
Barry Zito: 2
Matt Cain: 1
That's an absurd list, of course. You get Lincecum at the top, but the weaponized meh of Livan Hernandez got three starts. Woody got two. Zito got two because if you say "Opening Day starter" enough, maybe you start to believe it yourself. Cain has one.
If you use Baseball-Reference.com's WAR, Cain is the third-best starter in San Francisco Giants history, behind two pitchers in the Hall of Fame (Juan Marichal, Gaylord Perry). I know WAR's not the perfect metric for pitchers, but unless you're a trilobite using wins and losses, you're probably going to get to the same place with whatever statistic you choose. Heck, dump stats and use your feels. Your feels tell you it's true.
But when Cain emerged as the bad sucker we know him as, there was Zito. Cain was the best pitcher on the Giants the day before the Giants signed Zito, and Cain was the best pitcher the day after they signed him. But $126 million buys a lot of expectations, enough to spill over into the next season. So Cain didn't get those starts.
Then, when it became ever so clear that Barry Zito was more of a Shawn Estes who could slide, Lincecum emerged. I don't care how cool you thought Cain was back then; Lincecum was the rock star. He was so good, he won awards for being the best pitcher and everything1. There wasn't a debate about Opening Day starts, whether internally or externally. It was always Lincecum.
Finally Matt Cain got his chance and whoops screwed that up shoot oh well let's go with the kid.
I'm not upset about it. Cain doesn't sound upset about it, at least from his public comments. And while we're busy ranting about Joaquin Arias starting at first against a tough lefty, Bruce Bochy is probably expertly pulling ego levers and tweaking motivation pulleys behind the scenes. It could be that after a tough first half in 2013, this is exactly what Cain needs in 2014. And, really, it makes little difference exactly how the rotation is set up.
It just kind of stinks, that's all. And you know there's some dillweed who will bring it up in 15 years if Cain is lucky enough to finish his career as a Cooperstown candidate. "If he was so good, why didn't he start more Opening Days, hurf hurf?" Promise you'll be there to poke that guy in the eye. Promise me.
Madison Bumgarner is the Opening Day starter, and he deserves it. The Giants are still oh-for-San Francisco without him, and he was the best pitcher on the team last year. I would have gone with Cain, though. Not just because I'm a sentimental fool, but because I want him to catch Livan Hernandez on that list. I think it's going to be an obsession of mine.