This is a post to remind you that Matt Cain exists. Does that seem unnecessary to you? Perhaps it is. If you don't need a reminder that Matt Cain exists, you are one of the good people. Occasionally, though, even I forget. That's why this is a post to remind you that Matt Cain exists.
There was no way the Giants were going to win the World Series without Matt Cain, just like they was no way they were going to win two World Series with Tim Lincecum in the bullpen and one with him starting. These things happen, they surprise and astound, and then they're the new normal. We have no capacity for wonder anymore, just an existential crisis that comes with being unable to keep up. We watched the Giants succeed without Cain for the first time. It's been more than two years since he was unmistakably awesome on the mound. As such, he's a name on the roster of a team that isn't even playing right now. It's easy to reduce him to "older pitcher coming off elbow surgery and two down years."
What if -- hear me out on this one -- what if he's Matt Cain this year?
There's a reason he gets the first-and-last name treatment around here roughly 90 percent more than style guides would normally dictate. It's short, rhythmic, and typing the full name punctuates this idea that he's different. Try it. Matt Cain. For six seasons, he was a model of consistency, durability, and understated brilliance. The year he was the unquestioned ace of a World Series champion, he was 16-5 with a 2.79 ERA, and he finished sixth in the Cy Young voting. Those aren't great statistics in terms of predictive value, but they help you remember how folks thought of him at the time. He started 37 games that season, and the Giants were 24-13 in those games.
It's not exactly likely that he will be that good again. If I ever get my hands on entropy, why, I'm going to wring its formidable, intimidating neck. But eventually every baseball player shuffles off this professional coil. That player. That player, too. That other player. The prospect who replaces that player. Everything goes away and life is awful. Cain is still just 30, though. We've seen Ryan Vogelsong return from the abyss like Dylan McKay, wiser and steely-eyed. We've seen Travis Ishikawa literally win the pennant. A 30-year-old pitcher returning to 28-year-old form shouldn't rank among our greatest surprises as Giants fans.
Baseball Prospectus is optimistic.
Steamer is not overly pessimistic.
ZiPS is also not overly pessimistic.
And while those pitchers would all have value to a contending team, they're not especially exciting. What if instead, then, those projections are rendered useless by Matt Cain? You know the guy. He's the one who wipes his brow demonstratively when things go bad, which isn't very often, and has this weird shoulder tic that he'll do before pitches. He's also excellent. Remember excellent Matt Cain? He started the 2012 All-Star Game, fer ... here, let's watch excellent Matt Cain:
Movement, location, break. I'm not saying you should expect that pitcher again. But you can hope for him. Elbows are like a complicated watch that pitchers are always dropping in the toilet, so there are never any guarantees. Remember that Matt Cain, though? That was about 900 days ago.
He's young enough to bounce back. Adam Wainwright had Tommy John surgery at the same age Cain had surgery to remove bone chips, and he came back just as strong. Chris Carpenter was even older and returned to the top of the Cardinals rotation. The Cardinals are jerks like that, always catching a break before the NLCS, but they're pretty strong comps.
The Giants' rotation would move from a possible liability to a strength with that Matt Cain. Potential postseason matchups would be much easier to stomach. If Jake Peavy, Tim Hudson, and Vogelsong all have the potential to be steady and helpful, Matt Cain is the one hope the Giants have for a second excellent pitcher.
The Giants can succeed without Cain. Apparently, they can inexplicably succeed without all sorts of people. A productive, outstanding Matt Cain would make everything much, much easier, though. He would also make everything much, much more fun. There are a lot of things to look forward this season, but there might not be anything I'm rooting for more than a Matt Cain renaissance.
This is a reminder that Matt Cain exists.