Matt Cain had a decent start yesterday. He looked bad early, but eventually figured it out, and gave the team six good innings. Six innings, six hits, one run, six strikeouts, one walk. So that's it then. He's fixed! He's good now! He's Matt Cain again! Problems solved.
Now, my track record on Cain this year isn't great; I basically declared he was fine after one good start against the A's in July, which you probably don't remember and I shouldn't have reminded you about that. That didn't happen. It was JT Jordan. I wasn't even in town that day. You can't prove anything.
But here we are, and Cain had a decent start where he did a lot of bad things early, got through them, and settled down to have a nice performance. The inconsistency with location was familiar to anyone who's watched him over the last month, except he found a way to work through it, come out with a good line in the boxscore, and not get the win. Vintage Cain!
Here's the thing about Matt Cain: I really, really want him to be good. Like, desperately want. I have a list of article ideas, and "What's wrong with Cain" has been on it for weeks, just sitting there between "An oral history of the time Livan Hernandez went 12 for 13 over a four-game stretch" and "Rewriting Talkin' Baseball to be about farts." And I can't write it. I don't want to, and I won't, and I can't.
For a long, long time, the Giants were absolutely miserable at developing prospects. It's hard to think back to those days now, when the farm system is mass producing middle infielders off an assembly line, but back in the day, Matt Cain was the first glimmer of prospect hope in a tunnel of Fopperts and Valderrami. That's a literal tunnel, FYI. The Giants took their failed prospects and stitched them together in an arc, and then made their new prospects walk under them to understand the price of failure. The tunnel's still there, by the way, and it's making Kyle Crick real nervous right now.
And then Cain came up in 2005 and pitched well, and after an early bump in 2006, pitched well again. Then he was the hardest-luck pitcher on a couple hard-luck teams, he spent years being overshadowed by Tim Lincecum, and by 2010 he was the longest tenured Giant. In 2012, he was the undisputed ace of the staff, was the first Giant to get a win in the All-Star Game since 1981, and he threw a perfect dang game. He didn't give up an earned run in the 2010 playoffs, and started all three playoff clinchers in 2012. This year, he punched Matt Duffy in the balls while at the White House. Matt Cain is a hero, dammit. A hero.
So when Cain has a bad start, and follows it up with another bad start, and then extends the streak to three and then four starts, the negative thoughts start to spiral. What if he's done? We saw it with Lincecum and now we're seeing it with Cain. The surgery was supposed to fix him. I really thought he had several more years. YOU WERE THE CHOSEN ONE, MATT. I should rewatch the prequel trilogy because it can't be as bad as I remember. Just nasty, malignant stuff that no one should ever think.
Here's the thing: I know that Matt Cain deserves my full effort. I desperately want to find reasons to hope that he'll be MATT CAIN again, and not Some Guy. I want to believe he can artificially depress his home run rate again, and flummox hitters again, and find that magic again. I want all of that.
But I went to Brooks Baseball to check on Cain's year, and it just made me depressed. Do you really want to see the chart that says most of his pitches have lost a bunch of vertical movement since 2012? Probably not. Don't click that link unless you want to see the bad news about Matt Cain's year quantified in multiple ways, which you don't. You've seen him pitch. You know.
Advanced stats have never liked Matt Cain. xFIP has always been Doctor Claw, swearing to get him next time, and Matt Cain has always been Sherlock Holmes, wondering who the hell thought the villain from Inspector Gadget could beat him. And now, maybe he's been beaten. Or maybe it's a just-back-from-surgery blip. He's still a work in progress, and when that work is done, he can be something close to his old self. The velocity's fine, the movement's not that much worse, and once he figures out location, everything will fall into place.
This is where I would ordinarily say "Krusty is coming" except I think Grant uses that reference a lot, so instead:
There are a lot of reasons to despair. The one reason to hope is that this is Matt Cain. I want that to be enough. I bet you do too.