Matt Cain hasn’t thrown his last pitch for the Giants. Heck, he probably hasn’t even made his last start. There’s always something, a loophole, a glitch, that lets him sneak back into the rotation. But his time is coming to an end with this team, and like Ryan Vogelsong before him, I could see him getting a spring-training invitation with another team that doesn’t lead to a job. There’s a chance that he was a Giant for life, after all.
Chris Stratton is the pitcher replacing him, and I’m guessing the Giants were wishing it was someone else. Not because they aren’t fond of Stratton, but because it’s a sign of just how wrong a lot of things went this season. Tyler Beede is injured and out for the year. Joan Gregorio was suspended for performance-enhancing drugs. There’s a hole in the rotation in the first place because Johnny Cueto is hurt. The only pitcher throwing well for the Giants in the upper minors is Andrew Suarez, and if they add him to the 40-man roster, that’ll be one less prospect they can protect in the Rule 5 Draft.
So Stratton it is. It took a lot for him to get this chance, and the Giants might as well pay attention to him for two months instead of showcasing the final days of Matt Cain. I’m pretty sure we can all agree with that. If not Stratton, I’m not sure who else makes sense, so gimme the Stratton.
What can we expect from Stratton, then? If you’re into statistics or “stats,” you might note that his Triple-A numbers aren’t very impressive. While the Pacific Coast League is hard on pitchers, a 5.11 ERA in 79 innings is still a 5.11 ERA. His peripherals are solid (20.2 K%, 6.3 BB%), though, and if you’re a believer in xFIP, that shaves exactly one run off his ERA. The good news is that while he was better in Triple-A last year, this year he’s missing a few more bats and walking fewer hitters.
FanGraphs slapped a scouting grade of average on Stratton’s fastball, slider, and command, with an overall grade of “below-average.” I don’t see any reason to disagree with that. He doesn’t throw in the mid-90s. He doesn’t throw a gnarly sinker. His breaking balls don’t miss as many bats as they could. He could be Kyle Lohse one day if his command improves, but I wouldn’t expect it. We’ve seen him pitch with the Giants. There probably aren’t going to be a lot of surprises.
But ... maybe? Maybe there’s something that Dave Righetti can tweak, something that the extra attention that comes with being in the majors can bring. That’s an almost impossible fantasy, but we’ll keep going back to these three points:
- Matt Cain has been well below-average in his last 100 games, a stretch that’s spanned five seasons. There is nothing to learn about him.
- If Stratton isn’t the one to take Cain’s place, the options would be Suarez, Dan Slania (having a poor year), Sam Coonrod (same), Jose Flores (28 years old), and Matt Gage (doing just okay in Double-A).
- Most of those players would need to be added to the 40-man roster, and while it’s fun for fans and important for teams to try young pitchers out, it’s not fun or important enough to risk exposing an extra prospect to the Rule 5 draft.
- Stratton it is, then.
Four points. Those four points.
The only catch to all this is that I’m not sure the Giants have a long list of prospects who would interest teams picking in the Rule 5 Draft. Roger has a list here, and it really pooters out quickly. It’s not a long list of players that teams should be excited to keep on a major league roster all year. So I’m all for Suarez, really. I don’t have to be talked into it.
Still, I can understand the Giants’ reticence to start a service-time clock and expose an extra player to the Rule 5, so I’m absolutely okay with giving Stratton the remaining starts. I think I know how this will work out — the odds of Stratton being in the 2021 rotation are roughly the same of Bryce Harper being in the 2021 lineup — but there are no penalties for trying something new in a season like this. Cain was a known quantity, and it wasn’t pretty. Stratton is a mostly unknown quantity, so why not?
Why Not? — The Last Two Months of the 2017 San Francisco Giants, will be published by HarperCollins and be available in stores everywhere this December. Buy some copies for everyone you know.