What’s Wrong With Matt Cain? Absolutely Nothing!


May 21, 2013; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Matt Cain (18).

San Francisco Giants’ pitcher Matt Cain gave up three solo home runs to two Los Angeles Dodgers, in the finale in L. A, after being the only starter to not get a win for his team the first time through the rotation, and fans are asking, “What’s wrong with Matt Cain?”  He is 29 years old, has been a Giant since 2005, and his nickname is “The Horse” because he is a stud in every sense of the word.  He takes the mound every fifth day, he doesn’t care who is catching behind the plate, and the answer to the question about what’s wrong with him is, “absolutely nothing.”

Though this is Cain’s ninth full season as a Giant, he will not turn thirty until October; he is a veritable spring chicken, when talking about a baseball career, especially for a guy whose only appearance on the disabled list was the result of being hit by a batted ball, just last August 23.  If the injury were related to either shoulder or elbow, then there might be reason for concern.  Cain’s injury is the type that you figure goes under the heading of “stuff happens,” and having healed, will not impact him in the future.

So let’s look at the numbers, both for Cain’s career, and also for his last full season, 2012.  He has averaged 220 innings per year (219.1 in ’12) since his first full year in 2006; his ERA has averaged 3.37 (2.79 in ’12); he has given up an average of 184 hits (177 in ’12); and his average walk to strikeout ratio for ten years is 74-184 (51-193 in ’12).  Cain improved in four out of five of these categories (with a push on the number of innings pitched), dramatically so when it comes to walks versus strike outs, in the last full year he pitched. That’s significant because his control is improving over time, so why would he suddenly be going into some kind of unfathomable decline at such a young age?

San Francisco Giants’ pitcher Matt Cain (18) delivers.    Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The qualities most attributable to Cain are his longevity and his consistency.  This is his tenth season as a Giant, his ninth full one.  In the course of a career, or a season, or a month, or even within the same game, a pitcher will go through periods of highs and lows.  No one minds talking about the Perfecto Cain threw in 2012.  Well, by contrast, last season he set a franchise record by giving up nine runs to the Cardinals in the same inning.

That’s some extreme we’re talking about.  He had a raunchy inning and it made his ERA soar to 4, for the first time in his career.  Nobody should expect him to do that again, any more than we should buy tickets every day, waiting for the next perfect game.  However, ups and downs do occur, especially when you’ve been in the game-with the same team-as long as Matt Cain has.  Besides, If Matt actually did develop a technical difficulty, he has the advantage of having one of the best pitching coaches in the business, Dave Righetti, and that’s no lightweight in your corner.  I think back to that issue that Madison Bumgarner had around the start of the 2012 playoffs, and how Righetti got him back on the track.

Sep 24, 2013; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Matt Cain (18) pitches the ball against the Los Angeles Dodgers during the second inning at AT

That’s Matt Cain, right on track.  I like what MLB’s Byron Kilpatrick said about Cain while doing a preseason evaluation of the NL West.  “Cain is only 29 years old and has retained his fastball velocity for three years running, so it’s unlikely that wear on his treads caused the subpar [2013] season.  It’s much more likely that 2013 was an outlier, and that Cain will return to terrorizing opposing hitters this season.”

They call Cain The Horse, but I think it should be The Train, because once he gets rolling, no one can stop him, and the funny thing is, the other pitchers try to hook up and go along for the ride, all the way to the playoffs.  Once they get there, they know what to do, because Cain showed them that too, back in 2010, when he didn’t give up an earned run in the World Series.

No, Cain’s not broken; he’s just warming up.  Settle down and enjoy the show and don’t worry about wear on the treads ‘cause trains don’t got no treads.

AT&T Park, where Matt Cain and the San Francisco Giants come to play. Photo Courtesy of Jeremy Workman