There are other pitchers who make more money, who have more fame, and who reach greater heights than Matt Cain (it’s pretty tough for Cain to get a footing in the national conscience when one of the five biggest stories in baseball on the hill happens to be his teammate, Tim Lincecum). At the same time, there my be no hurler in baseball who is more consistent than the Giants #2 starter who will be looking for one more big season as he heads into free agency after the 2012 season.
Cain has never won 15 games in a season, basically the bare minimum for one to be considered an ace. In fact, he’s only won in double-digit’s in four of the last six years which might lead you to think that he isn’t anything to write home about. However, if you’ve followed Cain closely over the years, you know the story – the Giants simply have an aversion to scoring runs when he is on the hill. Just take a look at his earned run averages over the past five years:
3.65, 3.76, 2.89, 3.14, 2.88
The last three years his ERA has been borderline elite, an in fact his 2.97 mark in that time frame is the sixth best mark in baseball for hurlers who have thrown at least 480-innings as he bested arms like Jered Weaver (3.03), Justin Verlander (3.06) and CC Sabathia (3.18). Unfortunately Cain has won 14, 13 and 12 games the past three years as the Giants anemic offense simply hasn’t supported him sufficiently leaving him on the outskirts looking in when talk roles around to the games greats. Still, consistency is his hallmark.
Cain owns a 1.20 career WHIP, and the last three seasons his WHIP has been 1.18, 1.08 and 1.08. Moreover, his base runner per nine mark of 10.25 is the 8th best mark in baseball the past three seasons and better than Felix Hernandez (10.51), Cole Hamels (10.55) and Tim Lincecum (10.79). He’s obviously been extremely consistent the past three years.
Cain has struck out at least 163 batters each of the past six years. Only three others hurlers are in that group (CC Sabathia, Felix Hernandez and Dan Haren). In his last four years Cain has been over 170 Ks, and the last three years his totals have been 171, 177 and 179. Yet again, he’s obviously been extremely consistent the past three years.
One aspect of Cain’s game that is elite is his ability to take the ball every five games. In his first full season he tossed “only” 190.2 innings, but in each of his last five seasons he has thrown at least 200-innings. In this day and age, the ability to throw 200-innings year after year is a rare trait (only six others have thrown 200-innings each of the past six years: Roy Halladay, James Shields, Justin Verlander, Mark Buehrle, Dan Haren and CC Sabathia).
I could go on and on with Cain, highlighting things like his remarkable 3-year run in BABIP (.263, .252 and .260), but I think the point is clear: Cain is a borderline elite arm who will throw a lot of innings, pile up strong strikeout totals, and provide you with top of the heap ratios. He may not rack up wins with the elite, his total of 39 is tied for 12th in the game the past three years, but all of his other fantasy numbers will help you to win a championship. I must admit to some trepidation given that his GB/FB is just 0.84 for his career, and that his HR/F ratio is just 6.5 percent, but for now, pitching half his games in the pitcher’s ball yard in San Francisco will minimize those concerns. Cain shouldn’t be your #1 starter in mixed leagues, but if he is your #2 arm, you’ll be sitting in a nice spot.
By Ray Flowers