Matt Cain has an impressive resume. He has won three world championships as a member of the San Francisco Giants, he is a three time All-Star, including starting the Midsummer Classic in 2012, and has also thrown a perfect game. Cain has been a “horse” for Giants rotation since his call up in 2005.
In the storied history of the Giants, pitchers such as Christy Mathewson, Juan Marichal, Tim Lincecum, Jason Schmidt and Kirk Rueter have seemed to get more respect and love from the fanbase. Cain always seemed to be overshadowed throughout his career. From the huge shadow of Barry Bonds, to the bigger names in the rotation like Schmidt, Barry Zito and Lincecum. Even now with the emergence of Madison Bumgarner, who is the latest great pitcher to join the franchise’s encyclopedia of greats, Cain has always seemed to be the other guy. However, from 2006-2012, Cain may have been the best pitcher the Giants have ever seen to start a career since they arrived in San Francisco in 1958.
Matt Cain, in those seven seasons, had a 30 Wins Above Replacement, according to Baseball-Reference. Cain was 21 years old when he began the 2006 season and was 27 during his 2012 campaign. To put that in perspective, Greg Maddux, from 21-27, had a WAR of 32.2. Bob Gibson, who was 24 years old in his 2nd season, had a WAR of 30.2.
Cain’s 30 WAR is better than Max Scherzer, Zito, CC Sabathia, Jim Palmer, Andy Pettitte, David Price, Randy Johnson, Gaylord Perry, Vida Blue, Jon Lester and Roy Halladay among others in those same seasons.
To put his 30 WAR in perspective another way: Only 37 pitchers in the history of the game have a WAR of 35 or better from their second through eighth seasons and only 15 pitchers since 1958. Only 23 have a WAR of 40 or higher and only eight since 1958. Matt Cain was on a first ballot Hall of Fame path through his 2012 season.
Mathewson and Marichal were far and away better than Cain in those seasons, but nobody else who’s worn a Giants uniform is. Cain has been the greatest pitcher in San Francisco Giants history since Marichal and yet most fans look at everyone from Lincecum, to Bumgarner to Schmidt or even Rueter when looking at the great pitchers in Giants history.
Cain has shown an amazing consistency throughout his career with the Giants. Here is some statistical proof.
Matt Cain has struck out 1506 batters:
213 in April
266 in May
292 in June
209 in July
279 in August
236 in September
— Candlestick Will (@CandlestickWill) December 5, 2014
What makes Cain so special was his ability to pitch despite consistently pitching for the inferior team early in his career. Before all the championships, Cain pitched for the 2006-2009 Giants that did not reach the postseason. Just look at what Cain accomplished by age 25.
Through his age 25 season: Matt Cain 24.2 WAR (Best ever in @SFGiants history & 27th highest all-time) Meanwhile, a 57-62 record #Cained
— Candlestick Will (@CandlestickWill) August 28, 2015
In 2007 and 2008, in particular, Cain had a win-loss record of 15-30. Despite such a dismal record, only 15 pitchers in all of baseball had a better WAR than Cain’s 9.2. In that same two year stretch, Roy Halladay had a record of 36-18 with a WAR of 9.7. Cain had 28 games in those two years where he pitched seven or more innings and gave up three or fewer runs, yet had a Win-Loss record of 9-9 in those 28 games with a 1.97 ERA. In the 26 such games Andy Pettitte pitched in that two-year span, he had a 16-5 record and a 1.91 ERA.
Giants fans refer to these types of losses as getting #Cained with it’s own hashtag on Twitter. Pitching seven or more innings and giving up three runs or fewer is not an uncommon thing for Cain. What is also uncommon are the Giants losing in those games. 125 times in Matt Cain’s career, he has hit the seven inning and three runs or less mark. Cain dominated with a 1.58 ERA and a 0.85 WHIP in those games, yet is 60-21. That means the team has #Cained him 65 times. Twenty-one times, he has taken the loss and the other 44 times, he was officially given a no-decision. His team has also only won 81 of those 125 games.
For comparison, Tim Hudson has 130 games over the last 10 years of seven innings or more and three runs or less and his W-L record is 84-20, despite a near identical 1.57 ERA and 0.89 WHIP. Winning the game is the most important part of any sport. However, in a team sport, you need teammates and Cain struggled to get the run support and defense necessary to make his great pitching reflect the scoreboard.
Baseball statistics guru @AceBallStats shared some incredible statistical proof that Matt Cain was in fact #Cained an incredible number of times.
#SFGiants Matt Cain has lost 95 career games, 37.9% (36) of them have been quality starts.
— Ace of MLB Stats (@theaceofspaeder) August 14, 2014
#SFGiants Matt Cain has 102 career non-win quality starts, he is 0-35 with a 2.40 ERA, 1.028 WHIP, 7.43 K/9, & 0.74 HR/9 in those starts.
— Ace of MLB Stats (@theaceofspaeder) June 19, 2014
The #SFGiants bullpen has blown 33 games in which Matt Cain departed in line for the win; he has 94 career wins.
— Ace of MLB Stats (@theaceofspaeder) June 17, 2014
Active, most career quality start non-wins: Mark Buehrle 104 Matt Cain 101 Barry Zito 100 A.J. Burnett 98 Dan Haren 96 Tim Hudson 95
— Ace of MLB Stats (@theaceofspaeder) April 30, 2014
Ultimately, when Matt Cain’s career comes to a close, regardless of how it ends, baseball fans need to read between the lines and see that Cain was one of the best pitchers of his era. Cain has struggled the last three seasons to stay healthy and his last three years has called his value into question. There is no minimizing his value to the team for his first seven full seasons. Not when you look at all the numbers and all the factors and realize what Cain accomplished.