Thank goodness for Matt Cain.
Thank goodness for all the Matt Cains of the world. Thank goodness for all the players who serve to confuse. Thank goodness for all the players who confound, who defy the metrics in which we place so much trust and cause us to throw up our hands. Thank goodness for all the players who keep this game strange.
But tonight, mostly, thank goodness for Matt Cain. Thank goodness for the guy we just don't know how to value.
Matt Cain, for those of you who don't know, has been a successful starter on thefor years. He came up and had some brief success down the stretch in 2005 at the annoying age of 20, and he began 2006 in the big league starting rotation. He hasn't left since.
And it would be one thing to point out that Matt Cain has a career 3.45 ERA over 170 starts and 1095.2 innings. Present that information to someone and they'll tell you, hey, what a great pitcher he is. But then you look at the rest of the picture. The high flyball rate. The 7.4 strikeouts per nine. The 3.4 walks per nine. The 3.84 FIP. The 4.43 xFIP. Matt Cain's career ERA, over more than a thousand innings, is a full run below his xFIP - xFIP being an advanced metric on an ERA scale that grades a guy based on his peripheral statistics. Matt Cain's peripheral statistics aren't the peripheral statistics of an excellent pitcher. But there's the ERA, staring you in the face. He's got the same career ERA as Jim Kaat and Curt Schilling.
Matt Cain doesn't miss a ton of bats. He doesn't throw a ton of strikes. He doesn't keep the ball on the ground. And he doesn't allow runs. He doesn't allow them often, anyway. He never has. They'll tell you this is because he pitches away from good contact, but how many times have we heard that explanation before, only to see it blow up in the pitcher's face? Jarrod Washburn pitched away from good contact, until the good contact found him. Then it didn't work anymore.
It works for Matt Cain. it's been working for more than five years.
And we saw it work again tonight. It isn't often you see a guy strike out two batters in 7.2 innings and come away feeling like he was in control the whole time. That's the way I felt about Cain. As little value as these statements actually hold, at no point did I feel like thewere in a good place. It always seemed like they were on the defensive. It always seemed like Cain had them feeling uncomfortable.
It's funny - I was going to rip Eric Karros a little bit, because before the game, sitting next to Chris Rose and Ozzie Guillen, Karros declared that Cain makes things more difficult for a hitter than Tim Lincecum. That seems crazy, right? Lincecum's an ace. Cain's just a successful mystery. But was Karros really wrong? And if he was wrong, was he so blatantly wrong that he deserves to be made fun of? He didn't call Cain better. He said he makes things more difficult. And, who knows, maybe that's true. I've just come around to thinking the only person on that panel who deserves to be made fun of is Guillen, who didn't speak a word of English, and who didn't speak a word of Spanish.
Matt Cain doesn't allow much contact in the middle of the plate. It seems so simple, but it isn't simple. Courtesy of our friends at Brooks Baseball, here's how his at bats tonight ended:
Righties didn't get much near the middle of the plate. Lefties didn't get much near the middle of the plate. They got pitches in the zone, but not all areas of the strike zone are conducive to easy, strong contact. Just being able to stay out of the middle is a good recipe for success.
It'll get lost in all the talk about the Rangers' bullpen meltdown and the Giants' seven-run eighth, but this was a tight game for seven and a half innings. It was scoreless going into the bottom of the fifth, and it was 2-0 going into the bottom of the eighth. The guy most responsible for keeping the Giants in a good position was Matt Cain, who still hasn't allowed an earned run in the playoffs. I don't get him. I don't get how he makes it all work. But he makes it work. He just made it work on the biggest stage of them all. You can try to solve the mystery as much as you want, and I'll applaud you if you make any progress, but the Rangers couldn't solve it. The Rangers had a chance, and Cain made them look foolish.
What an interesting pitcher he is.
- As Bruce Bochy came to the mound to remove Matt Cain in the eighth, the crowd rose to its feet for a loud standing ovation, and this man in right field issued a silent thumbs-up.
- There's been a lot of criticism of Ron Washington for the way he handled the bullpen in the bottom of the eighth. He watched on as a 2-0 nailbiter turned into a 9-0 blowout without ever going to Neftali Feliz, the best reliever of the bunch. Criticism is fair. The degree of criticism that I've seen probably isn't. Most people feel like Washington should've gone to Feliz somewhere around the point at which Derek Holland issued his first walk. At that point, with two on and two out, the Giants' win expectancy was 94.3%. How important would bringing in Feliz have been, really? What was the difference between what Feliz could've been expected to do, and what Holland could've been expected to do?
Neftali Feliz probably should've pitched at some point tonight. I do not think that, in the end, it would've mattered. The Giants probably wouldn't have had a seven-run eighth, but they probably still would've won. The difference between Feliz and some of the other guys in the bullpen isn't so great that Washington deserves to be ripped countless new holes.
- Tim Wakefield was on hand to receive the Roberto Clemente Award, given to "the player who best combines outstanding skills on the baseball field with devoted work in the community." They said on the broadcast that 2010 was Wakefield's eighth time being nominated for the award. 2010 was the 18th year of Wakefield's career. That seems suspicious. What kind of off-the-field shit was he up to in the other ten years?
Vladimir Guerrero, of course, didn't play tonight after starting yesterday. We know that he's a far worse defensive outfielder than David Murphy. We also know that he's probably a worse hitter against righties, or at least not a better one. Statistically, playing Guerrero over Murphy against a right-handed pitcher costs a team some fraction of a run per game.
For Washington to play Guerrero over Murphy in the series opener suggests that he values the intangibles provided by Guerrero's presence more than that fraction of a run. For Washington to then play Murphy over Guerrero in Game 2 implies that his valuation of Guerrero's intangibles is close enough to allow for fluctuation.
This is all, of course, assuming optimization. But it's fun to think about. Let's say that Murphy is worth, I dunno, 0.15 more runs than Guerrero per game against a right-handed pitcher. It would seem that Washington values Guerrero's intangibles somewhere around 0.15-0.20 runs.
- With none on and two outs in the ninth inning of a 9-0 game, Guillermo Mota walked David Murphy.
- Two years ago, every single position player in the Giants' starting lineup was playing for some other team (including Posey, which is kind of cheating and kind of not). Meanwhile, four of their five starting pitchers have been around since 2007, and the other just came out of their own system. Quick, try and figure out what the Giants have struggled to do well in recent years.
- Edgar Renteria + Buster Posey + Derek Holland = 82. Edgar Renteria's face + Buster Posey's face + Derek Holland's face = "I'm sorry but I can't sell you a ticket for There's Something About Mary without adult supervision."