A man was called up with the Giants two years before the first iPhone, when the Space Shuttle was still flying, when Bush II still had three years to go in his Presidency, six weeks before my first kid was born, and when this song was #1 on the Billboard charts:
So, we’ve come a long way, and yet not so much in many ways.
The longest-tenured Giant announced his retirement yesterday, a mild surprise to many, although it’s obvious he wouldn’t be with the Giants next year. Rather, the Giants will not opt for the 21 million dollar extension, favoring the paltry 7 million dollar buyout. Cain knew his days as a Giant were over long before this season started, and apparently he looked inward on his life and realized that he wanted to spend more time with his family, but also respected this organization so much that he couldn’t imagine donning another jersey.
Matt Cain will spend all 13 years with the Giants. No other team will grace his chest. He officially will have the longest tenure with the team without being with any other team since the Giants moved west. He also ranks 3rd all time in San Francisco history for WAR, 5th for strikeouts per 9, and 3rd in strikeouts (only 14 behind Lincecum). Of course, he also has the franchise’s only perfect game from that magical night in 2012 (thanks, Blanco, btw!), and three World Series Championships to go with some gritty performances that enabled the Giants to secure at least two of those trophies.
He started the 2012 All Star Game and made three All Star Games in total. Although he’ll finish with an ERA around 3.69, much of that has been inflated in recent years. He posted a career-best ERA of 2.79 in 2012, 2.88 in 2011, and 2.89 in 2009. He was fifth in Rookie-of-the-Year voting in 2006 and sixth in the Cy Young vote in 2012.
But, despite all of the incredible statistics that Cain has assembled throughout the years, there is one that haunts Giants fans.
Getting “Cained” was a phrase that was coined sometime in the 2007 season, and continued thereon. For some magically insane and sadistic reason, the baseball gods seemed to thwart any offensive production during Cain’s starts. Cain often lost games 2-1, 3-2, 1-0. Games he pitched very well in, but was not backed up by offense. It was a far cry from American League pitchers and many National League hurlers that gave up 4, 5, 6 runs, but still got the win. Despite his 3.69 career ERA, Matt Cain will finish with no more than 105 wins, and no less than 118 losses.
Put that into perspective with other pitchers around that ERA for that duration:
Bronson Arroyo has played admittingly longer (16 years) than Matt Cain, but his career ERA is 4.28, a full 0.59 higher, yet he has a winning record at 148-137. Bortolo Colon (20 years) has a career ERA of 4.05, but is well above .500 at 239-176.
To cut out some of the chaff, I looked at pitchers that had more than 1,500 innings pitched and less than 2,500 innings. Matt Cain is under 2100. The results are somewhat expected. Out of the 463 pitchers that qualify in that range (includes starters and relievers), only THREE pitchers have a better career ERA and worse winning percentage than Matt Cain.
Out of 463!
Oh, and when did those three play?
Bob Groom: Played 1909-1918. 2336.1 IP 119-150 (.442) 3.10 ERA
Bob Rush: Played 1948-1960. 2410.2 IP 127-152 (.455) 3.65 ERA
Denny Lemaster: Played 1962-1972. 1787.2 IP 90-105 (.462) 3.58 ERA
Matt Cain: Played 2005-2017. 2080.2+ IP 104-118? (.468?) 3.69? ERA
Let’s take it from a different angle. Only 547 pitchers have won 100 games or more. Out of that group, Matt Cain has the second-worst winning percentage (.468) ahead of Bob Friend (.461) who played from 1951-1966. By the way, out of those 547, Clayton Kershaw is number one (.692). I know, I know. It’s tough to swallow.
Point being, despite this adversity, Matt Cain never complained. Never got too frustrated from being “Cained.” Always made time for the media.
Our fledgling site got our credentials in 2011 and we started covering games. During media day in 2014, after interviewing Matt Cain, he asked what I did in my full time job, because apparently, he realized that I wasn’t a professional journalist.
My colleague Ben, replied, “he’s a marine biologist and dives at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.” Cain looked up at me and suggested that I train him to SCUBA dive. Aside from the obvious contractual prohibitions in such an activity, I did set up a tour of the Monterey Bay Aquarium for him through Giants’ PR. A few weeks later, I gave Matt Cain and his family a three hour tour of the aquarium, and even suited up and did a feeding show in the kelp forest tank. After the feeding show is when he recorded our pre-show bumper, and I gifted many of my underwater photographs to his daughter and wife.
After that, I covered him at games and the AT&T Pro-Am tournament, where he always refers to me as “aquarium guy!”
I’ll be covering the game on Saturday when he makes his last and final Major League Start, and his last in a Giants uniform. In a park that witnessed the beginning of his career, and some of his major contributions to this franchise’s three world championships.
So, although I have a personal connection to Matt Cain, I will always think of him from a fan’s perspective first.
A gentle Giant. A proud Giant. A Giant forever.
Here are our interviews with Matt Cain over the years: