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Entries in Matt Cain (15)


Lee v. Cain

At minimum, Philly's Cliff Lee and San Francisco's Matt Cain will pull down nearly $250 million combined between now and 2018. Last night, they showed why. Lee became the first pitcher since Aaron Harang (2007) to last 10 innings, holding the Giants scoreless while whiffing seven, walking none and giving up seven hits. Cain punched out four and walked one in nine innings, allowing just two hits. 

While neither pitcher got the W he so richly deserved, Lee and Cain both produced one of the top five pitching performances of the year so far as judged by Game Score:

Highest Game Scores for starting pitchers, 2012

1 Matt Cain 4/13/2012 SFG PIT W 5-0 SHO9 ,W 96
2 Edwin Jackson 4/14/2012 WSN CIN W 4-1 CG 9 ,W 87
3 Chad Billingsley 4/6/2012 LAD SDP W 6-0 GS-9 ,W 87
4 Matt Cain 4/18/2012 SFG PHI W 1-0 GS-9 86
5 Cliff Lee 4/18/2012 PHI SFG L 0-1 GS-10 85
6 Matt Garza 4/12/2012 CHC MIL W 8-0 GS-9 ,W 85
7 Jered Weaver 4/6/2012 LAA KCR W 5-0 GS-8 ,W 84
8 Justin Verlander 4/5/2012 DET BOS W 3-2 GS-8 84
9 Barry Zito 4/9/2012 SFG COL W 7-0 SHO9 ,W 83
10 Roy Halladay 4/5/2012 PHI PIT W 1-0 GS-8 ,W 83

Source: Baseball-Reference

Lee (79 percent) and Cain (70) each surpassed the 70 percent strike mark, but they did it with contrasting styles. Lee peppered the strike zone while getting lots of ground balls. Cain, meanwhile, relied on jumpy Phillies hitting weak fly balls.

No starter has placed more pitches in the strike zone than Lee during the Pitch F/X era, and last night was no exception. Lee tossed 59 of his 102 pitches (58 percent) over the plate against San Francisco, never reaching a three-ball count while staying low and away against a lineup featuring seven hitters swinging from the right side:

Lee's pitch location vs. San Francisco, 4/18/12

Lee's "pound the knees" approach produced 18 grounders, compared to five fly balls. While Lee stayed low and in the zone, Cain often threw out off the plate to a Philly lineup with six lefty swingers:

Cain's pitch location vs. Philadelphia, 4/18/12

Only 36 of Cain's 91 pitches (40 percent) were in the zone. But Philly hitters chased 43 percent of his out-of-zone stuff. Unlike Lee, Cain took to the air with a 7-to-16 ground ball-to-fly-ball ratio.

Two aces, 19 combined scoreless frames and not a single pitch topping 92 mph on the radar gun. Lee and Cain showed different ways to dominate without elite velocity. We might not see a better duel all season long.


Cain Able to Induce Pop-Ups

Barring an in-season extension, San Francisco's Matt Cain is poised to hit free agency after 2012. Cain has tossed over 200 innings in each of the past five years, and his career 125 ERA+ places in the top 10 among starting pitchers with at least 1,000 innings of work since he debuted in 2005. Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal argues that Cain's combination of performance, durability and youth makes him a prime candidate to bank the biggest deal ever for a right-handed starter, surpassing the seven-year, $105 million deal Kevin Brown inked with the Dodgers prior to 1999:

Cain, 27, deserves to be among the game’s highest-paid pitchers. The possibility of him accepting the same type of hometown discount that Jered Weaver did last season surely is diminishing, particularly when Cain knows that the next deal for his Giants teammate, right-hander Tim Lincecum, almost certainly will dwarf his own.


The pent-up demand for elite starters is considerable; so few have hit the market in recent seasons. True, high-revenue clubs such as the Phillies, New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox are hemming and hawing about staying under the luxury-tax threshold. But the combination of labor peace, industry growth and skyrocketing local TV rights fees is increasing the spending power of many clubs.


In any case, the market is changing, and the establishment of a new standard by Cain or some other right-handed starter is overdue.

Aside from Jered Weaver, who took a hometown discount to stay with the Angels, elite righties like Felix Hernandez and Justin Verlander signed extensions that will pay them around $20 million per season for what would have been free agent-eligible years. Some might not think of Cain being in that realm, but Felix had a career 125 ERA+ and Verlander a 116 ERA+ when they signed those extensions before the 2010 season. With a longer track record than those two had at the time and a few more years of revenue growth in the game, Cain could reasonably ask for $20+ million per year.

While Cain has consistently had ERA totals well below the league average, he makes some sabermatricians queasy. The reason: a disconnect between his ERA (3.35 career) and what we think his ERA should be based on strikeouts, walks and a normalized home run per fly ball ratio (4.26 xFIP). In fact, no qualified starting pitcher since '05 has a bigger difference between his ERA and xFIP than Cain.

An aspect of Cain's game that explains some of that ERA-peripheral split is his ability to induce pop-ups. Since 2008 (the first year for which we have Pitch F/X data), Cain has gotten the fifth-most pop-ups among starters. Jered Weaver, Ted Lilly, Scott Baker and Bronson Arroyo are the only starters to get opponents to hit the ball up the elevator shaft more often.

Cain gets those pop-ups primarily with his fastball (three-quarters of them), challenging hitters high in the zone with the pitch. Check out his fastball location compared to that of an average righty starter:

 Cain's fastball location, 2008-12

Fastball location for right-handed starters, 2008-12

Cain has thrown slightly over 46% of his fastballs high in the zone over the past four years, the eighth-highest rate among starters and well above the 35% league average.

Next to strikeouts, pop-ups are a pitcher's best friend. They never leave the yard, and they're automatic outs. Less than two percent of pop-ups put in play turn into hits, so inducing pop-ups can lead to a lower BABIP for a pitcher. Hitters' weak flies on Cain's high heat could partially help explain why he has a career .265 BABIP and a 6.5% home run per fly ball rate, both well below the league average.

After 1,300-plus innings of high-level pitching, it's time to give Cain his due: He's one of the best starters in the game. Rosenthal looks right in saying Cain should top Kevin Brown's pre-millennium mega-deal.


Reverse Cain

Since the start of the 2009 season, Matt Cain of the Giants recorded better results against left-handed batters than right-handed batters despite Matt throwing from the right side.  Left-handers hit .224/.282/.360 against Matt, while righties managed a .231/.295/.380 slash line.  How does Matt manage to keep lefties so off balance?

The first thing to notice is that Cain works lefties away:

Matt Cain, pitch frequency vs. LHB, 2009-2011.Left-handed power hitters like the ball low and inside, so this should be a good strategy.  Cain adds to it, however, with the movement of his pitches.  While he works outside, his four pitches move inside:

Matt Cain, movement across the plate vs. LHB, 2009-2011.His fastball in orange, changeup and slider in green (slider closer to the batter) and curve ball in blue all move toward a left-handed batter most of the time.  So Cain can start these pitches outside the strike zone, and have them break over the plate.  So left-handed batters often see ball, but then end up with the ball over the plate.  His fastball and curve ball result in over one third of the time, while his change and slider get chased out of the zone over 40% of the time.  Lefties get fooled.

Finally, here's what happens when lefties put the ball in play:

Matt Cain, in play batting average vs. LHB, 2009-2011.They hit him well down and in, the main area Cain avoids with his pitches.  He uses movement to fool left-handed batters in and out of the zone, and throws where these batters don't hit well.  The result makes Cain as good if not better when the batter owns the platoon advantage.