What he did: I’ve been writing this column for two years, and for two years, Matt Cain has been a potential perfect subject. In part, this column has been about taking men whose stats may have suffered due to their career circumstances. I’ve looked at hitters like Jim Wynn and Bob Watson who might have been Hall of Famers had they not played in the Astrodome of the 1960s. Conversely, I’ve looked at Paul Derringer, who went 7-27 in 1933; on the 1968 Dodgers, Derringer’s efforts that season would be good for a 16-13 record with a 2.55 ERA and 1.098 WHIP. I believe so much of baseball success is about being in the right place at the right time, and until last night, Cain was another Wynn, Watson, or Derringer, a man who could’ve used any era and team besides his own.
For anyone who missed it, Cain threw the first perfect game in the Giants’ 130-season history last night, shutting down the Houston Astros 10-0. A legion of baseball writers have already weighed in about Cain’s feat including Grant Brisbee of McCovey Chronicles. Grant wrote:
There are two ways to talk about Matt Cain: the macro and micro. Big picture and small picture. The micro is on a game-to-game basis. Boy, oh boy, Matt Cain sure is good. He looked awesome in that game, and the change-up was a-changin’. Breaking down specific at-bats. Reminding ourselves how lucky we are to have him. Noting that he got cained, or marveling that he somehow mooned the baseball gods and eked out a win.
The macro and big picture, though, isn’t something you can do very often without spoiling it. That’s where you note that Cain was the original guy, the transitional figure. It’s easy to get myopic and forget that the Giants weren’t always a pitching-rich team that struggled to hit. For a while they couldn’t do either. And then there was Matt Cain, showing up in the majors when he was 20, and pitching beyond his years.
Brisbee may have best captured the context for a pitcher who only recently crossed .500 for his career winning percentage despite compiling a 126 ERA+ and 28 WAR. For much of his seven-plus years in the majors, Cain’s been a sobering example of the importance of run support, of how a lack of it can impact a hurler’s win-loss record. The Giants have scored more than 700 runs just one season of Cain’s career, and if the splits below show me anything, he’s suffered for it. Might Cain be an annual threat to win 20 games on a team that regularly gave him four or five runs a game? I think so. Just look at his splits:
|0-2 Runs Scored||11||52||.175||3.14||77||77||4||1||502.0||417||192||175||177||397|
|3-5 Runs Scored||35||21||.625||3.37||91||91||8||3||588.0||484||230||220||220||496|
|6+ Runs Scored||31||2||.939||3.34||48||48||3||2||320.1||266||128||119||92||287|
Last night, however, this point was moot, and in that spirit, I’ll depart from this column’s usual format. Typically, I suggest an alternate era a player might have thrived in and why. If anyone would like to do that in the comments section here, please feel free. For now, I’ll close by saying that last night, for one game at least, Cain needed to be no other place besides where he was at.
Any player/Any era is a Thursday feature here that looks at how a player might have done in an era besides his own.
Others in this series: Al Kaline, Al Rosen, Al Simmons, Albert Pujols, Artie Wilson, Babe Ruth, Bad News Rockies, Barry Bonds, Billy Beane, Billy Martin, Bob Caruthers, Bob Feller, Bob Watson, Bobby Veach, Carl Mays, Cesar Cedeno, Charles Victory Faust, Chris von der Ahe, Denny McLain, Dom DiMaggio, Don Drysdale, Doug Glanville,Ed Walsh, Eddie Lopat, Elmer Flick, Eric Davis, Frank Howard, Fritz Maisel, Gary Carter, Gavvy Cravath, Gene Tenace, George W. Bush (as commissioner), George Case, George Weiss, Harmon Killebrew, Harry Walker, Home Run Baker, Honus Wagner, Hugh Casey, Ichiro Suzuki, Jack Clark, Jack Morris, Jackie Robinson, Jim Abbott, Jimmy Wynn, Joe DiMaggio, Joe Posnanski, Johnny Antonelli, Johnny Frederick, Josh Gibson, Josh Hamilton, Ken Griffey Jr., Kenny Lofton, Larry Walker, Lefty Grove, Lefty O’Doul, Major League (1989 film),Mark Fidrych, Matt Nokes, Matty Alou, Michael Jordan, Monte Irvin, Nate Colbert, Nolan Ryan, Ollie Carnegie, Paul Derringer, Pedro Guerrero, Pedro Martinez, Pee Wee Reese, Pete Rose, Prince Fielder, Ralph Kiner, Rick Ankiel, Rickey Henderson, Roberto Clemente, Rogers Hornsby, Sam Crawford, Sam Thompson, Sandy Koufax, Satchel Paige, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Spud Chandler, Stan Musial, Ted Williams, The Meusel Brothers, Tony Phillips, Ty Cobb, Vada Pinson, Wally Bunker, Wes Ferrell, Will Clark, Willie Mays