Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Another Reason Why Cain Must Be Kept

I have seen various people suggest that we trade Cain to get position prospects in exchange. I have been steadfast in saying that Cain and Lincecum must be the core of our rotation for the long-term, plus, of course, Barry Zito, since we ain't trading him away with that contract, no one would take him (though if he can continue to do as he has in his past three starts for all of 2008, maybe in 2010 or 11). I saw this blog linked at a diary at McCovey Chronicles and at El Lefty Malo, and it has a great profile and analysis of Matt Cain that I have not seen anywhere else before.

Cain Uniqueness

I have been saying that Cain is very rare for a pitcher, so young to do so well. Jerome Williams was in a unique class, as well, I recall someone comparing him with Dwight Gooden (as well as other pitchers who flamed out). But I never did any research on just how unique nor saw anything like that until this blog did the work. And blog did it the way I like to do it, show how rare something occuring is, in order to appreciate just how hard or rare it is.

First, he noted how rare it was for a 21 year old to throw so many innings in a season. Since 1901, there has only been 89 pitchers who are 21 or younger who threw 190 or more innings with an ERA better than league average. So, in the last 107 seasons, only 89 have done that. And in the last 10 years, only two (including Cain; C.C. Sabathia is the other one) have done that.

Second, he noted how rare it was for a 21 year old to strike out so many. Since 1901, his 179 strikeouts last season (when he was 21) ranks as the 25th most ever for pitchers 21 years or younger. And over the past 10 years, only three pitchers are among the top 25: Cain, Rick Ankiel, and Kerry Woods (not a great comparison group). Other familar names include Vida Blue, Dwight Gooden, Frank Tanana, Bob Feller, Bert Blyleven, and Christy Mathewson.

Third, he noted career trends that are very positive. His HR/9 had dropped, mainly because he is allowing less fly balls, dropping from around 52% to around mid-40's, while his ground balls have similarly risen. His BB/9 has fallen, though his K/9 has also fallen a lot - which I should note here that for some reason Cain was trying to nibble corners again this year and didn't rely on his fastball for strikes until early August, he had to notice (of all people) Morris throwing strikes to get that. Also, his average IP per start has risen from 6.15 to 6.57 IP.

Lastly, he needs 6 more starts this season to join a very elite group. Since 1901, there has been only six pitchers who have made at least 70 starts by age 22 and have a K/9 of over 7.5: Dwight Gooden, Vida Blue, Frank Tanana, Sam McDowell, Bob Feller, and Dennis Eckersley. With 74 starts, he only need 6 more (plus average approximately 7.5 K/9 over those six games; probable based on recent games, improbable based on how he was doing earlier this season) to join this very elite group of hurlers.

The blog noted that the average pitcher of this group had an ERA of 3.41 and 208 wins vs. 163 losses (or a .561 winning percentage). Thus far in his career, his ERA is 3.75 and 21-26, a .447 winning percentage. As the blog also noted, Cain has had the worse support this season, he should be around 11-8 record, one of the worse luck by far in the majors, by nearly double. By Bill Jame Pythagorean rule, they should be 66-66 right now, instead of 60-72, so the team has been pretty unlucky this year, by -6 games. In comparison, the D-backs, who lead the division, should be 62-70, instead of 74-58, so they have had good luck of +12 games. The Giants, by James's theory of regressing to the mean, should do much better next season whereas the D-backs should do much worse.

D-Backs Are Horribly Over-Hyped Because of Their Record

If that does happen, that would show how wrong the baseball writers have been this season, writing up the D-backs "success" with their young prospects while dismissing the Giants. There has been only one hitter with an OPS+ above 110 (Eric Brynes), and ALL their young prospects that writers have been drooling over have average OPS+ or worse. Stephen Drew has an OPS+ of 68, Chris Young has 88, Carlos Quentin has 68, Scott Hairston 67, even Justin Upton has a 73 right now. Their best young hitter is Mark Reynolds (23) with a 102 OPS+. Meanwhile, albeit in limited playing time, Frandsen 62, Lewis 98, Ortmeier 97, and Schierholtz 95.

And that's been a problem since at least 2003 when the D-backs Baby-backs were touted and none of them really did well, certainly not per the hype given them, and certainly not any of their prized position players have broken out, they have been steady major leaguers but no one is a star except for Brandon Webb, who was so well recognized that none of the prospect lists I could find that year would even list him, let alone count him among their top prospects. Meanwhile, the Giants have added Cain and Lincecum since then. So the D-backs best player by far is a player that no one thought much of, showing how lucky they were, and how wrong people were in hyping up their prospects back then, and, for now, in the present, as I showed with the OPS+ above.


  1. There are of course exceptions. Wouldn't you trade Cain for Hanley Rameriez straight up?

  2. I would admit that I would be tempted by any number of great hitters, but 1) I don't see any of them being offered for him; 2) I think having Cain and Lincecum at the top of the rotation is key to playoff success in the future, particularly making it all the way to the coveted World Series, so I don't think even if the impossible happens and, say, A-Rod, Jose Reyes, or whoever, gets offered for Cain, straight up, I think I would have to pass.

    As I've documented in my posts, the key to winning is pitching, almost period (plus strong defense and adequate offense). That's often true with the other sports as well. The Giants as is, is not strong enough yet to deal off pitching without creating weakness there (unless you think there is a pitcher who can take over for Cain and do what he has done).

    The more I "see" Cain pitch (via stats), the more I think we need to keep him around long-term. Having a one-two punch of Cain and Lincecum will be a strength for many years, why break that up, only to try to find another duo? Most teams clamor to have one like either of them; we have two. That has to be an advantage that we can build around, but only if we are patient and not shoot ourselves in the foot by trading Cain.

    If I thought trading Cain would get us that the final offensive pieces that would make us odds-on favorites for the World Series, I would be sorely tempted. But only the hardy-est of fans today could say with a straight face that the Giants are that close.

    I think we will again be around .500 next season, and I think Bonds will probably be around with a promised 2008 good-bye tour so he can get to 3000 as a Giant and retire as a Giant. I'm thinking he would even take a discount to do it, because now it's only personal, his feats, not historic.

    By 2009, I think Cain-Lincecum will be so established that only the craziest of Giants fans would think of trading him.

  3. I think Drew and (certainly) Upton are going through the normal rookie adjustment period. There's no reason not to believe the scouts' opinions that these guys are going to be very very good. I can think of quite a few other "hyped" prospects who struggled at first when brought up and some in the community quickly soured on them -- guys like Vernon Wells and Alex Rios, Mark Texiera, BJ Upton, and of course, that overhyped guy who bombed so terribly when first brought up at age 19, Alex Rodriguez. You've mentioned the Baby Backs many many times, but it's important to remember that that was a mainstream press moniker -- almost none of those guys were considered bluechip prospects by the prospect community. It just seems silly to me to suggest that Drew, Young, Upton, Jackson, Montero, Quentin and Reynolds are going to be a less productive bunch long-term than Lewis, Frandsen, Ortmeier, and Schierholtz. I have some strong hopes for Schierholtz, but I'm not going to suggest that looking at my computer I have a better handle on these guys than the paid professionals who've been watching and judging them day in and day out for several years.

  4. You've tried to make this point before about the D'backs and it still does not hold water. You can point to all the peripheral stats you want, but the only one that really counts is the Won-Loss record. The D'backs are one of the best teams in baseball.....the Giants are one of the worst. The D'backs have reason to be excited about the future.......the Giants future is non-existent right now.

  5. Anon, what I've said is that the experts have been wrong about the D-backs top prospects being so good before, so why can't they be wrong again? And the experts mocks the Giants prospects and yet they are doing OK themselves, thus far.

    Lets put it this way then, obviously Cain and Lincecum are about as good as they come, and yet there were plenty of other prospects who were rated above them. So the experts can be and has been wrong. So why can't I suggest that they could be wrong with these D-back players, based on what they have actually produced in the majors thus far? Maybe it could be a stumble, but Sean Burroughs was as good as these experts have seen and he flopped, and Matt Bush was considered a good pick and he bombed. And the D-gers have had numerous pitchers considered way better than the Giants prospects, Edwin Jackson, Greg Miller, Chad Billingsley, and yet we have Cain and Lincecum.

    So Boof, I take it then that you don't believe in Bill James Pythagorean theory that a team's win-loss record is derived from their runs scored and runs allowed, and that teams that win a lot more than their RS/RA suggest is due for a fall? That says the D-backs are due for a huge fallback.

    And Boof, if you think the Giants future is non-existent right now, that means that you don't think Cain or Lincecum is any good, so why bother being a baseball fan, then, let alone a Giants fan? If you cannot see the future when they are standing right in front of you, then I only have pity for you, because Cain and Lincecum are two of the most exciting prospects to come out of the Giants farm system in 35 years. They are our future and if you can't see that, then you really shouldn't be watching baseball.

  6. Hello Martin - Yes, I think Cain and Lincecum are so good they must be held on to - precisely because pitching (largely) is what wins playoffs (over and over good pitching neutralizes good hitting).
    And I agree with you regarding Pythagorean numbers. For whatever reason, this season has been just awful from a W-L perspective. But it is just true that, last I looked, in run differential, we were either slightly better or slightly worse than Az. And yes, Az cannot be expected to sustain that kind of winning performance with such a mediocre run differential.
    I don't think anyone can put a finger on what really lead to such a poor season for the Giants. Despite that, I still maintain that they are not that far from contending. The difficulty is in ascertaining who will bounce back next year and who is done. It seems clear Roberts, Winn, Klesko, Molina are still productive. The question is what to do with Omar, Aurilia, Durham. You hate to just cut them loose and eat their salaries, because at least one of them, likely 2, will b ounce back and be productive next year. The problem is standing pat, or appearing to stand pat, particularly with no back up plan. I think it is a very difficult decision on how to go forward. I do not think the Gs will cut all of these guys and put a starting 8 of 26 yr olds on the field next year. I offer no predictions on starters, but I don't think there will be much change in the OF. The top 4 will come from: Bonds, Roberts, Winn, Davis, Schierholtz, Lewis. Molina will be back. There could be much change on the IF, altho I don't see Frandsen as being a starter.. I think some, but not all, of Feliz, Omar, Durham, Aurilia, Klesko will be back but it is just impossible to predict which ones.
    With improved pitching, both SP and RP, normal years from most of the returning starting position players and 2 solid, but not all star level, IFs and I think we have the potential to win.

  7. I agree that Cain & Lincecum are the best things that have been produced out of the Giants organization in a long time. They absolutely should not be traded right now.

    However, the problem is that these 2 or the only thing the Giants have to look forward to. There are zero position players in the minor league system that have a chance to be a credible starting player in the ML anytime in the next 4 years. These 2 guys could pitch all the shutouts they want and they will still be on a losing team because you can't win if you don't score runs. The Giants organization has not shown any ability to develop real hitting talent in many years. I have zero confidence that they will be able to reverse that trend.

    On the ther hand, Arizona has a passel of young, not yet fully developed talent both at the ML level and in their farm system. All they need are a couple of starting pitchers. Perhaps the Giants can trade them Cain, Lincecum & Sanchez for a veteran catcher with an attitude issue.

  8. Good points Allfrank. You have been making sense all summer, hard to say anything else but yes, I agree.

    The thing is, Boof, the Giants are scoring runs, but it has been stuttering all summer long. They have won 3 games by 13 runs. They are 6-2 in games where they won or lost by 5 runs. Where they were big losers was by 2 runs, 12-23. Even by 1 run, 20-23.

    What can be forseeable for 2008? I think Cain and Lincecum can have even better seasons. That will reduce the number of 1 and 2 run losses. I think Zito looks ready to take on the world as well. Lowry, who knows, other than he will get plenty hot in August, before petering out.

    Our bullpen should be improved. Hennessey has been steadily good this year. Wilson finally looks like he's ready for showtime. Walker looks ready to contribute. Whoever among Correia, Misch, and Sanchez doesn't make the rotation would make the bullpen stronger.

    All those will contribute to making the number of losses by 1 or 2 runs to go down.

    AZ on the other hand, will be crying for starting pitching soon, they have an old rotation with only one good starter in Webb. They might have one of the great offenses in the NL if the players matched their hype, and yet, as the Giants of the 60's showed, they could have 3-4 Hall of Fame hitters and still end up short.

    They have mainly been winning on the backs of their bullpen. A non-heralded bullpen, I would add, since you noted how good their position prospects are. And we all know that bullpens can vary widely in their performance, year to year, because of the small samples effect. Odds are that their 2008 performance will probably be closer to their 2006 results than their 2007 results, and they will fall down to the cellar again.

  9. Martin, those who criticize Sabean in a vacuum really have nothing to say. Baseball, comprising so much failure, is a sport that makes it very easy for the perpetually critical. But pointing out Sabean failure's is almost always done out of context. I have been asking the ritics to name the team/GM that is vastly superior to Sabean. Then we can take Sabean's body of work and compare it to that other team that is so much superior. Of course, we have to start with the fact that Sabean takes over a losing team, then puts together one of the best W-L records in the history of baseball.
    So, critics, who do you want to put up against Sabean? And, BTW, Iwill conced there are af ew worthy rivals, but I predicat at the outset, that Sabean is one of the top GMs in the game and it will be difficult to find one or two who exceed his accomplishments.



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