They Might Be Giants: Matt Cain - NBC Bay Area

They Might Be Giants: Matt Cain

"They Might Be Giants" takes a look at key members of the Giants roster before the season starts. Today we look at pitcher Matt Cain.



    They Might Be Giants' takes a look at some of the most important pieces to 2012's San Francisco Giants roster. Follow The Cove on Twitter.

    As noted, we're rolling along with members of the pitching staff, and today's discussion focuses on free-agent-to-be and would-be ace Matt Cain.

    Cain's not just a two-time All-Star, an incredibly underrated pitcher, and a potential goldmine in the waiting if he hits the open market, he also might be the most unlucky pitcher in baseball history. No, really.

    What we've done with that link there is take all the pitchers in baseball history with more than 1,000 strikeouts, more than 200 starts and a winning percentage of less than .500 and we've sorted them by ERA+ (ERA adjusted for the league ERA). And Cain has the highest ERA+ in baseball history for that group of 68 unlucky fellas … which is a good thing. The higher your ERA+, the better.

    Of course, there's nothing good about being on that list. It means that your team very rarely provides any run support for you, and that's been the case since Cain debuted for the Giants many years ago.

    And it should mean that Giants fans should be worried about the prospect of Cain flying the coop if he thinks that he needs to leave in order to become an "ace," get fairly compensated, or actually start picking up some wins.

    The funny thing about Cain is that no one ever starts freaking out about what he should do. If he slips a little no one panics. But then again, maybe he doesn't slip -- his stats over the past six seasons are just about as steady as they come.

    What's going to be interesting is how he responds if the Giants don't get a contract worked out before spring training ends. There's all the incentive in the world (well, upwards of $120 million anyway) for him to have the best season of his career and parlay that into a monster free-agent deal.

    That's not to say that Cain's the type of guy who'll step up his game based on being in a contract year. But anyone who think the "contract-year phenomenon" is simply a coincidence is off their rocker. Athletes do, in fact, oftentimes perform better when motivated by the prospect of a millions and millions of dollars on the open market.

    Having said that, Giants fans expectations of Cain shouldn't be cranked up by the prospect of losing him -- that's just too terrifying to rattle around in the brain. Instead, like with Lincecum,expect the expected from Cain and that should result in a pretty good performance.

    The harsh reality of Cain's lack of luck is that anyone following the Giants can almost lock him in for an ERA somewhere slightly north or south of 3.00, double-digit wins, 200-plus innings and 170-some strikeouts.

    Seriously, look at the last three years Cain's posted: never more than 14 wins, never less than 12; a high ERA of 3.14, a low ERA of 2.88; high innings-pitched of 221.2, low IP of 217.2; strikeout seasons of 171, 177 and 179.

    Consistency is reality with Cain and that's a really underrated thing. In fact, it's the sort of thing that you sometimes don't remember to appreciate until it's gone.