Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Worst Best Season

Another season has come and gone and while Giants fans everywhere will probably remember 2007 as the season Barry broke Hank's record, I will think of one other Giant who had to endure what may have been the most frustrating season for a player ever.

I'm talking about Giants ace Matt Cain and his 7-16 record. That's right, 7-16 and I called him the ace of the staff. Cain led all Giants full-time starters in ERA (3.65), innings pitched (200), strikeouts (163), WHIP (1.26) and was second in opponent's batting average (.235).

In 2007 Cain established himself as not only the top arm on a staff full of quality arms, but one of the best pitchers in the game. It's just a shame many people will take a look at that win-loss record and dismiss this year as a failure.

Last year, in what many call Cain's "breakout" season, he wasn't this good. In just under ten fewer innings in 2006 Cain allowed nine more runs, four more home runs and eight more walks with an ERA half a run higher than his 2007 mark.

Cain ranked 10th in the NL and 20th in all of baseball in ERA in 2007. Not a single pitcher in the top 50 had more losses than Cain's 16 or fewer wins than Cain's 7. In fact only Baltimore's Jeremy Guthrie, with his 7-5 record, even matched Cain's season total for wins.

He was also ranked 5th in the NL in hits allowed per nine innings with 7.79 and opponents batting average, meaning he wasn't hit hard. In fact the only thing he really struggled with all year was his command as he led the league with 12 wild pitches and walked 3.56 batters per nine innings.

Of course anyone who watched as much of Cain as I did this season knows that a lot of that had to do with him trying to be too fine, knowing he was going to get little or no support from his team.

Five times Cain left the game with a lead of two runs or more only to see his bullpen give it up and cost him a win. Each time Cain pitched into at least the 6th inning, and four of those times he took the lead into the 7th or later.

Seven times Cain gave up two or less earned runs in a start, and lost. In one early-April stretch Cain allowed three earned runs in 29 innings pitched over four starts and finished with a 1-1 record. The one win, a complete game effort by Cain which the Giants won 2-1.

For the year the Giants and their anemic offense only gave Cain 3.20 runs of support per start. Meanwhile teammate Noah Lowry received 4.70 runs of support on his way to a team-high 14 wins. Lowry had an 87/87 strikeout-to-walk ratio, Cain's was 163/79.

The numbers are ridiculous, but what was most impressive about Cain's season was how well he handled the lack of support. He never let up and actually got better as the season dragged on. Imagine how easy it could have been for him to mail it in and let his frustration get the best of him, but that never happened.

Only once over his last 12 starts dating back to July 28th did Cain allow more than three earned runs and that perseverance paid off as he won four games in that stretch, including three in a row in August.

Looking forward to 2008, I am very excited to see what Cain can do and I wouldn't think twice about naming him as a serious contender for the Cy Young award as soon as next season.

Next up for Cain will be his 23rd birthday which he'll celebrate on Monday, and I can't think of anyone who deserves a few gifts more than he does.

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