Thursday, June 14, 2012

Matt Cain, Man Amongst Giants

Last night San Francisco Giants pitcher Matt Cain pitched the 22nd perfect game in Major League history, laying waste to the Houston Astros at AT&T Park. Cain recorded 14 strikeouts, tying Sandy Koufax's 1965 gem for the most Ks in a perfect game. The Giants put up 10 runs last night, easily breaking the previous record of 6 runs in a perfect game (done by the Phillies in Jim Bunning's 1964 perfecto and by the Yankees during David Cone's 1999 game). Cain was in on the offense too, becoming the first pitcher since Dennis Martinez in 1991 to get a hit in his perfect game and the first pitcher ever to score a run in his perfect game!

(I'd like to tip my hat to Catfish Hunter, who did not score any runs in his 1968 perfect game, but did collect 3 hits and drive in 3 runs, in what was surely the best hitting performance by a perfect game pitcher ever)

In addition to all those strikeouts and his offensive contributions in the game, Cain's performance is also notable as the first perfect game in Giants history, which dates back all the way to 1883. Not only have the Giants been around for a long, long time, they've also had many fantastic pitchers over the years. The Hall of Fame is not perfect, not every great pitcher is enshrined there, and not every Hall of Fame pitcher is equally great. However, I think it's fair to call the Hall a strong barometer of pitching greatness. Guess which team has had the most Hall of Fame pitchers start at least 100 games for them?

Of course, you're no dummy, so you've figured out from the context of the question that the answer is the Giants! How many of you would have guessed that before reading this article though?

Most Hall of Fame Pitchers With at Least 100 Starts for the Team:

Rank
Team
Pitchers
1
Giants
9
t2
Indians
7
t2
Yankees
7
t4
Braves
6
t4
Dodgers
6
t4
Red Sox
6


Here are those nine Hall of Fame pitchers and their numbers with the Giants:

 Pitcher                        Starts     From    To          CG   Shutouts   Innings      ERA
Christy Mathewson        551        1900   1916        434        79        4779.2        2.12
Juan Marichal 446 1960 1973 244 52 3443.2 2.84
Carl Hubbell 433 1928 1943 260 36 3590.1 2.98
Mickey Welch 412 1883 1892 391 28 3579.0 2.69
Amos Rusie 403 1890 1898 372 29 3531.2 2.89
Gaylord Perry 283 1962 1971 125 21 2294.1 2.96
Tim Keefe 269 1885 1891 252 22 2265.0 2.54
Joe McGinnity 237 1902 1908 186 26 2151.1 2.38
Rube Marquard 188 1908 1915 99 16 1546.0 2.85

                                                     Provided by Baseball-Reference.com


Tim Lincecum has been considered the ace of the Giants rotation since he joined the team in 2007. That's been both understandable and merited, given that he (deservedly) won the National League Cy Young Award in both 2008 and 2009 and leads the league in strikeouts since 2007. But who has led the Giants in innings pitched over that time? Matt Cain. Lincecum and Cain both have the same 3.17 ERA over the last 6 seasons and Cain has the better WHIP. Fangraphs' version of WAR has Lincecum leading the N.L. over that time span. By the Baseball-Reference version though, it's Cain who sits atop the National League. In each case, they are 1 and 2 on the list. Lincecum's best seasons have been better than Cain's, but Cain has been consistently among the best pitchers in the league.

Clearly, both pitchers deserve to be considered legitimate MLB aces. Given that Cain was arguably the better pitcher in 2011 and Tim Lincecum's huge struggles so far in 2012, I think it's time to consider Matt Cain the ace of the San Francisco staff.

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