Giants Notes: Cain Pitches Like an Ace

In the first inning of the San Francisco Giants‘ 4-2 win over the Washington Nationals on Tuesday night, there was the feeling of ‘here-we-go-again’ with ace right-hander Matt Cain. Catcher Buster Posey set up for an inside fastball to Ryan Zimmerman, but Cain missed the target and threw the ball right down the middle. Zimmerman blasted the meatball for an RBI double:

Cain's mistake to Zimmerman. (Image courtesy of Brooks Baseball).

That was a 90-mile-per-hour fastball right down the pipe.

Later in the inning, Cain hung a slider to Ian Desmond, who lined it down the right field line for another double. The Giants were suddenly down 2-0 against one of the nastiest pitchers in baseball, Stephen Strasburg.

The hanging fastball to Zimmerman and the hanging slider to Desmond were indicative of the command problems that have plagued Cain all year. His fastball velocity and strikeout rate are virtually the same as last season when he pitched like an ace. His average fastball was 91.2 mph last year compared to 90.8 so far this season. His strikeout rate was 22 percent last season compared to 21.1 percent this season. The problem has not been his stuff. The issue has been command.

Cain has a 5.12 ERA this year because he’s consistently made the types of location mistakes that he made to Zimmerman and Desmond in the first inning on Tuesday night. He allowed only 30 home runs combined over the 2011 and 2012 seasons. He’s already allowed 13 home runs in 63.1 innings this season. Some of that is just bad luck that should eventually turn around. Perhaps in prior years, Zimmerman would have popped up Cain’s middle-middle fastball and we wouldn’t have thought much of it. However, for whatever reason, Cain isn’t getting away with his mistakes thus far in 2013. He’s allowed 17.6 percent of the fly balls hit off of him to leave the yard this season compared to his career average of 7.2 percent.

On the bright side, Cain didn’t seem to make any location mistakes after the first inning. He didn’t allow another run over his final six innings of work. His stuff improved as the game went along. His fastball was only 89-91 in the early innings but he pumped it up to 91-93 by the end of the outing as he seemed to find a more consistent set of mechanics. His changeup was an exceptional pitch for him throughout the game. He threw 29 of them, and the Nationals swung-and-missed 10 times against it.

Cain looked like the ace of old against the Nationals, and he’s looked very good at times throughout his first 10 starts. He’s delivered a quality start in six of his 10 turns through the rotation. However, in a few of his outings, he’s gotten into ruts where he just can’t seem to hit Posey’s glove. Instead of missing out of the zone, he’s hanging the ball right over the plate and paying the price for his location mistakes. After the first inning on Tuesday night, Cain decided that there just wouldn’t be any more pitches to hit for the Nationals. Of all the struggling Giants pitchers, Cain seems to be the best bet to turn things around this year.

Marco Scutaro extended his hitting streak to 19 games and lifted his average to .337. He’s hit .352 in 103 games since Brian Sabean acquired him at last season’s trading deadline. That’s a pretty nice feather in the cap for Sabey-Sabes, and for me as well. Prior to the 2012 season, I argued that the Giants should have acquired Scutaro. I wrote:

Scutaro, 36, hit a robust .299/.358/.423 (BA/OBP/SLG) last year for the Red Sox while rating slightly above average defensively according to Ultimate Zone Rating and Defensive Runs Saved. While those numbers are hardly Ruthian, they represent a huge upgrade for the Giants, who watched their shortstops “hit” a league-worst .210/.265/.299 last year. Besides having saber-friendly accolades, he also has some of the intangibles Brian Sabean loves: he almost never strikes out (8.1% strike-out rate last year, third best in baseball), he looks gritty in uniform and he’s old. What isn’t to love here?

When Sabean finally got my man, I wrote at the time of the trade:

There are also signs that Scutaro could have a much better second half of the season. His .288 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is very low considering that he has hit line drives 25 percent of the time that he’s put the ball in play, which is in the top 15 in all of baseball…..There’s also the upside that he may start having better luck and revert to his outstanding 2011 form. In that case, the Giants would be getting more than just a bench bat. No matter how the Giants choose to use Scutaro, they made themselves better on Friday night at a very minimal cost.

I didn’t think Scutaro would hit .352 for the Giants and win the NLCS MVP, but I’m not surprised that he’s been a solid contributor.

Nor am I surprised that Gregor Blanco has helped the Giants over the last year-plus. I touched on his merits last spring training when he was fighting to make the team. He not only made the squad, but he became a key contributor to last year’s championship team. He’s continued to thrive so far this season.

After a three-hit game last night including a game-tying triple in the ninth inning, Blanco’s slash line is up to .293/.354/.379. The Giants are getting enough power from the rest of the lineup to be able to live with Blanco’s .379 slugging percentage. His batting average, on-base percentage, speed and defense combine to make him an above-average regular in left field right now despite his lack of home run power.

Stephen Strasburg is filthy. His changeup is an 80-grade pitch on the 20-80 scouting scale. He throws it between 88-91 mph with heavy sink and armside run. If you can strikeout Buster Posey with the same pitch in two straight at-bats as Strasburg did, well, you’ve got an elite pitch. Oh, and he also throws a 94-97 mph fastball and a sharp 79-82 mph curveball. Good luck against that.

Luckily for the Giants, Strasburg was out after seven innings, Blanco saved the day with the game-tying triple and then Pablo Sandoval won it in the tenth with a gargantuan home run to right-center.

 

That was a 90-mile-per-hour fastball right down the pipe. Later in the inning, Cain hung a slider to Ian Desmond, who lined it down the right field line for another double. The Giants were suddenly down 2-0 against one of the nastiest pitchers in baseball, Stephen Strasburg.

The hanging fastball to Zimmerman and the hanging slider to Desmond were indicative of the command problems that have plagued Cain all year. His fastball velocity and strikeout rate are virtually the same as last season when he pitched like an ace. His average fastball was 91.2 mph last year compared to 90.8 so far this season. His strikeout rate was 22 percent last season compared to 21.1 percent this season. The problem has not been his stuff. The issue has been command.

Cain has a 5.12 ERA this year because he’s consistently made the types of location mistakes that he made to Zimmerman and Desmond in the first inning on Tuesday night. He allowed only 30 home runs combined over the 2011 and 2012 seasons. He’s already allowed 13 home runs in 63.1 innings this season. Some of that is just bad luck that should eventually turn around. Perhaps in prior years, Zimmerman would have popped up Cain’s middle-middle fastball and we wouldn’t have thought much of it. However, for whatever reason, Cain isn’t getting away with his mistakes thus far in 2013. He’s allowed 17.6 percent of the fly balls hit off of him to leave the yard this season compared to his career average of 7.2 percent.

On the bright side, Cain didn’t seem to make any location mistakes after the first inning. He didn’t allow another run over his final six innings of work. His stuff improved as the game went along. His fastball was only 89-91 in the early innings but he pumped it up to 91-93 by the end of the outing as he seemed to find a more consistent set of mechanics. His changeup was an exceptional pitch for him throughout the game. He threw 29 of them, and the Nationals swung-and-missed 10 times against it.

Cain looked like the ace of old against the Nationals, and he’s looked very good at times throughout his first 10 starts. He’s delivered a quality start in six of his 10 turns through the rotation. However, in a few of his outings, he’s gotten into ruts where he just can’t seem to hit Posey’s glove. Instead of missing out of the zone, he’s hanging the ball right over the plate and paying the price for his location mistakes. After the first inning on Tuesday night, Cain decided that there just wouldn’t be any more pitches to hit for the Nationals. Of all the struggling Giants pitchers, Cain seems to be the best bet to turn things around this year.

Marco Scutaro extended his hitting streak to 19 games and lifted his average to .337. He’s hit .352 in 103 games since Brian Sabean acquired him at last season’s trading deadline. That’s a pretty nice feather in the cap for Sabey-Sabes, and for me as well. Prior to the 2012 season, I argued that the Giants should have acquired Scutaro. I wrote:

Scutaro, 36, hit a robust .299/.358/.423 (BA/OBP/SLG) last year for the Red Sox while rating slightly above average defensively according to Ultimate Zone Rating and Defensive Runs Saved. While those numbers are hardly Ruthian, they represent a huge upgrade for the Giants, who watched their shortstops “hit” a league-worst .210/.265/.299 last year. Besides having saber-friendly accolades, he also has some of the intangibles Brian Sabean loves: he almost never strikes out (8.1% strike-out rate last year, third best in baseball), he looks gritty in uniform and he’s old. What isn’t to love here?

When Sabean finally got my man, I wrote at the time of the trade:

There are also signs that Scutaro could have a much better second half of the season. His .288 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is very low considering that he has hit line drives 25 percent of the time that he’s put the ball in play, which is in the top 15 in all of baseball…..There’s also the upside that he may start having better luck and revert to his outstanding 2011 form. In that case, the Giants would be getting more than just a bench bat. No matter how the Giants choose to use Scutaro, they made themselves better on Friday night at a very minimal cost.

I didn’t think Scutaro would hit .352 for the Giants and win the NLCS MVP, but I’m not surprised that he’s been a solid contributor.

Nor am I surprised that Gregor Blanco has helped the Giants over the last year-plus. I touched on his merits last spring training when he was fighting to make the team. He not only made the squad, but he became a key contributor to last year’s championship team. He’s continued to thrive so far this season.

After a three-hit game last night including a game-tying triple in the ninth inning, Blanco’s slash line is up to .293/.354/.379. The Giants are getting enough power from the rest of the lineup to be able to live with Blanco’s .379 slugging percentage. His batting average, on-base percentage, speed and defense combine to make him an above-average regular in left field right now despite his lack of home run power.

Stephen Strasburg is filthy. His changeup is an 80-grade pitch on the 20-80 scouting scale. He throws it between 88-91 mph with heavy sink and armside run. If you can strikeout Buster Posey with the same pitch in two straight at-bats as Strasburg did, well, you’ve got an elite pitch. Oh, and he also throws a 94-97 mph fastball and a sharp 79-82 mph curveball. Good luck against that.

Luckily for the Giants, Strasburg was out after seven innings, Blanco saved the day with the game-tying triple and then Pablo Sandoval won it in the tenth with a gargantuan home run to right-center.

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