San Francisco Giants: Why Is Matt Cain Struggling?


Jul 10, 2013; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy (15) takes the ball from starting pitcher Matt Cain (18) after removing him from the game during the first inning at AT

Matt Cain put up glistening numbers in the 2012 season, and he twirled a perfect game. So, it wasn’t surprising that fans expected Cain to carry the Giants to more success in 2013.

So far, Cain hasn’t done that.

Cain has underwhelmed fans and experts with a terrible performance this season. His inflated ERA is 5.06, and he has pitched horribly in his last two starts. He is 0-2 with a 33.00 ERA in those starts, and he has a mere five wins.

Against the New York Mets on Wednesday, July 11, Cain failed to control his pitches. He walked three batters, threw 50 percent of his pitches for balls and gave up three runs in his only inning (the first inning). After surrendering a two-run single to John Buck on his 36th pitch, he was yanked from the game.

It was surprising to see Cain, who had never been pulled in the first inning in his 254-start career, exit the game so early. However, because of his struggles this season, it wasn’t extremely surprising to see him struggle.

Giants fans are used to former aces struggling, as Tim Lincecum struggled mightily in 2012. When Lincecum was going through his 2012 struggles, lack of fastball command and velocity was mainly to blame. Cain’s velocity hasn’t plummeted, and he still has the stuff that helped him accumulate 16 wins and compile a 2.79 ERA.

Jul 10, 2013; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Matt Cain (18) throws the ball to first base during the first inning of the game against the New York Mets at AT

On the other hand, Cain’s command (or lack thereof), hasn’t been sharp at all. He has surrendered eight hits in opponents’ last 17 at-bats, and he has let opponents put up a respectable .402 slugging percentage. In addition, opponents have cranked 16 home runs off of him.

One example of his lack of command was against the Mets with the bases loaded, two outs and a 1-1 count. Cain decided to throw a slider low and on the outside corner, but the pitch hung on the outer third of the strike zone. Buck scorched the ball into center field to score two runs and knock Cain out of the game.

For Cain, hanging pitches has been the theme of his season. His HR/FB rate is 12.7 percent, which is far too high for a pitcher who induces lots of fly balls. In addition, in his last three innings, he has given up six line drives.

Cain has made a plethora of location mistakes, and hitters have responded by feasting off of him. Cain has thrown the ball well in a lot of his starts, but home runs have derailed some of them.

Because he has given up so many big hits, Cain hasn’t gobbled up innings like he did in 2012. The 28-year-old is known as a horse for his durability, but he hasn’t lived up to his nickname this season. Cain has thrown 112 innings, which is fewer than six innings per start. Hitters have worked deep counts against him, and they have forced him to throw a multitude of pitches.

Last season, Cain averaged 6.9 innings per start. He only walked 51 batters, which was a big reason why. This year, he’s on pace to issue about 62 walks. He has walked three or more batters in six of his last 14 starts and is averaging 2.4 walks per start over that span.

Runners have reached base because of walks, but they have scored because of big hits. Cain is known for being able to wiggle out of jams, but he has surprisingly been unable to do that this season. He has stranded a mere 63.4 percent of runners who have reached against him.

Because Cain hasn’t been able to make good pitches in key situations, he has been lit up. He has had six starts in which he has surrendered six runs or more, which has severely impacted his numbers.

In three of those starts, Cain coughed up six runs or more in an inning. One of those starts came against the St. Louis Cardinals on April 7, 2013, when Cain started the game by pitching three perfect innings. Cain looked sharp at the beginning of the game, but he collapsed in the fourth inning. The Cardinals torched him for nine runs.

A big reason why Lincecum struggled in 2012 was because of the big inning. Cain has suffered the same fate.

Those big innings could be partially because Cain has been throwing from a lower arm slot (via Mark Reynolds of Get Real Baseball). That could be why he has left so many sliders, change-ups and curveballs over the plate.

One would think that injuries could be to blame for Cain throwing from a lower arm slot and struggling, as they are sometimes to blame for issues like this. However, they haven’t caused Cain’s struggles.

The SF Gate reported that Cain may be dealing with bone spurs in his elbow, but it also noted that pitchers can continue to pitch effectively despite the injury. If Cain were experiencing serious pain, the Giants wouldn’t have him pitch every fifth day.

When Lincecum struggled, there was talk about him being sent down to the minor leagues or having a start skipped. However, despite Cain’s location miscues and his inability to do things that he has done in prior years, he will continue to pitch every fifth day. His track record is great, and location issues are the only thing costing him.

July 5, 2013; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Matt Cain (18) delivers a pitch against the Los Angeles Dodgers during the first inning at AT

It’s likely that Cain gets back on track immediately after the All-Star break, but we could also see him continue to struggle. A flurry of location mistakes have dented his numbers, but his 1.18 WHIP, 4.40 FIP and lack of physical issues show that his ERA is bound to improve.

Cain has a lot of weapons in his arsenal, as he can pitch inside and outside to left-handed hitters and right-handed hitters. However, any pitch can be hit if it isn’t located properly.

­­­­­­Unfortunately for Cain, he has learned that the hard way.

The right-hander doesn’t have any physical issues, but he hasn’t been able to do what every pitcher needs to do: locate his pitches. Some of his pitches have been absolutely horrendous, and because of his location failures, opponents have come through with timely hits.

And that has killed Cain this season. Unfortunately for Cain, it could continue to cost him.