When the Giants won the World Series in 2012, there were a number of contributors at whom to point when fans were looking for someone to thank. Buster Posey was an absolute beast in the second half, Sergio Romo stood tall when closing out games and even Tim Lincecum deserved a healthy bit of gratitude for his relief work during the playoffs. But for me, it was Matt Cain who deserved most of the accolades. From his lights-out start of the season to his perfect game in June, over a minor July speed bump, and into an August recovery for the stretch-run, Cain put the team on his back and carried them for the first half until the rest of the team picked it up after the All Star break and then helped them finish of the National League in style. He was, without questions, the workhorse the Giants needed him to be.
I will be the first to admit that after drafting Cain in multiple fantasy leagues in 2012, I was a bit apprehensive when he signed his ginormous contract extension. Not that I didn’t feel that he was deserving. Not at all. I always believed the Giants should have taken better care of him than they did Lincecum as Cain, to me, was the more valuable pitcher. But what made me nervous was the edge he was no longer going into the season with had he been pitching for a contract. But thankfully I was proven wrong and Cain opened up the year hot and looked as though he was destined to reward the Giants contractual efforts with a Cy Young award-winning season.
The first half of the season was outstanding, plain and simple. By the time we had reached the All Star break, Cain was 9-3 with a 2.62 ERA and both his walk and strikeout rates were the best of his career. He was continuing to increase the use of his slider which ran as one of the better out-pitches in the National League this season, his velocity was maintained on the rest of his arsenal, and if you got a chance to watch the perfect game he tossed back in June, you would easily understand how and why he was the most valuable member of the Giants rotation and really, the entire team at that point.
He stumbled out of the gate in the second half and he posted his worst month of the season in July. His line drive rate began to spike, he was leaving more pitches up in the zone and his home runs allowed began to climb again. There was plenty of talk of him tiring after such a ferocious first half and some pointed to the increased slider usage and the elbow problems he experienced during the spring before the 2011 season. Fantasy owners were immediately looking to deal him before the bottom fell out and Cain sat atop numerous sell-high lists.
But Cain held tough and come August, he was back on top. His numbers certainly weren’t where they were at the beginning of the season, but after a dismal July — dismal by Cain standards, that is — he was back to raising his strikeout rate, was inducing more infield fly-balls, and continued to lower his line drive rate which sat at 15.2-percent, the best it looked since April. His walks might have been a bit high, but he was incredibly effective still and helped his own cause with a strand rate north of 80-percent over the final two months of the year. Come the end of the season, he had thrown his sixth straight season of 200 or more innings, posted 16 wins with a career-best 2.79 ERA, a 7.92 K/9 (his best since 2006), and a career-low 2.09 BB/9.They were numbers that make fantasy owners drool.
So based on the season he had, Cain sits at number five on Zach Sanders’ Stating Pitcher End of Season rankings, behind the two Cy Young award winners and two of the best pitchers in the game. He has more than earned his rightful place amongst the elite. He’ll go for big bucks in fantasy drafts come the spring of 2013 but should also be worth every penny spent. Bill James’ projections have him turning in another comparable season and there’s really no reason to expect anything less. He may not put up the strikeout totals of a Verlander or a Kershaw, but he’ll anchor your fantasy rotation just as effectively.