Quick post today, Matt Cain has historically been a better pitcher in the 2nd half of the season. It’s not surprising to see him do well in his first three starts since the 2nd half started — 4 GS, 28.2 IP, 24 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 10 BB, 23 SO, 1.57 ERA.
Something I’ve noticed with Cain since the All-Star break is that he seems to really be throwing a lot of off-speed and breaking pitches. Cain has always been a fastball first pitcher, and he still is, but it’s looking like lately he’s mixing in his other pitches more than he has in the past.
Using FanGraphs’ Pitch Type — provided by BIS — numbers, we can see what Cain threw in the past. The following plot is from 2006-2008. ‘X’ stands for his start against the Braves last night and while I didn’t plot his pitch types for all four starts since the break, I suspect that they might look similar. That is, if I believe what my eyes are telling me, Cain is throwing more breaking and off-speed pitches.
YEAR FB CU CB SL 2006 72 5.8 14.1 6.7 2007 64.5 10.4 8.6 16.5 2008 66 10.7 9.4 13.9 x 60.2 15.7 17.6 6.5
FB (Fastball), CU (Changeup), CB (Curveball), SL (Slider)
You can see that since ’06, Cain has reduced the usage on his fastball by 6-8%. You can credit the development of his changeup and slider as factors in the reduction of his fastball usage. Cain’s curveball always had a good reputation as a plus-pitch and he used it 14.1% of the time in his first full season as a starter in ’06. But, since that year, Cain has backed off of his curve. He has not thrown it in double digits since his first year as a starter.
If you watched last nights game against the Braves and thought you noticed that Cain was throwing more breaking stuff, you would be right. Your eyes didn’t deceive you. Cain did throw a bunch of curveballs last night. 17.6% of Cain’s pitches last night registered as a curveball by MLB Gameday’s application. If Cain maintained that rate over a full season, it would be the highest percentage of curveballs thrown in a season for Matt Cain. It wasn’t only his curveball that Cain used last night, he also threw his changeup 15.7% of the time, 5% above his established averages in ’07 and ’08. Cain didn’t go to his slider much last night after using it the most ever in a season in ’07.
Another thing I’ve noticed is that Cain’s velocity is either down, or he’s making a effort to throw slower. Just by eyeballing PFX data and watching the TV gun — not always the best way to figure out velocity — over Cain’s first three starts in the 2nd half, his velocity was slightly lower than usual.
Cain’s velocity on his fastball from 2005 to the present: 93.2, 93.4, 93.2, 92.5
From ’05-’07 Cain threw his fastball at 93mph but this year it’s dropped by almost 1mph. So, it appears that Cain is throwing slightly slower this year. I especially recall in his start against Washington that he threw a few 89-90mph fastballs, which seemed a little on the low side for me. Cain’s velocity was better last night, hitting 93 a few times in PFX and slightly higher on the hotter TV gun. This could be a random fluctuation of Cain’s velocity that might even out over the rest of the year but it’s something that I’ve noticed and it’s something that we should keep an eye on. Cain is still very young at 23-years-old and is getting ready to pass the injury nexus for young pitching.
It’s great to see Cain throwing well right now and interesting to see if he’s changing his pitching style or not. Keep watching, I know I will.