The Giants escaped Sunday’s game with two wins: one for the day and one for the series. Didn’t come easy though. A poor route by Angel Pagan led to a run that tied the ballgame. The Giants did finally get that run back in the 11th on a clean Hector Sanchez single to the two-man Brewers outfield. So the drama didn’t spoil the win on Willie Mays’ 81st birthday, just Cain’s win. More on that later.
An interesting fact following this afternoon’s game was that Angel Pagan is now the proud owner of a 20-game hitting streak and (un)proud owner of a an on-base percentage of .292. That seemed unique to me, so I wondered on Twitter who else had done that and how rare it was. Had anyone done it recently? I learned from @uublog that Sandy Alomar hit safely for 22 straight games in 1970 and at the end of game 22 had a .298 OBP.
Anyway, neither myself nor @GiantsNirvana could find a good way to find all of these, but I’d guess they are at least relatively rare. Oddly, though, I missed one that was both obvious and recent. To find it we have to go all the way back to 2011. Meet Dan Uggla, a player that was moved to Atlanta from Florida in the offseason following 2010.
Uggla was horrendous to start 2011, and it was looking bad for the Braves, a team that had signed him to a hefty extension in the offseason. After July 4th — perhaps the date of one of the greatest days of all for baseball — Dan was hitting an abysmal .178/.250/.344. But over the next month-plus, Uggla went off, and when the dust settled he sported a stil-poor line of .231/.297/.450, but one that was obviously much improved. I’ll bet that’s the longest hitting streak of which the player had a on OBP lower than .300, but then you never know.
Changing gears, there was something else that struck me about today’s game. Well, I probably shouldn’t say it struck me; it was pretty much business as usual. Cain pitched well and didn’t get a win. Real shocking stuff.
I’ve looked at his career win totals before and compared them to similarly successful pitchers, only to find out — and confirm — that he’s gotten the shaft, compliments of the Giants’ perpetual inability to score runs. Kid has been around since 2005 and seen a lot of terrible offense. More so than any other pitcher of his caliber before, though? Maybe.
A good pitcher to compare him to is Justin Verlander, another young pitcher with exceptional talent. Both he and Cain are often referred to as “horses,” starting pitchers capable of giving you 200-plus solid innings year after year. Both Cain and Verlander have pitched eight seasons and have remarkably similar numbers, though many probably wouldn’t believe that upon first hearing it. It’s true.
|162 Game Avg.||3.33||34||2||1||221||125||1.181||2.33|
|162 Game Avg.||3.50||34||2||1||226||125||1.183||3.00|
Eerily similar, aren’t they? The number of wins each pitcher has is frighteningly disparate, though. Verlander has amassed 109 in his young career, while Cain has had to scratch and claw his way to 70. Just a small delta of 39 there. Seems reasonable.
I decided I’d run a Play Index tool query at Baseball-Reference. The results were both unsettling and unsurprising. I was looking for pitchers with an ERA+ of 125 or better, 1250 or more innings, and at least 100 starts. (Didn’t want any relievers sneaking in.) Right there at the bottom of the list was none other than Matt Cain, he of 70 wins. This confirmed for me that Cain was in fact (or at least very likely) the unluckiest — at least in terms of pitching wins — pitcher of his caliber since… well forever.
|41||Smoky Joe Wood||117||147||158||1434.1||57||.672|
The next closest was Brandon Webb with 87 wins and a .584 winning percentage. Boy was he a dandy with that power sinker. And oh what a shame it was when he broke down. Another of note is Felix Hernadez of the Seattle Mariners, a team with a patent on terrible offense, who has 88 wins and a .564 winning percentage. And there wasn’t anyone really even close. In fact, the next closest pitcher in terms of winning percentage was doing nearly 10 percent better than Cain, close to .100 points.
I decided I’d trim the ERA+ a bit further, to 115, and still Matt Cain sat at the bottom. And still did he have the lowest winning percentage of a pitcher fitting the criteria.
To dethrone Cain I had to trim the ERA+ to 114 to find another sad soul, Johnny Niggeling. Oh the stories Johnny and Matt could tell over a beer (or likely a strong bourbon). Fellas, you’re no longer alone.
So, if you have ever wondered if Cain’d is the proper word, it is. Matt Cain: Cain’d again today and over his entire career. He deserves better.