The secret among Giants fans is that this question is no more relevant than it was last week. So a perfect game suddenly rockets Matt Cain into the top 10 pitchers in baseball? Six straight seasons of 190 IP didn't do it? How about a 2.87 ERA since the beginning of 2009? If that wasn't enough, maybe the 21.1 playoff innings without giving up an earned run. No. It took a perfect game to teach those outside the range of KNBR 680 that Matt Cain is one of the best pitchers in baseball.
Cain is one of the most beloved Giants of the last 20 years. During some dark years early in his career, we knew Cain would be a part of the next great Giants era. He was a beacon of light in the midst of Randy Winn, Fred Lewis, and Lance Niekro. Cain was that band that nobody had heard of, kept in obscurity by a 69-72 record at the beginning of this season. Constantly overshadowed by the more pop culture and highlight friendly Tim Lincecum with his two Cy Young awards.
Now that everyone else is paying attention, we'll entertain the question for your benefit. Where does Matt Cain rank among the best in baseball?
It's easy to look at this year. Cain ranks third in ERA, first in WHIP, and fifth in strikeouts among all qualifying pitchers. No other pitcher ranks in the top five in all three categories. Only Brandon Beachy and R.A. Dickey, two breakout stars this season, rank in the top five in two of the three categories. Also, with eights wins, Cain is tied for fifth. Wins? Matt Cain does a lot of things, but one thing he doesn't do is win. Matt Cain's win total was irrelevant long before it was cool to not care about wins.
Let's back it up a little. How does Matt Cain stack up since 2009? Since the beginning of that season, Cain's first as an all-star, Cain ranks fifth in ERA, behind only Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw, Adam Wainwright, and Josh Johnson. He falls into the top 20 in both WHIP and strikeouts, a sign that despite strong consistency from Cain, and 2012 may actually be a breakout season. Not bad a for a guy who signed a $125 million contract before the season started.
Cain's most endearing quality may be the workmanlike way he takes the mound every five days. A DL stint seems unimaginable with Cain heading towards his seventh straight season of 190+ innings pitched. 8 IP, 4H, 1ER, (L) has been a common stat line for Cain throughout his career. He never complained, and he kept coming back. Since 2007, Cain ranks seventh in innings pitched as well as complete games. He also fails to crack the top 30 in wins.
So where does Matt Cain stack up? Has he stepped into the top tier with Halladay, Hernandez, Sabathia, Kershaw, Verlander, and Weaver? Does it even matter? Perhaps Giants fans prefer the media to continue focusing on what's wrong with Tim Lincecum so they can keep the secret to themselves.