Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Matt Cain vs Tim Lincecum

When the ESPN notification popped up on my phone yesterday alerting me that the Giants had signed Matt Cain to a 6-year, $127.5 million contract, the largest for a right-handed pitcher, I jumped out of my chair and pumped my fist like Tiger Woods does after he sinks a putt. At that moment, I imagined the damage our pitching staff could do if it remained intact. And the Giants took the most important step Monday to keep this staff intact, inking Cain until 2017. This pairs Lincecum and Cain until at least 2013 and sets a precedent for the kind of contract Lincecum should receive when he becomes a free agent. I definitely hope that Tim resigns with the Giants in 2013, but I think that Matt Cain was the more important extension this year. Why? Because Matt Cain is more consistent.

From a quantitative perspective, Lincecum has a better career ERA than Cain (2.98 over 3.35) and about 100 more strikeouts in 50 fewer games. However, Cain has a higher WAR than Lincecum (23.4 over 23.2) and has been far more consistent throughout his career. Lincecum's ERA has fluctuated greatly from season-to-season whereas Cain has stayed with in the ballpark of 3.00 for most of his years. Cain has also had some of the worst run support in the league throughout his career, which accounts for his poor win-loss record. However, Lincecum clearly had the edge in career statistics.

Then why do I prefer Cain?

Because Tim Lincecum's throwing motion scares me. I feel that he is one injury away from never being able to pitch again. Timmy thrusts his body so violently every pitch he throws.  He curls up and then unleashes. You can literally see his hair whip when he throws and that is a small illustration of what kind of motion goes on in his body. Human bodies are not meant to suffer blow after blow like that.

I definitely hope he stays healthy but I feel that his career longevity will be nowhere near that of Jamie Moyer's. I feel that Lincecum has the same fate as Barry Zito. He will sign a huge, long-term contract with a rich team and then struggle as his body wears down after so many years of violent throwing. I certainly hope it doesn't happen, but I have my doubts as to how long Lincecum can last in the league. He is undoubtedly better than Cain at this part of their careers but after Cain signed a long-term deal, I am afraid that the Giants will be tempted to negotiate a similar deal for their ace, Lincecum. And I think that that would be a risky move because Tim is a high-risk player.

I could be totally wrong. Tim could win 20 games a season for the rest of his career and become the greatest pitcher to ever play the game. Or he could end up as Barry Zito. And in a game like baseball, where a team can trade a heralded pitching prospect, Zack Wheeler, for a half-season rental of Carlos Beltran only to miss the playoffs entirely, it's more important to me to avoid the Barry Zito fate than resign the next all-time great.

Lincecum is a great player but the risk of signing him long-term is tremendous. If the Giants had to pick, I would choose Matt Cain over Timmy, solely because of his consistency and his projected longevity. But I would definitely love to have both pitchers on the roster. As long as they don't end up as Barry Zito.


  1. i think that the way lincecum has pitched this year has showed that the 2 time cy young award winner is going to drop off the edge in years to come,(even though i want him to be succesfull). he didnt even have an injury to begin with, and he still pitches like he should be put in the minor leagues. it is very odd to see him set down 6 or 7 batters in a row, then have a complete break down around the 3rd or 4th inning. you can just tell that bochey is terrified because of how consistantly this has been happening. i dont think that licecum will ever go another season with an era around 3, even though it would be great to see him do it. he ended the first half with an era over 6, and a record of 3-10, which leaves all giants fans wanting to cry. i hope that he can figure things out and have more starts like he did against LA a couple of weeks ago. it would be great hearing sports writers reaction to lincecum having an amazing 2nd half. but for now were just gonna have to sit back and see what the organization wants to do with the freak.

    1. I totally agree. Lincecum's erratic performances this year have been unsettling to say the least. He has his moments when he coasts through 2 or 3 innings, then seems to hit a hurdle somewhere along the way and completely breaks down. Every Giants fan wants Lincecum to be successful so it's been a little bit weird to see that both Bochy and Dave Righetti have decided to simply throw him out there start after start. In spite of the sparse flashes of brilliance, there is something undoubtedly wrong with Lincecum and his command. I had hoped that Bochy or Righetti would try something new but up until this point, they seem to be hoping that Timmy himself will find a way out of this. The best case scenario is that Lincecum emerges from the All-Star break with his Cy Young form and dominates opposition for the rest of the season. The worst case is a continuation of where we are right now.