The issue with evaluating any baseball contract is that as baseball fans we can’t help but play favorites. Every fan has his own reasons for loving baseball. Some go to the games for the strikeouts, others for the thrilling wins, some for the food and atmosphere, and chicks, apparently, dig the long ball. These subconscious strings tug at our active mind, affecting how we watch a game, read an article or talk about baseball with a friend. This is to say that human beings are far from objective observers. This is fine for a lot of people. The causal fan sticks with the simplicity of historical statistics like batting average, RBI’s and Errors. But a growing segment of baseball fans enjoy both the visual appeal of watching bat connect to ball and digging into the mathematical layers behind the game. As fans, we are all biased, but for many fans advanced statistics curb our biases and give us greater insight into what makes a team win.
So when I see that the Giants have signed Matt Cain to a five year, 110 million dollar contract, two parts of my mind fire into action. The first part is ecstatic. Over the past six years, Matt Cain has been one of the most consistent pitchers in the Major Leagues. Quickly lets run through his accomplishments. Over these six years, Matt has thrown at least 190 innings every year and spent no extended time on the DL. On top of statistical measurements, the inner fan in me adds that Cain has a large, strong frame and an easy delivery. AND HE PITCHES FOR THE SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS!!! As an avid Giants fan, Cain was one of the few bright spots during the dark years after Barry Bonds, and when the Giants won the World Series, Matt Cain threw 21 1/3 scoreless innings in the playoffs. How could I not love watching Cain play in orange and black for another five years.
Now that we got that out of the way…
HOLY CRAP 110 million dollars! So if the Giants maintain their current budget of 130 million, Cain will account for a sixth of that. Damn… I hope he stays good. For every CC Sabathia, who stays healthy and good throughout his massive contract there is a Jake Peavy or Brandon Webb, whose health fails as they approach their 30’s. The Giants inked Cain through his age 33 season, with an average value of 21 million per year. Last year, according to Fangraphs.com, Matt Cain, in his best season yet, was worth 23 million. The Giants are gambling that Cain stays healthy and maintains his past performance. Take away my love for the Giants and my man-crush on Matt Cain and suddenly the deal looks very shaky. Any long-term deal for a 27-year-old pitcher is risky, and the Giants are flipping a coin on Matt Cain.
Sabermetrics can’t predict the future, but it can tell the observer that 1) Matt Cain has been really good 2) Matt Cain has been really healthy 3) Matt Cain has gotten better over his six years in the league.
So Matt Cain is a solid horse to bet on, but all gambling carries risk, and as a fan of baseball, the Giants and Matt Cain, I hope the risk pays off.