Is Matt Cain (5.06 ERA) hurting?

Thearon W. Henderson

So just when you thought the Giants' season couldn't get any worse, Thursday their ace got driven to cover in the very first inning. Which got people to wondering if Matt Cain is hurt. Here's Andrew Baggarly (via CSNBayArea.com):

A day after Matt Cain was pulled in the first inning for the first time in his career, Giants manager Bruce Bochy insisted that his opening-day starter has no health issues.

--snip--

If Cain doesn’t start the first game July 19 against Arizona, then it’ll be obvious something is amiss.

It appeared obvious enough Wednesday, when Bochy had Mike Kickham begin warming up just 20 pitches into Cain’s outing. Cain ended up throwing 36 pitches to seven batters, retiring just two of them.

His fastball is usually in the 91-93 mph range. He was anywhere from 89-92 against the Mets.

The back-to-back starts are a pair of red flags, no doubt – especially for a pitcher who has loose bodies in his right elbow.

--snip--

A pitcher can compete with bone chips for years with no problems. But if one happens to lodge in the wrong place, it can cause inflammation or an impingement – a limiting of the range of motion.

Bochy acknowledged Cain’s elbow fragments are still there, but "it hasn’t affected him as far as I know. He’s fine. He was just throwing right there."

I have absolutely nothing to say about Cain's short outing Thursday. For all I know, a fragment's causing an impingement that's limiting the range of motion which is connected to the arm bone which is connected to the slider. But there is no statistical evidence that Matt Cain has been unhealthy this season.

His strikeout rate is perfectly healthy.

His walk rate is perfectly healthy.

His ground-ball and fly-ball rates have been perfectly healthy.

His pitch velocities have been perfectly healthy.

There is exactly one obvious explanation for Cain's 5.06 ERA: His home-run rate this season is essentially twice his previous career rate. Cain, as you might know, has routinely sported ERA's significantly lower than his fielding-independent statistics would predict. So after enough years of that, we finally became comfortable with the idea that maybe Cain was something special; maybe Matt Cain had broken DIPS theory.

Well, maybe he did and maybe he will again. But this year he's breaking it the wrong way. This year, DIPS theory would predict an ERA around 4 -- a typical, if faulty, prediction in most years for Cain -- but instead it's around 5. These things happen. Worse things will happen, if Cain's actually injured. Maybe he is. But until he's placed on the Disabled List or has another terrible start like Thursday's, I'm going to believe he's just pitching in some tough luck.

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