Matt Cain: It's Not Your Fault

  • Friday, May 21, 2010 7:37 AM
  • Written By: Alex Siegel

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Bill Simmons (ESPN’s The Sports Guy) is probably my favorite sportswriter. I’ve been reading his work for a while, but he wrote one column last year that really stuck with me. An avid basketball fan, Simmons was debating the winners and losers of the 2009 NBA off-season in what seemed like a novel-length discourse. What made the piece interesting, though, was that he did so by integrating quotes from what he deemed to be last decade’s defining movie, “Almost Famous,” and relating them to the NBA.

Since I read that column, I’ve told myself I would one day write something like it. So recently I decided to give it a shot, making mine about the San Francisco Giants and using quotes from the movie that defined my last decade, “Good Will Hunting.” I’m not sure why I like the movie so much. It could be the “rewatchability factor” as Simmons puts it, or maybe it’s just the hanging out with a bearded Robin Williams for a full two hours. Regardless, it's one of my favorites and has some pretty usable quotes, so without further ado, here’s an open letter to Giants General Manager Brian Sabean.

This girl is like f---ing perfect right now. I don’t want to ruin that.

Sitting pretty near the top of the NL West standings — and I’d be more worried about the Padres if I didn’t know how bad Kevin Correia truly is — now would seem as good a time as ever to just let things ride. Sure, keep snatching two of three from the division leaders. Continue to rely on a pitching staff that gives up fewer runs than you do with Timmy Franchise in a game of “MLB: The Show.” Bank on more hot hitting from the likes of Bengie Molina, Nate Scheirholtz, and Andres Torres — the team leaders in batting average respectively. Wait…that’s kind of pathetic actually. In reality, this team has overachieved in a huge way, and chances are we’re going to keep losing one run games like the one we blew against the Phillies. And I certainly don’t want that to happen. I hadn’t been that sad since G-Baby got shot.

The fact is, our hitters won’t stay clutch for long. They simply aren’t that good. Kung Fu Panda aside, this is a lineup full of 6-hole hitters at best. While our division rivals boast guys like Manny Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitski in the heart of their lineups, Bochy submitted a 4-5-6 not too long ago that I’d even trust Armando Benitez to finish off in a postseason ballgame. Even with pitching as good as ours, the Giants will need to greatly improve their hitting if they want any shot at the postseason, much less a World Series run. This team is far from perfect.

When the Giants let the likes of Matt Holliday and Jason Bay slide by this off-season without more than some tire kicking, I was okay with it. We would’ve overpaid the hell out of either guy, and we didn’t look like a team that was just one or two bats away from being a contender. Now we do. San Francisco can’t count on having pitching this dominant ever again. It's imperative that Sabean strikes while the iron is hot, and if there ever was a time to sacrifice part of our future for the present, it's absolutely right now.

And I’m fascinated. I’m in. But you don’t want to do that, do you sport?

So let's go for it. Let's trade for a bopper, even if it's potentially short term. The easiest way to do this is to look for a 2011 free agent on a team that will not be in contention come September. Enter: Derek Lee, Paul Konerko, Adam Dunn and Brad Hawpe. All four guys will have their 25+ home runs and a .350+ OBP by season’s end — both of which would be welcome statistical additions to a team that besides Panda did not boast a single performer last year with even one of those totals, much less both.

The two main problems with trading for any of these players are defensive issues and age. Hawpe and Dunn have the two worst UZR ratings for all starting outfielders over the last three seasons. Lee and Konerko have been slightly above average first baseman, however both are 34 — Hawpe and Dunn are 30 — and are likely candidates to decline. Due to these limitations, along with the fact that all four will be free agents by year’s end, it's possible that all four could be had without parting with too much depth from our roster or farm system.

Though not likely to happen, the most feasible dark horse candidate would be Cleveland’s OF Shin-Soo Choo. Stuck on a struggling Indians team with a need to rebuild, Choo has emerged over the past few seasons as one of the top outfielders in all of baseball. Only 27 years old, he is a five-tool performer, who last season hit for power (20 home runs), got on base frequently (.394 OPB), stole bags (20) and played solid defense to boot. “Big League Choo” is just entering his prime, and as such would be harder to acquire without forfeiting a top prospect. That said, a 2-3-4 of Posey, Choo and Sandoval would look real purdy come midseason. If Sabean could get that done without a Thomas Neal or a Zach Wheeler in the deal, all the better.

Unfortunately, Brian Sabean isn’t one for all these fancy new-age number things like On-Base Percentage and Ultimate Zone Rating. No, he’s more of an old school guy. He wants only cheap middle-of-the-order sluggers who hit homers in their sleep and ooze RBI from their pores. Now this is what scares me ...

You think I’m spreading my legs for that Tootsie Roll dick?

Brian, I’ve known you for a while now, and I know what you’re thinking. This team lacks power and needs a cleanup hitter in the worst way. If you want to re-sign Timmy, Cain and Panda in a few years you’re going to need to keep a light checkbook. What available free agents players fit that description? Stop it ... just ... stop it. I’ll say it here: Jermaine Dye has a Tootsie Roll dick. And by dick I mean on-base percentage. Over Dye’s past three seasons, he reached base at a .334 clip. That’s lower than seven Giants regulars have. He’s also 36. He also played the worst defense of all outfielders during the 2009 season, and was third behind Hawpe and Dunn over the past three. Yes, he’ll probably hit around 25 home runs. Yes, he’ll look a hell of a lot more like a cleanup hitter than anyone we’ve got now. And yes, he’ll be relatively cheap. He’ll also block Schierholtz while frustrating you with his lack of plate discipline, speed and defense like a Bengie Part Duex. Just ... don’t do it. Actually, if you’re looking for some cheap power and a lot of walks, I know of one other guy who might look good in the middle of our lineup...

Sorry, I had to go see about a girl

Is Freddy Sanchez still on the DL? If he doesn’t lead the league in average when he comes back, he could easily replace Felix Rodriguez as the most hated Giant of all time.

You’re an idiot. I’ve been sitting over there for 45 minutes waiting for you to come and talk to me. But I’m tired now and I have to go home. And I couldn’t sit there anymore waiting for you…

In the end, the simplest and most cost-effective way to improve the offense without sacrificing talent, money, or defense would be to bring up top prospect Buster Posey. The phenom catcher has destroyed minor league pitching at every level while flashing a top-shelf arm and above average receiving and blocking skills behind the plate. The main knock on Posey is his ability to handle a major league pitching staff and to call a good game. Since pitch calling often comes from the manager himself, it all boils down to the relationship between pitching staff and catcher. According to the great Tim Lincecum, the communication and trust that Bengie has with his pitchers might be his greatest asset. As a backstop who handles arguably the top pitching staff in the bigs, this is a valid point. A point to which I say this ...

Why is trust the most important thing in making a breakthrough with a client? Because ... trust is ... life. Wow, that’s very deep, thank you, Vinny

Having no big league experience of my own to speak of, I can’t properly evaluate the importance of having a seasoned vet behind the dish. I’m sure the value in a guy like Molina comes from his ability to settle down his teammates and always call the right pitch, particularly late in games, when the pressure is on. Like he did in this game. And this game. And don’t forget this one.

Point is, while I’m sure Molina is a wonderful clubhouse guy, I bet his communication skills with the pitching staff are a tad bit overvalued by management. Posey, right now, is a better hitter and runner than Molina. He’s likely got a better arm, and his receiving skills are probably comparable at this point to the 35 year-old Molina’s. Buster Posey is the future, while Molina is merely a stopgap. It’s becoming more and more apparent that the future is now.

You're sitting on a winning lottery ticket, and you’re too much of a pussy to cash it in

Yeah ... see above.

Do you like Apples? ... yeah. I got her number. How do you like them apples?

Unlike San Francisco’s hitting, their pitching is phenomenal. Lincecum is throwing like the reigning back-to-back Cy Young Winner that he is. Barry Zito’s girlfriend made him see this guy for counseling last All-Star break and now he thinks he’s back in 2002. Matt Cain was an All-Star last year, and is just a bit of run support away from a couple wins. Dirty Sanchez — who has always had filthy stuff— seems to have finally overcome the control issues that plagued him for most of his career. And oh yeah, three of them have sub-three Earned Run Averages. Only five teams in the majors even have one guy like that. Add in a bullpen armed with Frisbee sliders, lefty specialists and one badass closer, and you’ve got yourself one awesome pitching staff. There’s just one guy I do feel terrible for.

I don’t know a lot, but you see this, all this shit ... it's not your fault. Yeah, I know that. Look at me son ... it’s not your fault. I know. It’s not your fault. ... I know. No, no you don’t ... It’s not your fault.

Matt Cain has the worst luck of any pitcher to ever play the game. Seriously. Since 2007, Matt Cain has started 107 games for the San Francisco Giants. Over that span, he has had 69 quality starts and won just 27 of those starts. That’s less than 40 percent, which is absurd. I don’t know what he did to his teammates to deserve so little run support, but it must have been bad. On practically any other club with a competent offense, Cain is an 18-20 game winner. On this team? He has the same record as Todd Wellemeyer.

This is a f---ing joke. And I’m sorry you can’t do this, I really am, because then I wouldn’t have to sit here and watch you fumble around and f--- it up.

I’m sure Todd Wellemeyer is a decent guy. I bet he’s one of the first guys to show up to the field and one of the last to leave. I bet he rarely complains, diligently runs his pitcher poles, and works hard on perfecting his release point in bullpen sessions. He probably also remembers to put the toilet seat down at home and to chew with his mouth closed at dinner. I don’t care — he’s embarrassingly bad. He has only made it past the fourth inning in three of his seven starts, and has surrendered fewer than three walks only twice.

On a side note: How do you think he feels pitching alongside the other four starters? I can only assume his conversations with pitching coach Dave Righetti have devolved into something like this:



So Brian, I bet you’ve realized there might be a problem with the back of our rotation by now. You know a change must be made, but after all, change is expensive. There isn’t likely to be another Brad Penny out there like last year, and other free agent additions could be costly. That’s why you might decide to look for help from within.

But if you push him right now, it’s going to be the same thing all over again, and I’m not going to let that happen to him.

Now I’m not saying Bumgarner isn’t ready, but the Giants need to be very careful in how they bring him up. His velocity is down since last season, and though he’s pitched better recently, he got rocked in spring training and earlier in the season. His development is key to the Giants plans. If he reverts back to the top 10, can’t-miss prospect we thought he was earlier last season, let's make sure we develop him right, and hope he’s ready for the second half. However, if he does look to be truly regressing at age 20, it wouldn’t be a terrible idea to trade him before his value sinks too low. My best guess was that Bumgarner’s arm was just tired toward the end of his first professional length season, but only time will truly tell on that one.

As an insurance policy, it would be a smart move to sign a starter off the free agent scrap heap. Someone like a Pedro Martinez or John Smoltz, who would come cheaply, but has the talent to possibly put a string of good starts together. I’m not saying we should expect Penny-like results, but it’s worth a shot.

Most days I wish I had never met you ... because then I could sleep at night, I wouldn’t have to walk around with the knowledge that there was someone like you out there ... and that I didn’t have to watch you throw it all away

Sabean has made a lot of stupid decisions over his career. He made one of the worst trades of the last few decades when he dealt Joe Nathan, Francisco Liriano and Boof Bonser for one pedestrian season of A.J. Pierzynski. He made arguably the biggest free agent signing blunder when he made Barry Zito the richest pitcher of all time. Back in 2005, Sabean signed the miraculous Michael Tucker to a contract just days before he was to become a free agent, in turn forfeiting San Francisco’s first-round draft pick.

Sabean has also become notorious for ignoring years worth of decline to sign aging former studs like Edgar Renteria, Aaron Rowand, Mike Matheny, Dave Roberts, Andres Gallaraga, Ryan Klesko, Matt Morris, Neifi Perez, Armando Benitez and Edgardo Alfonzo among others. To make matters worse, Sabean has made a habit of re-signing players who are either injury prone or ultimately ineffective, as he did with Freddy Sanchez, Bengie Molina and Omar Vizquel.

There have been a lot of people calling for Sabean’s head recently, and for good reason. The offense he's been putting out on the field the past few seasons has been an embarrassment to the franchise, and his fans and the organization deserve better than that. Most of all ...

You owe it to me ... because I’d do f---ing anything to have what you’ve got. So would any of these f---ing guys. It would be an insult of us if you’re still here in 20 years.

... seriously, anything. But there’s more ...

You know what the best part of my day is? For about 10 seconds from when I pull up to the curb to when I get to your door. I think maybe I’ll go up there and knock on your door and you won’t be there. No goodbye, no see you later, no nothing. You just left. I don’t know much, but I know that.

Here’s what I know: A team with pitching like this has no excuse for not steamrolling through this year’s NL West. After a little over six weeks, the Giants have lost a season’s worth of one-run games. I’ve had my heart broken by tough losses an inexcusable number of times already, partly due to managerial decisions and a suddenly shaky bullpen, but mostly because of an underwhelming offense. The Giants are a few shrewd moves away from making a serious playoff run, and Sabean’s legacy might well be defined by what he does by the All-Star break in 2010. If he blows this opportunity for us, he just better not be there next year. I don’t know much, but I know that.

Your move, chief