Madison Bumgarner is the Opening Day starter for the 2014 San Francisco Giants. This makes sense because he was their best starting pitcher last season and probably is still so at this moment. But as a fan, I can’t help but feel for Matt Cain, and to wish that he were starting on Opening Day. First he has bad luck as a young pitcher, tossing great games, but losing them because of a lack of run support. (Cain’s ERA+ in 654.2 innings from 2005-2008 was 119, but his record was only 30-43.) Now that he is actually recognized as one of the best pitchers in the majors, he’s once again overshadowed.
Here’s the list of Giant pitchers with Opening Day starts since AT&T Park opened:
Tim Lincecum: 4
Livan Hernandez: 3
Jason Schmidt: 2
Kirk Rueter: 2
Barry Zito: 2
Matt Cain: 1
That’s an absurd list, of course. We all understand and remember Lincecum at the top, but even I did not remember the mediocrity of Livan Hernandez getting three starts. Woody got two.
If you use Baseball-Reference.com’s WAR, Cain is the third-best starter in San Francisco Giants history, behind two pitchers in the Hall of Fame (Juan Marichal, Gaylord Perry). I know WAR’s not the perfect metric for pitchers, but unless you’re a one of the uncool guys still using wins and losses, you’re probably going to get to the same place with whatever statistic you choose.
But when Cain emerged as the excellent pitcher we know him as, there was Zito. Cain was the best pitcher on the Giants the day before the Giants signed Zito, and Cain was the best pitcher the day after they signed him. But $126 million buys a lot of expectations, enough to spill over into the next season. So Cain didn’t get those starts.
Then, when it became ever so clear that Barry Zito was an innings-eating fifth starter, Lincecum emerged. I don’t care how cool you thought Cain was back then; Lincecum was the rock star. He was so good, he won awards for being the best pitcher and everything. There wasn’t a debate about Opening Day starts, whether internally or externally. It was always Lincecum.
Finally Matt Cain got his chance, but a bad two months in 2013 (and, admittedly, Bumgarner’s great 2013) and Bochy is going with the kid. It could be that after a tough first half in 2013, this is exactly what Cain needs in 2014. (I’m confident Bochy is expertly pulling psychological levers in the background.) And, really, it makes little difference exactly how the rotation is set up.
It’s just kind of disappointing, though.
Madison Bumgarner is the Opening Day starter, and he deserves it. The Giants wouldn’t have won two World Series without him, and he was the best pitcher on the team last year. I would have gone with Cain, though. Not just because I’m a sentimental fool, but because I want him to catch Livan Hernandez on that list.