Matt Cain has spent the majority of his career as an underrated No. 2 starter to Tim Lincecum on a team that couldn’t score runs. Because of awful run support, Cain was just 54-60 from 2007-11 despite pitching to a 3.26 ERA, the seventh-best mark in the game during that span. Next on that ERA leaderboard comes Cole Hamels, at 3.31.
Cain signed a five-year extension Monday worth a guaranteed $112.5 million and a potential for $126 million. It is the largest deal for a righthanded pitcher in major league history.
Underrated no longer, Cain’s deal sets the tone for Cole Hamels’ impending mega-deal. It’s a semi-disastrous precursor for the Phils. Cain is 11 months younger than Hamels and has had a similarly dominant postseason run to a World Series title. After that, though, the similarities start to sway strongly in Hamels’ favor.
Hamels has averaged one more strikeout-per-nine innings over his career than Cain, as well as one fewer walk. That is significant. Over a full season that’s 20-22 more strikeouts and 20-22 fewer walks. Hamels also has a six percent edge on Cain in groundball rate – 43% to 37%.
Cain’s only real advantage on Hamels is his microscopic home run rate, which is due in large part to the monstrous confines of AT&T Park. Giants pitchers have annually maintained home run rates lower than league-average under pitching coach Dave Righetti, and Cain is perhaps the best example.
If Cain is worth a guaranteed $112.5 million, or $22.5MM per year, what does that make Hamels worth?
On top of all of the statistical advantages, Hamels being a lefty adds further value. Prior to Cain signing Monday, all of the top pitching contracts in history – CC Sabathia, Barry Zito, Cliff Lee – went to southpaws because it’s simply harder to find a great lefty.
I wrote in this space last week that if the Phillies offered Hamels five years, $105 million with a $20 million sixth-year option that carried with it a $7.5 million buyout, he’d likely sign. It’s eery how close those numbers are to what Cain signed for. The proposed $105MM deal plus the $7.5 million buyout equals exactly what Cain was guaranteed by the Giants, and if the Phillies were to pick up that $20 million option the total money would be only a million bucks less than what Cain can potentially earn. (I may not be able to change a tire, but I won’t apologize for saying I can predict contracts.)
And that’s why the Phillies needed to get this done before Cain signed, even if they thought Hamels and John Boggs were asking for an overpayment. Cain set Opening Day as a deadline for negotiations because he needed to scare Brian Sabean and maximize his value. Hamels set no deadlines, partly because he cares more about pitching and partly because he figures that only a bad injury can derail his hopes of a husky nine-figure deal.
What was an over-payment to the Phillies two days ago is a deal they may wish they’d have offered. Because if Cain’s worth $22.5 million per season, Hamels can’t possibly be worth less.