Bringin’ Some Serious Cheese: Matt Cain

THE POWERFUL MECHANICS OF MATT CAIN

Let’s break him down, shall we?

TEMPO

You knew I’d start here, right? Needless to say, I certainly like how Cain goes about it. Once he gets going, he doesn’t stop. Momentum is your friend.
Let’s compare his tempo to the recently reviewed Daisuke Matsuzaka.

From the first move down from the top of their knee lifts, Dice-K and Cain are almost identical in terms of quickness down the hill. When we looked at Oswalt vs. Dice-K, we said that Oswalt may very well be the pitcher with the quickest tempo in the majors. If you’re just slighly slower than Roy then there is no need to worry. You are creating and delivering energy quickly enough to bring it.

ARM ACTION

About as close to ideal as I like it. I stopped the clip above at frame 14. Here’s why….

Notice how Cain’s elbow goes behind him towards the first base side? He’s “loading the shoulder.” The quick, elastic “loading” and subsequent “unloading” of the shoulder is a major component of his velocity. Ironically, many scouts and pitching coaches will say that this puts extra stress on the shoulder. Yeah, maybe it does. But from a velocity point of view, this is one of the main reasons he throws hard, REALLY hard.

LOWER BODY

These 8 frames isolate his lower body action..

Notice how, in about frames 4-7 of that clip above, he seems to pick up speed right before footplant. He seems like he’s stepping over something, doesn’t he? This “stepover” move is a magic velocity secret. Done correctly, it is an easy way to pick up a few MPHs.

WOW. Look at the torque. Look at the separation. On the last few frames above you can see how his lower body uncoils his upper body. You can almost sense the tension (the good kind) in his midsection as his torso readies itself to unleash hell.

AT RELEASE

Let’s talk about his front side. Here’s some more video:

From this side shot, there is a little “pulling of the lead arm.” Remember, yanking the glove into your hip is old-school B.S. that doesn’t apply anymore. You want your lead elbow/glove out in front. It’s almost like you bring your torso to the glove, not the other way around. According to Tom House, yanking the lead elbow/glove increases shoulder injury risk and makes your release point inconsistent. If I were to take a stab as to why Cain’s walk rate is a little high, this “slight pull” of the lead shoulder may be one of the reasons why. He does stabilize and “firm up” the lead elbow and glove close to release, so it’s not as bad as I just made it out to be.

Go back to the first clip, his full motion.
Focus on how he decelerates the arm. He has a nice, full circular arm path when the arm slows down after release. Also, check out those last few frames. See how active his back leg is? It is indicative of the power he has put into his pitch. Great, powerful, aggressive finish.

OTHER OBSERVATIONS

1) I’ve seen around 70-80 of his strikeouts last year. The one thing that sticks out when I watch those highlight reels is how many of his K’s are fastballs. He has a very good curve and a quick, hard slider. However, and I’d love to see the numbers on this, most of his K’s come from his fastball. If my intuition is right (again, I’d love to see numbers), most power pitchers use their offspeed stuff as their strikeout pitches. I would guess that say, Randy Johnson has had an equal split between fastball and slider on his K pitches. I’d say that 75%+ of the Matt Cain’s strikeouts I saw were fastballs.

2) He doesn’t exactly “spot up.” I know you could’ve said that based on his walk rate. But even on his strikeouts, you can tell that his location isn’t his best asset. I wouldn’t call him super-wild. He’s young and there is plenty of hope.

3) I’d like him to be more compact. Check out the Dice-K comparison. See how, as he brings his lead leg down from the top, his butt goes down and his torso goes forward (toward his leg). If you see Matsuzaka’s full motion, he starts straight and he brings his torso into his leg, like he’s sandwiching his midsection between his upper and lower body at the top of his knee lift. If I were to have one adjustment for Cain, it would be to do that. It helps keep his center of gravity more consistent.

With better overall location and better utilization of his offspeed stuff, he could end up being one of those special guys that racks up plenty of K’s.
Need a sleeper that may suddenly “put it all together?”

Think Matt Cain.

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