Keep an Eye On: Matt Cain

cainReports of Matt Cain’s fantasy death have been greatly exaggerated. Cain has struggled mightily this season, but all is not lost. He’s also posted some very consistent statistics (outside of a few outliers).

When we look at what Cain has produced over the previous 3 seasons, we see why he’s blossomed into an ace. From 2010-2012 Cain’s ERA was 2.94 and he had a WHIP of 1.069 in 98 starts and 664.1 innings. I’d say that’s a pretty solid track record. Over that time period his strikeout percentage was 20.5% and his walk percentage was 6.5%. Compare that to 2013 where Cain has managed to whiff 21.5% and walk 7.9%. The K% is ostensibly the same, and the walk rate has crept up a bit. If we look at per nine numbers he’s walking 3.0 per 9 which is just about at his career rate of 3.1. So what’s been Cain’s problem? Home runs.

Cain HR by count
First pitch 4
Ahead in the count 3
Neutral count 2
Behind in the count 4

He’s given up 13 home runs in 2013. That’s a home run to 3.6% of the batters he’s faced and 1.3 HR/9 compared to 0.7 HR/9 from 2010-2012. Cain has surrendered 3 home runs in the same game three times this season, against the Brewers on April 18, the Diamondbacks on April 29 and the Rockies on May 16. His career home run percentage is 2.1% and that’s including the 3.6% of batters this season. So he’s giving up way too many homers. For his career about 7.1% of the fly balls he gives up go out of the yard. This season, nearly twice that (13.1%). His strand rate is down as well, but that makes sense with the homers that he’s giving up.

Matt Cain has had 4 terrible performances that skew his numbers and make it look like he’s lost everything that made him an ace. When you remove those 4 starts, his ERA is 2.32, and his WHIP is 1.00. Now that’s what I’m talking about. His strikeout percentage in his non-blowup starts is 21.84% which is a tick above the K% over the past 3 seasons. Unfortunately, we can’t just look for games where he gives up the long ball as his problem starts. On June 1, he gave up 7 earned runs on 9 hits and none of them were homers.

Eno Sarris recently wrote a great piece “Why is Matt Cain Struggling” over at FanGraphs:

Matt Cain’s velocity, pitching mix and swinging strike, walk, strikeout and ground-ball rates are all virtually identical to his career rates, so it’s tempting to say that nothing is different. And yet, Matt Cain is making mistakes. Since he’s always around the zone, they are hittable mistakes. And now that they are closer to the heart of the zone, they are being hit harder than they’ve ever been hit.

So what does that mean for fantasy owners? Coming into the season he was a top 10 starting pitcher so you paid a lot to get Cain. That investment hasn’t paid off exactly. So what can you do?

You can hold onto him and hope he regains his form on a consistent basis and you can trust him as the anchor of your pitching staff. Or, you can wait for him to string a couple good starts together and use those starts as a sales tool to go out and get some other ace, or more likely near ace level pitcher in return. It would be best to target guys who have struggled with injuries (Johnny Cueto, Brandon Beachy, Jered Weaver) or guys who could come on strong the rest of the season (David Price, Cole Hamels, Gerrit Cole).

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Players mentioned in this post
Brandon Beachy
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Matt Cain
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