2014 Fantasy Baseball Player Profile: Matt Cain
I've always been a fan of Matt Cain. Have I allowed that to blind me to what is going on in 2014?
I like Matt Cain. Not only does he pitch for the Giants, but he's stable. In this day and age when, literally, every day you crank up the computer you are bombarded with reports of injured pitchers, Cain is a nice pitcher to own. Yes, he's dealt with some concerns with his health this season, and for that matter a bit last season, but from 2006-13 he threw at least 180 innings each season. How many others accomplished that feat? The answer is five: Mark Buehrle, CC Sabathia, Felix Hernandez, Bronson Arroyo and Justin Verlander. Cain's performance was down last season and I predicted a rebound (here is his preseason Player Profile). It hasn't materialized. Will it or is it time to move on?
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Cain is 1-7 this year. I try not to fault a hurler when their won-loss record is deficient, but it's hard not to get stuck on that number. Maybe Cain isn't a winner? Maybe Cain is snake-bit? Whatever you want to call it, he's never been a big winner. Cain has won 15 games just once and for his career he's 94-95. Just not good. But again, how much control does a pitcher have over his W-L record? We can debate that another time, but I'd lean toward the side that says he can influence it but ultimately it's out of his hands.
Cain has a 4.00 ERA and he has a 4.27 mark this season. For a guy who owns a 3.39 career ERA it's clear that Cain has lost it. That's what many think. Is that accurate?
Cain's fastball velocity this year is 91.6 mph. The last four seasons the mark has been between 91.2 and 91.6 mph. Cain's slider velocity is 86.2 mph this season. The last four years the mark has been between 85.1 and 86.5 mph. Clearly velocity is not an issue.
Cain has thrown a first pitch strike 61.6 percent of the time. His career mark is 59.7 percent though his rates were 61.0, 62.4 and 63.3 percent the last three seasons. Still, there is no real change here.
Cain has a swinging strike percentage of 8.8 percent this season. What's his career mark? Try 8.8 percent.
The contact rate against Cain, the amount of contact batters make on all their cuts, is 80.5 percent this season. His career mark is 81.0 percent.
There are two categories that point to a slight concern, but notice I used the word “slight.” The percentage of pitches that batters are hacking at that are outside the strike zone is 28.9 percent. While that is better than his career 28.1 percent mark it is below the 30.9-33.5 percent mark he's had the last four seasons. Cain also is sporting an eight year low in the total percentage of swings that batters take at his pitches. For his career batters swing at 47.8 percent of his offerings. This season the mark is 46.1 percent. Something to keep an eye on, but not a dire warning.
That's a whole lot of “normal” for Cain, you have to admit that, right?
Though his record sucks banana peels, and his ERA is far from ideal, many have seemingly missed that even with all his struggles his WHIP is 1.26. That's not a terrible mark. Now for a guy who is at 1.10 the past four years it's disappointing, but the guy still has 14-15 starts to try and bring that number down. Everyone loves Yordano Ventura, right? His mark is 1.24 this season.
Cain has never been a huge strikeout guy – his totals come from staying healthy and throwing a lot of innings. His K/9 mark is down a half batter from his career mark at 7.04, and that would be a 9-year low. Again, not terribly down, but down. The problem with the pullback in the Ks is that its been accompanied by a significant up turn in walks. Not only would his 3.20 per nine mark this season be a six year high, but over the past four seasons his mark has been 2.44, substantially below where he's at this season. I take it as a positive that he's walked a total of seven batters over his last four starts, why don't you?
Cain has a 19.4 percent line drive rate. His career mark is 19.3 percent.
Cain has a 45.2 percent ground ball rate. That's the best of his career, substantially (his previous best is 41.7 percent in 2011, the only time in his career he's had a mark of 40 percent). The resultant 1.27 GB/FB ratio is the best of his career (it would be only his second mark in the 1's). This is a very positive development for the decidedly fly ball arm that is Cain.
It's those damn home runs though. Cain had never allowed a HR/9 mark above 0.91 prior to last season. The mark ended up being 1.12 at the end of 2013. So, we've seen regression this year, right? Nope. His HR/9 mark is even higher at 1.28. Now I just noted how he's got the best GB/FB ratio of his career, and his current fly ball rate of 35.5 percent would also be a career best. How do you allow fewer fly balls than ever before but more homers than ever before? Cain's homer to fly ball ratio is 13.6 percent. Last year was the first time he finished a season with a mark above 8.4 percent and it was 10.8 percent. This year the mark is even higher at 13.6 percent. Honest question. Given all the “normal” with Cain this year compared to his career levels, do you really think it logical to posit that a man with a 7.4 percent career HR/F ratio would see that number rise by 84 percent? Think about that.
There's a whole lot of “normal” Matt Cain going on here. I looked at the data, analyzed it objectively, and it's still telling me that Cain should be someone who shows an improvement in the second half.
10 team lg: Give his record and current ratios you could move on from him in this format. There are just too many solid options out there to hold on to a guy who isn't producing unless your team is healthy and in really good shape.
12 team lg: Someone needs to own Cain. I would suggest that you make a play to add him to your squad. Most owners won't agree with the data and will think Cain is on the cusp of being washed up. You could likely add him at a solid discount.
15 team lg: A great target. As I've noted, a return to solid overall numbers certainly is indicated by the data. If you can grab him at the right price, do it. If you own him, be patient.
NL-only: Buy, buy, buy.