Monday, January 4, 2010

Matt Cain 2010: Overrated?

If there's one pitcher I'm not likely to end up with any of my teams in 2010, it's Matt Cain. He drastically outperformed his xFIP last year, putting up an exceptional 2.89 earned run average, and winning fourteen games. This is a pitcher with very average peripheral stats: 7.07 K/9, 3.02 BB/9, 38.9% groundball rate. Unless those numbers improve, I would expect an earned run average around 4. Meanwhile, he's being picked in mock drafts shortly after studs like Josh Beckett and Jon Lester. He does have a couple of things going for him. He's only 25 years old, despite being around forever. That means that real improvement is still fairly likely. And he's now substantially outperformed his xFIP for three straight years. Over the short term, xFIP is a far better predictor of ERA than ERA itself is. However, the longer the time period, the better a predictor ERA becomes, as it includes some of the more subtle skills that aren't reflected in xFIP. That said, I still don't see Cain as being worth a pick anywhere near where he's going in most drafts.

1 comment:

DrBGiantsfan said...

People have been pointing out these stats on Matt Cain ever since he's been a major leaguer, and he just keeps on confounding his critics. If you watch him pitch on a regular basis, you soon come to realize that his 4 seam fastball has a unique ability to induce popups. It seems to have just enough late hop so batters can't quite square it up and the ball just pops up. All those flyballs you see in the stats aren't flies to the warning track. Most of them are popups, or almost sure outs. So, while the 4 seamer isn't a classic swing-through pitch, it's also extremely difficult to hit solidly.

Over the past 3 seasons, Cain has steadily improved his secondary offerings. Barring injury and a loss of velocity on his fastball, I think his K rates will increase as he gains more confidence in his secondary pitches and learns to use them as put away pitches.