Cain Ain’t Able
Photo Credit: StormXor
For years Matt Cain has defied logic. Despite being a flyball pitcher with a mediocre batted ball profile and mediocre swing-and-miss ability, Cain has been one of the most reliable aces in fantasy baseball for a few years now. I don’t think I’ve ever owned him in a league, mostly because the price was too high considering the unimpressive strikeout numbers and the fact that his advanced stats were just begging for a serious regression. He’s managed to defy the expectation of stat nerds everywhere, but the other cleat has officially dropped on Matt Cain, and it’s time to wonder if he will ever be a fantasy ace again.
More after the jump:
What is Matt Cain doing differently in 2013 that’s leading to such poor production? Well, his velocity is down a tick (90.7 mph) and he’s giving up a shit-ton of homers to start the year (insane 19.1 HR/FB). The dip in velocity is huge because since he’s a flyball pitcher, he needs to be on his game at all times to prevent the long-ball from killing him (something he’s been amazing at limiting throughout his big-league career). His fastball is not just “slower,” however, it’s also flatter. His heater has been getting mashed like crazy so far this year, sporting a 27.9 LD% against. As a result, he seems to be relying more on his secondary pitches.
Cain going to his breaking stuff more often isn’t that big of a surprise. Even if his fastball was still effective, pitchers tend to rely more on their secondary offerings as they grow older and remain quite effective (see: CC Sabathia). The problem is, Cain’s other pitches aren’t getting the results he’d like to see. The slider is still looking like a solid go-to pitch, but it’s showing a lot less break across the plate, making it more hittable. Cain’s curveball is also showing less downward breaking action, making it more susceptible to contact. So if your fastball is getting crushed and your secondary stuff is nowhere near as crisp as it’s been in years past, you’re gonna have a bad time.
The question Cain owners likely have is “Will he turn it around at some point?” While I’m not one to make grand predictions, my scientific answer to that is “Abso-fucking-not-ly.”
For starters, the dude has logged a ton of innings in his career. Over his last six seasons, Cain has averaged over 216 innings per year, and that’s not even including his playoff performances. I’m not sure if the workload is the exact explanation for his poor performance in 2013, but pitching that many innings in consecutive seasons has to have some effect on his physical ability. Secondly, Cain’s pitching style doesn’t really help his cause. It would be one thing if he was a solid groundball pitcher or had elite swing-and-miss stuff, but he doesn’t possess either of those attributes. He’s a flyball pitcher with modest strikeout ability. He’s been getting by all these years by buckling down with runners in scoring position and limiting the long ball. Considering his stuff has taken a step back and the ball is now leaving the yard with more frequency, there’s very little to be optimistic about. In fact, it’s fair to say that Cain might end up being no better than a SP5 this year if his pitches don’t show the life we’re used to seeing.
If I’m a Matt Cain owner (and thank god I’m not), I’d be looking to sell ASAP. There are enough suckers out there who still believe he is an ace. Start your marketing campaign now and don’t stop until you’ve sold off all shares of this sinking ship.