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2011 Fantasy Projections, No. 78: How San Francisco Giants’ Matt Cain Continues to Defy Advanced Stats

Thu, Mar 10, 2011

Big Board, Player Projections

Our 2011 fantasy baseball projections will be released one-by-one until the top 100 players have been revealed. These rankings consider past achievements, current performance and expected future results based on standard 5×5 H2H settings.

Matt Cain is an enigma in terms of advanced statistics. He’s an extreme fly-ball pitcher (career 45.3 percent, second-highest among qualified starters since 2005), yet only 7.0 percent of his fly balls leave the park (lowest since 2005).

His BABIP totals have always been extremely low (.266 carer), the absolute lowest, in fact, since his major league debut six seasons ago. Further, Cain’s FIP and xFIP totals in comparison to his ERA scream fluke:

  • 2009: 2.89 ERA, 3.89 FIP, 4.22 xFIP
  • 2010: 3.14 ERA, 3.65 FIP, 4.19 xFIP

FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) measures only things a pitcher is responsible for. This helps us understand how well a pitcher pitched, regardless of the defense behind him. A brief, yet entertaining profile of FIP can be seen here.

xFIP (expected Fielding Independent Pitching) is a stat that normalizes fly ball rates in comparison to ballpark factors, providing a better indicator of a pitcher’s future ERA.

Cain is a textbook example of a pitcher whose advanced stats indicate past luck and future disaster, but for whatever reason, he continues to defy them. David Pinto suggests Cain’s high fly-ball and low HR/FB rates are a result of his fastball movement, while FanGraph’s Dave Cameron speculates the home park and organizational effects on Cain’s unusual rates.

Either way, Cain’s wacky batted ball rates have become a trend, thus we can no longer avoid him based on his low BABIPs and inflated xFIPs.

In fact, Cain actually showed marked progress in 2010, improving his changeup to 5.2 runs above average while establishing his curveball as a neutral pitch. His fastball remained one of the best in baseball, checking in at 23.6 runs above average.

Although his contact rate won’t blow you away (82.1 percent in 2010, 81.3 career), and his strikeout rate (7.13 in 2010, 7.44 career) is average, Cain’s command has improved significantly in each of the last three seasons:

Walk Rate

  • 2008: 3.76
  • 2009: 3.02
  • 2010: 2.46

Cain’s improved walk rate has led to stellar WHIP totals, a stat that used to limit his fantasy value:

WHIP

  • 2008: 1.36
  • 2009: 1.18
  • 2010: 1.08

After several years of warning against Cain, I’ve finally turned the corner. Consider me a believer. Draft the 26-year-old as the 19th starting pitcher, No. 78 overall.

  IP W K/9 BB/9 ERA WHIP
2010 stats 223.1 13 7.13 2.46 3.14 1.08
3-year average 219.2 12 7.30 3.07 3.27 1.21
2011 FBI Forecast 224 15 7.30 2.70 3.35 1.19

 

Image courtesy of: Matt Goldman

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