2014 Target: Matt Cain

Len Redkoles

With the regular season over and MLB news few and far between currently, it's time to start identifying early targets for 2014 drafts. Matt Cain, a top 10 starter on draft day in 2013, did not perform up to expectations and as such provides a buying opportunity in 2014 drafts. What changed, what can we expect going forward, why should you trust him? Let's take a look.

For years many saber-minded baseball fans waited for the bottom to fall out on Matt Cain. The underlying numbers did not marry with the results Cain had posted year after year and with consistently low BABIP marks, many believed Cain was just getting lucky. The funny thing about Cain's disappointing 2013 season is the fact it was not BABIP regression that did him in at all. In fact, Cain's 2013 BABIP of .260 is right in line with his .264 career mark. On a side note, this lends itself pretty well to the crowd that believes a pitcher does in fact have some control over this stat many perceive to be a luck based metric - but that's a story for another day.

If it was not BABIP regression, perhaps it was something in his pitch repertoire or a loss of velocity that was his down fall this year?

Since 2011 Cain has slowly reduced the percentage of fastballs thrown per season, but not to an extent that sounds any alarms. The velocity on his fastball hasn't changed one bit according to Fangraphs Pitch Type information, staying at 91.2 MPH. He did throw his slider 28.2% of the time which was up from 19.9% in 2012, however according to Fangraphs Pitch Value information, it has been his best offering for a few years now. With a 26/2 K/BB rate and a .215/.246/.369 triple slash against the slider, it's easy to see this change was not the reason for his undoing - in fact, quite the opposite.

The last bit of information to examine is Cain's batted ball profile. A 22.4% line drive percent shows Cain was hit a little harder than prior years (career 19.2%), however most of that can be isolated to July and August, when that number peaked at 25.x% in back to back months. Cains ground ball (37.7% - Career 37.3%) and fly ball (39.9% - Career 43.4%) also do not appear to be the problem.

That leads us directly to the smoking gun - Cain's 2013 HR/FB rate of 10.8% was the highest of his career and the first time he entered double digits. While Cain wasn't letting runners on base left and right, his 1.16 WHIP was his highest total since 2009 (1.18) and this year hitters were able to cash in on the long ball more often than any other year in his career.

Now that we've identified the issue behind Cain's 2013 statistics, it's time to touch on why he makes a great target in 2014 drafts.

When drafting pitchers, I tend to look for the underlying statics that make up a solid LIMA arm. This would include pitchers with a K/BB ratio of 2.5 or better, a strike out rate of 7.0 or higher and expected home run rate of 1.0, or less. Last year Cain hit all these marks, minus the home run rate, posting totals of 2.87, 7.71 and 1.12. Considering Cain's HR/9 mark for his career is 0.79, I feel pretty comfortable projecting him under 1.0 for 2014. Throw in the fact that I don't like to draft or pay big bucks for my pitching staff and I believe Cain will make a great selection in 2014 drafts. Fantasy owners who invest or watch other managers invest high picks or dollars into a player only to see them fail often hold a grudge, if you will, the following year. While there may be an owner or two who also believes in Cain next year, the price to acquire his services will not come close to prior years. A quick glance at RotoChamps current starting pitcher rankings has Cain as the number 44 SP. While some of that has to do with the lower win total they have projected (please don't rank based on wins) it definitely fuels my optimism about acquiring Cain next year.

Oh and just for fun - While Cain did post a 5.06 ERA over 112.0 IP during the first half, he also posted a 2.36 ERA over 72.1 IP during the second half. 2013 was also the first year since his rookie season that Cain posted a higher ERA at home (4.70) than on the road (3.25) - I'll take my chances that the comfy confines of AT&T park help Cain out a little more in 2014.

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