Keep the Faith in Matt Cain
Those of you who own San Francisco Giants pitcher Matt Cain are likely disappointed by the lackluster return on investment he has provided thus far. Cain’s ERA stands at 4.55 as of the writing on this post, well above his career 3.35. His FIP (4.29) is better, but not by enough of a margin to inspire much confidence. Dealing with Cain’s poor performance is frustrating, but I’m here to suggest that we should hold steady.
One of the first things I look for when trying to explain a pitcher’s struggles is their fastball velocity. A pitcher’s struggles are often the result of a decrease in velocity, which occurs naturally as their shoulder tendons tighten from age and overuse. Cain’s velocity appears consistent with what we’ve seen from him since the 2010 season, at around 91 MPH.
The walk rate is up a little, as is his strikeout rate, but both are around his career averages. The biggest difference is this: In his career Matt Cain has given up a home run on 7.1% of the fly balls he has yielded to opponents (henceforth referred to as HR/FB). This season, that number has skyrocketed to 14.0%.
Cain’s struggles are a perfect example of baseball behaving like baseball. His career HR/FB of 7.1% is lower than the 9.5% average for all pitchers, so it’s not surprising that it’s regressing. However, 14.0% is an absurdly high HR/FB, so we can expect that to start normalizing soon.
My advice in the meantime is to pick your spots. Cain have been performing much better at home than on the road, this season (3.42 FIP at home vs. 4.84 on the road). His home HR/FB of 9.1% is just under the league average, while his road HR/FB stands at 17.5%.
For now, start Matt Cain at home and in pitcher friendly ballparks and leave him on the bench elsewhere until his HR/FB begins to normalize again.
All statistics occur courtesy of FanGraphs
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