Much Matt Cain in Johnny Cueto, minus respect, even in fantasy baseball

      November 9, 2012 @ 12:57:37 PDT

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It sounds dirtier than it is.

Cain
Year
IP
K%
K/9
BB/9
P/IP
TBF/IP
2006
190 2/3
21.9%
8.45
4.11
17.3
4.29
2007
200
19.6%
7.34
3.56
16.8
4.16
2008
217 2/3
19.9%
7.69
3.76
16.6
4.29
2009
217 2/3
19.3%
7.07
3.02
15.5
4.07
2010
223 1/3
19.8%
7.13
2.46
15.7
4.01
2011
221 2/3
19.7%
7.27
2.56
15.7
4.09
2012
219 1/3
22.0%
7.92
2.09
15.3
3.99

Matt Cain is in the prime of his career. He has transitioned from "one of the most talented pitchers in baseball" to "one of the best pitchers in baseball." Whether he remains in that class depends on how he adapts as his body ages and what he learns from the vast experience he has yet to gain, among other things.

The San Francisco Giants' hurler has, accordingly, become one of the better fantasy investments. For the past couple of seasons, his auction price and draft position have reflected the community's faith in the right-hander's skills development.

A few years ago, mild concern arose about the dip in his rate of strikeouts per nine innings, but we quickly learned that such worry was unwarranted. He's made a concerted effort to improve his control, and he dialed back the strikeouts a little to help him get there - to put it simply (and overly so).

Cain's labor is evident in his increased efficiency. In 2012, he threw roughly two pitches per inning fewer than he did in his first full season. This evolution has allowed him to maintain his potency and enjoy longer outings, naturally.

Cueto
Year
IP
K%
K/9
BB/9
P/IP
TBF/IP
2008
174
20.6%
8.17
3.52
17.5
4.42
2009
171 1/3
17.8%
6.93
3.20
17.0
4.32
2010
185 2/3
17.7%
6.69
2.71
16.8
4.20
2011
156
16.5%
6.00
2.71
15.4
4.04
2012
217
19.1%
7.05
2.03
15.9
4.09

For good rotisserie measure, it appears that Cain reintroduced in 2012 a greater rate of strikeouts to his dossier.

What's interesting, at least to me, is that Johnny Cueto, in his career, seems to have made similar progress, yet he's not received near the attention ... or fantasy interest. A month ago, Christina Kahrl conveyed her appall, justifiably, about the fuzzy-chinned righty's early elimination from NL Cy Young Award contention. This past spring, for the second year in a row, his price point was approximately half of Cain's.

Cueto's reduced rate of K's may have understandably scared off, just a bit, bidders who were troubled by the inflammation that he experienced in various parts of his arm at the open of spring training in 2011. Nothing, other than overstated concern about Great American Ball Park's impact on his performance, could explain it, otherwise.

Incidentally, Cain dealt with his own bout of inflammation around his elbow throughout spring of the same year. He rested, as Cueto did, and has been fine since.

Cueto
Year
GB%
FB%
HR/9
SB
CS
2008
38.6%
40.5%
1.50
7
6
2009
41.6%
40.6%
1.26
2
5
2010
41.7%
38.9%
0.92
3
4
2011
53.7%
30.1%
0.46
1
4
2012
48.9%
29.4%
0.62
1
9

Cueto was healthy throughout this year and, of course, pitched brilliantly. At this point, the rotisserie crowd will have trouble not paying something closer to Cain dollars for the Cincinnati Reds' pitcher come 2013. Or will it?

Cueto, until this season, was in part a victim of his failure to generate W's, like Cain has been for most of his career. Cincy's pitcher registered 19 victories in 2012, however. He rewarded his roto managers with a fine total in that category, but he could also become a casualty of the recent devaluation of W's by the shifting mainstream. The sabermetrics society has positively influenced how we interpret baseball statistics. But do the masses perceive an inflated roto return for Cueto based on his spike in wins or an advancing pitcher approaching his prime years?

Cueto, at least in my view, produced only a little of the former and is quite a lot of the latter. It'd be interesting to see how this year's postseason would've played out had he not left Game 1 of the NLDS in the first inning with an oblique strain.

Cueto (34th, 2008), like Cain (three appearances), was a highly touted prospect, although they arrived at their respective spots on Baseball America's top-100 lists via different paths. The former signed as an amateur free agent from the Dominican Republic in 2004; the latter was a first-round draft pick in 2002.

Cueto's development has somewhat mimicked Cain's, however. In fact, one could argue that the growth of the Reds' pitcher has been more diverse. Cueto appears to have subverted the effects of the bandbox he calls home by reducing his fly-ball rate (and thus, rate of homers allowed per nine) substantially. He's also improved his time to the plate and ability to hold on runners.

AT&T Park hasn't provided Cain with the same impetus to alter his method to record outs. Fly balls, at home, are often a good thing for him. An examination of the base-stealing record against him shows that Cain isn't Cueto's equal in that department.

Cain and Cueto are outstanding pitchers, real or otherwise. Although the latter's price will likely rise next year, he may again prove to be a relative bargain. Which is kind of a crime, at this point.

(All stats are from Fangraphs, which becomes cooler with every degree of customization the site adds.)

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About Nicholas Minnix

Minnix is baseball editor and a fantasy football analyst at KFFL. He plays in LABR and Tout Wars and won the FSWA Baseball Industry Insiders League in 2010.

The University of Delaware alum is a regular guest on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio and Baltimore's WNST AM 1570.

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