Fantasy Baseball Insider Trading: Matt Cain

      May 1, 2013 @ 17:24:08 PDT

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Insider Trading dives into the fantasy baseball commodities, both bullish and bearish, that will likely be swapped frequently. It's been a month-plus since the season started; with this relatively sound sample size in tow, let's go to the floor!

Matt Cain, SP, San Francisco Giants

SF playoffs
Cain IP
Reg. Sea. ERA
Post. ERA
WS champs
244 2/3
221 2/3
WS champs
249 1/3
34 2/3

Another Bay arm sinking?

OK, that was a warning sign for Cain coming into the season. That's a ton of frames over the last four years, and in his surprisingly long MLB career. He'll turn 29 in October and has already logged 1,571 1/3 regular-season stanzas. What gives?

Without speculating on an injury, let's acknowledge there's something unstable with his arsenal. (Thanks for confirming, Brooks Baseball.) Cain's chiefly effective hit-and-miss pitch has been his changeup; in the first month, unfortunately, empty hacks from opponents have decreased on the whole from last year.

More worrisome, the slider, his main putaway asset, looks like it's resting along the plate for too long. And when batters are ahead, Cain has stuck with the offering too frequently. Left-handers have so far seen more of it on the plate than righties, but righties have ironically hit it better.

Regardless of handedness, it hurts to give opponents ample opportunities to pick up that flat slide piece, along with his so-far-tepid four-seamer and less dynamically dropping curve. He's worked with a "meh" fastball throughout his career, but if that slider doesn't do its complementary job, he doesn't have much to throw with confidence.

vs. Cain Slider
Line-Drive %

This is causing, to some degree, a harsh correction from his 79.0 percent strand rate from last year; he's posted high numbers before, but expecting something in the mid-70s is more clear-headed.

Let these concerns play to your market advantage. (Oh, Starbonell, mah dawg. You make some fine points, but I respectfully disagree with your sum.)

In the four starts that don't include Cain's April 7 and April 18 fiascos, he boasted a 3.60 ERA (25 IP) with 26 K's (no fewer than six K's in a contest) and eight walks. The opponents were a bit easier than those from his two blow-ups, but it says the old righty is still hidden beneath his scary surface numbers.

Yes, he's a fly-ball pitcher, but that "Scarlet FB" is overblown, especially when you toss in his home of AT&T Park. In fact, eight of Cain's homers allowed have come in the road, at Wrigley Field, Miller Park and Chase Field. And according to this first-hand observation, hitters aren't beating Cain at his best.

His nearly typical BABIP reflects small changes in batted-ball distribution. The 44.3 loft rate isn't much higher than his norms, and he's hovering near the same infield-fly allowances he's put forth throughout his MLB life. That tells me that the homer allowance (19.1 percent HR/FB, compared to 7.1 career) is inflated and a brief bump along his seasonal path. At least his K/9 and K percentage look like they've been carried over from last year, so he's still reaching back or guiding himself when needed.

As for that LOB rate, the fact he's allowed five taters with men on (he yielded six in those situations all year) has inflated his ERA. Correcting his approach will temper that damage in the future.

Fatigue can't be written off, but maybe that only requires "extended spring training," so to speak. His long 2010 campaign didn't hurt; maybe he needs a bit more time to get rejuvenated.

If he were allowing taters at this rate while displaying similar pitch movement to last season or his velocity was significantly down, OK, that'd be a problem. Cain isn't Tim Lincecum v.2012, though. He's a command conqueror, a pitcher based on control and working efficiently. He doesn't strike out via overpowering stuff; it's based on location, and his seems to be fouled up.

Trust seven full seasons' worth of numbers. Don't hide in the shelter after one month of him underachieving relative to his indicators. His stable peripherals point to a positive future. Fixing a combination of mechanics/location and approach, with some rectified homer suppression as a result, should do the job.

Even with all the innings he's logged, I'm not looking to sell unless I'm blown away by an offer. Expect this Dave Righetti resurrection to work out better than last year's. Cain remains plenty able.

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About Tim Heaney

Tim's work has been featured by USA Today/Sports Weekly, among numerous outlets, and recognized as a finalist in the Fantasy Sports Writers Association awards. The Boston University alum, who competes in the prestigious LABR and Tout Wars, has won numerous industry leagues in both baseball and football.

He appears frequently, including every Sunday, on Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio, as well as every Wednesday on 1570 AM WNST in Baltimore.

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