How Far Will Matt Cain Regress In 2010?

For a long time everyone looked at the Giants’ Matt Cain as a pitcher with all the potential in the world, though he was blessed with the worst luck in baseball.  How else could you explain win totals of 7 and 8 in 2007 and 2008 despite ERAs under 4.00?  All that changed in 2009, when Cain seemingly put it all together to post the following line:

14 Wins
217.2 Innings
2.89 ERA
1.18 WHIP
171 Strikeouts (7.07 K/9)
73 Walks (3.02 BB/9)
.268 BABIP

The numbers were impressive across the board, though it’s clear that he had a tremendous amount of luck contributing to his success.  The BABIP is just the first example, as it was the fourth best among pitchers who threw at least 150 innings (only Jarrod Washburn, Randy Wolf and Ross Ohlendorf were better).

It is impossible to expect him to continue that sort of success, which means that impressive WHIP is going to take a hit.  The other factor in the WHIP is his walks, where he posted a career best in 2009.  Just look at his BB/9 from the previous three seasons:

  • 2006 – 4.11
  • 2007 – 3.56
  • 2008 – 3.76

While it is possible that he has found better control, I wouldn’t completely count on it.  I would expect him to slip a bit there, which is just another reason to look at the WHIP and prepare yourself for a regression.  I’m not saying that he’s going to fall back to the 1.36 he had in 2008, but he’s not likely to be as impressive as he was in 2009.

As for the ERA, it was sparkling, but it too was aided by significant luck.  Cain posted a strand rate of 81.6%, the second best in the league among pitchers with at least 150 innings (J.A. Happ led the way with 85.2%).  For a comparison, his teammate, Tim Lincecum, had a 75.9% mark.

It goes without saying that the luck here is going to regress.  He has shown the ability to post sub-4.00 ERAs, so I’m not going to say that he’s going to fall off a cliff and be unusable.  The point is that he is not likely to be as impressive as he was last season.

As for his strikeout potential, Cain pretty much is the pitcher he is at this point in his career.  Over the past three seasons he’s posted K/9 of 7.34, 7.69 and last years 7.07.  I’d simply expect him to be back in that range in 2010.

So where would I expect him to be in 2010?  Let’s take a look:

215.0 IP, 14 W, 3.73 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 180 K (7.30 K/9), 83 BB (3.47 BB/9)

While I took a lot of time to discuss why I didn’t think Cain was going to regress from 2009, that does not mean that I don’t think he’s going to be usable.  He was just too lucky last season and does not have the skill set to maintain the numbers he posted.

Take the BABIP, for example.  My projection is based on a number of .297 for 2010, a much more realistic mark.

At this point, I think he’s being significantly overdrafted.  Early ADP numbers have him going before names like Josh Beckett, Yovani Gallardo and Cole Hamels.  That is a huge mistake, as those are three potential fantasy aces, while Cain is more likely to be a #2 or 3 option.  While I don’t think he’ll be bad, I won’t be drafting him at his current spot.

What do you think?  Will Cain outperform my projections?  Should he be drafted higher than the names I mentioned?

Make sure to check out some more of our 2010 projections, including:

Picture courtesy of Icon Sports Media, Inc.

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