Poor Matt Cain Redux
October 13, 2008 1 Comment
The very first article I posted here at Statistically Speaking, which seems like ages ago after covering an entire baseball season, dealt with Matt Cain and just how unlucky he was in 2007. After all, Cain had a 3.78 FIP, a 3.65 ERA, and a K/BB ratio above 2.0, yet managed to finish the season with a W-L of 7-16. Now, granted, W-L records are largely meaningless unless the pitcher has absolutely no cheap wins, tough losses, or wins blown by the bullpen, but seasons such as this are such a rarity that they realistically do not deserve mention. The Giants did not support Cain with runs, scoring almost 1.5 runs fewer for he than the rest of the rotation, and as a result, his season looked worse to the untrained eye than it should have.
This year, things were roughly the same. Sure, he cranked out another win, improving on last year’s total to 8 whole wins, but he was charged with 14 losses. His FIP this year was 3.91, still extremely solid, and his ERA was a very similar 3.76. On top of that, his K/BB remained virtually identical, meaning that nothing with regards to these metrics changed too much and Cain was once again terribly unlucky. My Adjusted W-L system–which reverses cheap wins to losses and tough losses to wins–says Cain should have been 14-8 this season, the inverse of his actual record.
Baseball Prospectus largely supports this conclusion, as Cain finished the season with 14.6 expected wins, the ninth highest total in baseball. His Expected W-L of 14.6-9.5, results in an Expected W% of .607, much higher than his actual .364 winning percentage. Their statistic, LUCK, which measures the difference between the actual and expected records, pegged Cain at -11.16, the unluckiest total in baseball this season. Over the last two seasons, Cain has arguably been more effective than the aces of certain teams, and yet the back of his baseball card shows a 15-30 record in this span.
Now, this year did bring with it some worse numbers, as WHIP rose to a career high 1.36. Luckily for Cain, a phrase I never imagined I would be able to utter, his strand rate rose to a career high 75.3%. He was allowing more runners to reach base than years past but leaving a higher percentage of them on the basepaths. The rise in WHIP can primarily be attributed to a .304 BABIP, which, while very normal and average, is 20-25 points higher than the numbers Cain posted in the same category over the last two seasons. With a walk rate essentially the same as last season, he simply gave up more hits this year.
These hits were also due to a 22% rate of line drives, way up from the 16% in 2006 and 2007. Putting everything together, Cain allowed plenty of more line drives, which increased his BABIP and was the major benefactor in the WHIP increase, but his ability to strand runners helped massage his numbers into the solid 3.76 ERA/3.91 FIP. Matt Cain may realistically land himself a very nice contract in a few years, with a W-L record close to 30 games under .500. Unlike some pitchers who received like-contracts, undeservingly, Cain will very likely earn those dollars. It will be up to his teammates to score some damn runs, however. Cain had pretty much the best 7-16 season last year, and followed it up with a fantastic 8-14 campaign this year.