From 2009 to 2012, Matt Cain was one of the top starting pitchers in fantasy baseball as he became the staff ace on a San Francisco Giants team that won two World Series in 2010 and 2012 (and have a decent chance to win again in 2014).
Cain had an ERA between 2.79 and 3.14 as well as compiling at least 32 starts in each of those four seasons. Matt Cain’s remarkable stretch saw him pitch between 217.2 and 223.1 innings in those four years. He was a model of consistent excellence.
However, Matt Cain no longer was pitching like an ace by 2013. That was now the role of southpaw Madison Bumgarner. While the Giants have been fortunate to have Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, and Madison Bumgarner lead their staff since 2008, only Mad Bum can lead you in fantasy going forward.
Matt Cain was unimpressive in 2013 by posting an even 4.00 ERA and a FIP of 3.93. Both of those numbers were his worst since 2006, which was his first full year as a starting pitcher. After 2013, many thought that Cain would bounce back and provide a decent return on his ADP in 2014, but that certainly did not happen.
This past season only saw the once first rate starter barely pitch at replacement level. There was no question that Cain was hampered by injuries as he saw his season end prematurely with a bone spur in his elbow. Even if he stays healthy next season, there are just too many reasons to avoid him.
Most importantly, Matt Cain is simply a not good pitcher anymore. His K/9 dropped to 6.97 and his BB/9 rate rose to 3.19 last season and neither of those numbers are very good. He was susceptible to giving up the long ball in 2014, but he also had a very nice BABIP of .265 against.
Matt Cain has always had an amazing BABIP throughout his career as hitters are only .264 against Cain. Cain has a career fly ball rate of 43%, but only a 7.4% HR/FB rate. This is probably where pitching at AT&T Stadium on the bay has been very conducive to a fly ball pitcher like Cain.
Furthermore, Cain has never posted a SIERA below 3.69 and his xFIP- has always hovered right around 100, which is league average. Many people always thought Matt Cain’s regression was bound to happen at some point, but I just began to chalk it up to the fact that Cain would outperform those expectations (like Johnny Cueto as Chris Dionne referenced in his article the other day) after four great years.
I do not want to say that luck has finally caught up to Cain because I do not believe in luck and his regression was more due to declining skills and arm troubles. Even though most of Cain’s decline has been performance-based, I want to point out that he suffered from back to back career high HR/9 rates of 1.12 and 1.30 in 2013 and 2014, respectively.
I personally would not want to roster Cain even if he returns to his not so impressive 2013 levels because of his mediocre strikeout rate, multiple DL stints, he underwent surgery in September on his elbow, and he is now 30 years old.
Steamer projections for 2015 have recently been released and they project Cain to only slightly rebound to an ERA of 3.82, a FIP of 3.89, and a K/9 of 7.57. Those numbers are fairly close to his 2013 statistics.
You can take your chance on a pitcher who used to be a fantasy staple from 2009 to 2012, but I am going to avoid a player who in 2014 had a 4.18 ERA, a 4.58 FIP, and had his season cut short due to elbow troubles.
I personally would not even draft Cain as one of my fifteen first draft picks because I think at this point he is just a name making $20.8 million a season until 2017. Sadly, the Matt Cain ship has sailed and he has gone the way of other very good pitchers like Dan Haren who are no longer fantasy commodities.