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February 27, 2014

Tale of the Tape

Matt Cain vs. Zack Greinke

by Alex Kantecki


In today’s edition of “Tale of the Tape,” we dissect a pair of major-league starters from the National League West, the Giants’ Matt Cain and the Dodgers’ Zack Greinke. Both entered 2013 with “ace”-level expectations, but, after a down year from Cain, only Greinke exited the season with it still firmly attached. You’ll find both right-handers listed among Paul Sporer’s four-star tier in BP’s Positional Rankings, but last year’s performances have the pair trending in opposite directions. Greinke is going 41 picks ahead of Cain, according to the most recent NFBC ADP. Can Cain bounce back and make this a closer-than-expected showdown? Or will Greinke stay ahead of the curve?

ERA
In nine seasons, Cain has recorded a 3.35 ERA in 265 starts, including a 3.68 FIP and 4.16 xFIP. Last year, the right-hander posted a 4.00 ERA after a slow start (6.49 ERA in April), giving Cain his first ERA over four since 2006, his first full season in Major League Baseball. From 2009-2012, he recorded a 3.00-or-better ERA in three out of four years, and not a single one worse than 3.15. In 11 seasons, Greinke has recorded a 3.65 ERA in 259 starts, including a 3.43 FIP and 3.60 xFIP. Last year, he posted his lowest ERA (2.63) since winning the American League Cy Young award in 2009. Greinke’s ERA has fluctuated more wildly, from 2.16 in 2009 to 4.17 in 2010 (the year following his Cy Young). Cain’s had the privilege of pitching his entire career in the NL, while Greinke has spent the majority of his time in the AL. While the former is the more consistent pitcher and plays in the more favorable ballpark, the latter has enjoyed as much (if not more) success in the NL, with a 3.28 ERA in three seasons, compared to a 3.81 ERA in the AL. It’s impossible to ignore a difference of 137 points in earned run average between the two hurlers in 2013. For what it’s worth, PECOTA predicts a 3.02 ERA for Greinke and a 3.10 ERA for Cain.

Advantage: Greinke

WHIP
In term of career WHIP, Cain holds the advantage over Greinke, 1.17 to 1.23. Greinke has the superior career walk rate (6.1 percent vs. 8.2 percent), but Cain’s batting average against is far superior (.222 vs. .253). Cain hasn’t recorded a WHIP greater than 1.20 since 2008, while Greinke has posted a 1.20 WHIP or greater in three out of the last four years. PECOTA predicts a 1.10 WHIP for Greinke and a 1.11 WHIP for Cain, but the latter has maintained a .218 average against since 2010; only Clayton Kershaw has been better among starters with at least 450 innings pitched during that time.

Slight advantage: Cain

Strikeouts
Contrary to popular belief, Greinke and Cain have extremely similar strikeout rates, with the former holding the slight edge over the course of their careers (21.3 percent vs. 20.3 percent). Cain actually claimed the higher strikeout rate in 2013, but they were almost identical (20.8 percent vs. 20.6 percent). Looking at their career swinging strike rates, again, it’s like looking in the mirror (nine percent for Greinke, 8.9 percent for Cain). Greinke’s advantage in terms of strikeouts starts to show up in his peak seasons, which include strikeout years of 242 (2009), 201 (2011), and 200 (2012). Cain has never registered a 200-strikeout season, coming closest with 193 in 2012, but that number fell dramatically in 2013 (158 strikeouts, the lowest total of his career). Greinke only collected 148 punchouts in 2013, but, with equal playing time, he should out-produce Cain in the category. PECOTA predicts 185 strikeouts for Greinke and 166 for Cain.

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Related Content:  Zack Greinke,  Matt Cain,  Fantasy,  Starting Pitchers

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<< Previous Article
The BP Wayback Machine... (02/27)
<< Previous Column
Fantasy Article Tale of the Tape: Yoen... (02/20)
Next Column >>
Fantasy Article Tale of the Tape: Joe ... (03/06)
Next Article >>
Fantasy Article Fantasy Freestyle: The... (02/27)

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