Clone Wars: Javier Vazquez and Matt Cain

Javier Vazqeuz has been one of the most interesting studies in sabermetrics throughout his career. He breaks all the ERA predictors by consistently having a higher ERA than his FIP, xFIP, tRA or DIPS expect. His ERA has been higher than his FIP in eight of 12 major league seasons, posting a career FIP of 3.83 and ERA of 4.19. On the other end is Matt Cain who consistently beats expectations by maintaining a very low HR/FB% year after year. This year was his highest at 8%, yet he had his best full season yet.

Name              W-L    ERA   K/9  BB/9  K/BB  BABIP  LOB%  GB%    HR/FB%
Javier Vazquez    15-10  2.87  9.77 1.81  5.41  .297   76.6% 41.7%  10.1%
Matt Cain         14-8   2.89  7.07 3.02  2.34  .268   81.6% 38.9%  8.4%

Javier Vazquez

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MLB: AUG 4 Braves at Padres
4 AUG 2009: Javier Vazquez of the Atlanta Braves during a game against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park in San Diego, CA. (Icon/SMI)

I have looked into Vazquez before as his numbers always draw attention. He has continually drawn bad luck against his FIP especially once he went to the AL. The last time I looked at him was back in April and found he had a large change in K/BB while pitching from the stretch. In 2008 his K/BB went from 3.94 with the bases empty to a 2.43 with runners in scoring position. In his career it went from 4.10 with the bases empty to a 2.07 with runners in scoring position.

He also played for some poor defenses recently and had BABIP numbers of .284, .311, .321, .297, .328 while with the Yankees, Diamondbacks and White Sox from 2004-08. His career BABIP still stands at .309. This all helps explain why he has struggled against his FIP, but what has happened this year?

Well he still has a significant split in his work from the stretch. His K/BB with the bases empty is 6.21, but with runners in scoring position he has a 4.25. That is much better from the stretch than any season and surely has something to do with playing in the National League and facing the opposing pitcher. This has led his numbers to match up much better as his ERA stands only 0.1 higher than his FIP.

Matt Cain

For years Cain has been listed as a potential pitcher to fall as his xFIP was consistently higher than his ERA. His HR/FB rate has been 7.1% or lower for 3 years and has only crept up to 8.4% this year. This has to do with playing in the NL West. Pitching in San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles for a large number of your games will do that.

His strikeout rate has taken a hit this year with his K/9 down to 7.07. Offsetting that is his walk rate falling to a career low of 3.02, and his K/BB is a career best 2.34. This is still not that great for a pitcher with a 38.9% groundball rate. His career BABIP is .278 and down to .268 this season. This is partly due to a team defense that has ranked in the top 10 in MLB for the past four years.

While his overall numbers don’t match that of a great pitcher, he has the ability to maintain solid numbers as long as he stays in the NL West. He has another year left on his contract with the Giants and a 2011 option for $6.25 million. This could be an issue next year as his value to trade will start to decrease, but the Giants could just as well keep him through the end of his deal. If he was moved, he stands to suffer an increase in homers against and an increase in BABIP.

Conclusion

Both of these pitchers are staring at the reality of regression to the mean next year, but they both have history of being solid pitchers. They will be overvalued for sure, but Javier Vazquez is definately the better and safer pitcher to choose. There has been talk he could be expendable to the Braves if they bring back Tim Hudson next year. I find it extremely unlikely that the Braves will let a pitcher with a K/BB over 5 go, but he is entering the last year of a contract that guarantees him $11.5 million. His biggest downside would be a return to the AL, but Cain would be a downgrade going to any team outside the NL West.

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