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Key Stats: Enough with all these end of the decade countdowns. Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols were the best hitters while Randy Johnson and Johan Santana were the best pitchers. Take Mariano Rivera as a closer and walah! You have your team of the decade.

On with the more relevant countdown – the one that looks ahead to the 2010 season instead of looking back to when Randy Johnson had a back. Matt Cain finished 2009 ranked as the 47th best overall player by Yahoo’s standards. He was very lucky. Not to say that it wasn’t well-deserved because the season before he had a better strikeout rate and a FIP that was 0.02 off of what it was last season and his ranking by Yahoo wound up being 704. Things have a way of evening themselves out over time. This year it will be the equivalent to the Baby Bear’s soup in Goldilocks.

Skeptics Say: In terms of where his ERA was and where it should have been, only Jair Jurrjens was luckier. Only J.A. Happ had a higher percentage of batters stranded on base last year in all of baseball than Cain. Those runs are bound to score in 2010 at a normal rate. Also, considering that Cain’s walk rate went from 3.76 per 9 innings in 2008 to 3.02 per game, chances are that his WHIP might regress a little back to where it was in previous seasons. Of course there’s the possibility that he has gotten a better feel for his control, but with 9 games of 4 or more walks last year I doubt that.

Peer Comparison: It’s time for the weekly argument for why tiers isn’t the best solution to the problem. Let’s say that Cain and Yovani Gallardo are on the same tier. If an owner selects Cain it means that another owner should select Gallardo shortly thereafter. It’s terrible logic. Gallardo is better than Cain. Look carefully at the numbers:

Gallardo – 13 wins 9.89 K/9 3.73 ERA 1.31 WHIP 3.97 FIP
Cain – 14 wins 7.07 K/9 2.89 ERA 1.18 WHIP 3.89 FIP

Disregard wins because there are so many other factors independent of just how good the individual is and how good a team should be on paper in the next season. Also, more attention should be paid to FIP than ERA given the luck that Cain had with stranding runners as mentioned above. Focusing exclusively on FIP, the margin between Cain and Gallardo was extremely close – just 0.08. If we assume that after his first full season Gallardo will continue to develop much the same way Cain has (Cain had a 4.15 ERA and 3.96 FIP his first full year that sank to 3.65 and 3.78 respectively the next year) he could narrow or even pass Cain in terms of runs allowed. The strikeout differential is obviously in Gallardo’s favor, and what ultimately tips the scales on deciding which player to choose first.

It’s close, but Gallardo’s better. And if you don’t think it really will make much difference in the end just go back to a past rotisserie or head to head league and see what five more strikeouts or one more win could have done. Every player has their own tier.

Team Outlook: Of the 217.2 innings Cain pitched in 2009, Bengie Molina was the catcher for 170.2 innings. Molina is very close to signing with the Mets, so it looks like Cain will be working with a new batterymate next season. Cain’s WHIP with Molina behind the plate was 1.15 while with Eli Whiteside and Buster Posey it was 1.30. Out of fairness to those two players, particularly Posey whom the Giants will hope can catch full time next year, Molina had the benefit of working with Cain for three full seasons. Molina had an understanding of what Cain was comfortable throwing in certain situations whereas someone like Posey (who only caught him once) probably just got an idea of the four pitches Cain throws period. Posey was a shortstop in college and is still making adjustments to playing catcher, so it might take time before Cain gets comfortable next year.

What They’re Saying: CBS Sportsline: #17 Starting Pitcher; ESPN.com: #68 Overall; Yahoo: #23 Starting Pitcher and #97 Overall; Mock Draft Central ADP: #89 Overall; Couch Managers: #90 Overall; FB 365: #27 Starting Pitcher

Projection: Cain’s been around forever so he should start to…wait my bad. He’s still only 25 years old. Scary.
15 wins 3.64 ERA 1.28 WHIP 178K in 210 innings

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