If you can’t get your hands on a Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw, Felix Hernandez, David Price, or (maybe) Stephen Strasburg, you’d have a hard time finding a better fantasy ace than Cole Hamels or Matt Cain. These two have a bit of history with each other, as they each homered against the other in the same inning of a game last season. Fortunately, they won’t have to face each other a heck of a lot.
The two are ranked incredibly close to each other. We have Cain ranked at 39 and Hamels at 40, while ESPN has them at 30 and 33, with the nod going to Cain. Should they be that close? Should Hamels actually be higher than Cain? Let’s find out.
Alright, this category can be a little tricky to figure out, as you’re relying as much on run support and good late-inning bullpen work as you are your own performance. Still, let’s do the best that we can.
Based on 2012, you’d have to give the edge to Cain. The Giants won 94 games, while the Phillies won 81, also scoring more runs and boasting a better bullpen, especially in the late innings. The problem with that is if you eliminate 2012 from the equation, you’d have to go back to 2004 to find a year where the Giants won more regular season games than Philadelphia.
Neither are what you’d call young teams, but the heart of the Giants order (Buster Posey – 26, Pablo Sandoval – 26 , Hunter Pence – 30), have a bit fewer question marks than like likes of Ryan Howard – 33, Chase Utley – 34, and Jimmy Rollins – 34, who all have a recent injury history.
The only other thing to look at is their innings pitched, to see who will put himself in position to win more games. Those are historically comparable between these two, so you’d have to think they’ll be right around there again.
The edge has gone to Hamels in each of the last few years, but not by much. Again, wins are hard to predict but looking at all factors, the edge goes to Cain here, even if only slightly.
This one is much less complex. Cain is a power pitcher and can certainly record some strikeouts, but he’s at his best when he mixes speeds and locations. His pitches don’t necessarily miss bats, but the contact is usually not especially loud. He won’t drain your strikeout total, but he’s never struck out more than 193 batters.
Hamels is a little different, as strikeouts are more a part of his game. Year in and year our, he’s struck hitters out at a better rate than Cain, going over 200 in two of the last three seasons, fanning 194 in the other year.
If Hamels’ worst season over the last three years is one better than Cain’s career high, you’d have to give the nod to Hamels here, in a moderately big way.
Hamels does miss more bats, so “luck” is less of a factor, but Cain’s pitching style is so straightforward and powerful that you’d have to be way too picky to focus on his higher contact rates.
The other thing to focus on here is the home park. San Francisco’s AT&T Park is far more pitcher-friendly than Philadelphia’s Citizen’s Bank Park. When pitching at his home park, Cain can get away with a lot more contact than Hamels can. The proof there is that Cain’s career ERA at home is 2.98, while Hamels is 3.20.
Those are both very solid and come down a matter of a few runs, but you have to give the edge to the guy who pitches in the better environment most of the time, so the edge belongs to Cain.
Now, if you have either one of these guys on the team, he’s probably your best pitcher. So you have ask yourself if you prefer a higher risk/reward discrepancy here, or a more reliably total.
If you tell me right now that one of these guys will have a WHIP below 1.00 in 2013, my guess is that it will be Hamels. Conversely, if you were to tell me that one of those guys will have a WHIP above 1.10, it would also be Hamels. Mind you, that’s not a bad total, but Cain’s had the better WHIP in two of the last three years, coming in between 1.00 and 1.09 in every one of those years. The worst Hamels has done in that period is 1.179, but he’s also been under 1.00 once.
Personally, I’ll go with the more reliable guy here and say that Cain’s the guy to go with. Hamels isn’t much of a gamble, but he’s not quite the sure thing here that Cain is.
If you’re in a snake draft with two close picks, I’d consider going with both of those guys. The biggest edge of this group goes to Hamels, but Cain is stronger in more areas.
So, if you could only have one, take Matt Cain to anchor your staff.