h2h Corner ~ Keep, Trade or Drop: James Shields, Matt Cain, Matt Garza?

On paper, this appears to be a tight one. I feel if you surveyed 100 Americans, they’d be split evenly. Cain gets to pitch in a pitcher friendly park, division and league. Garza and “big game” James are better known, given the Rays’ success of late. However, they do have to face the Yankees and Red Sox consistently, and it’s not usually fun to pitch in Camden Yards. So how does it shake out? Let’s go to the tale of the tape.

James Shields will be 29 in December. He has averaged 217 IPs, 12 wins, 170 Ks, a 3.85 ERA and a 1.20 WHIP in his first three full seasons. Last year his WHIP (1.35) was the highest of that stretch and he was somewhat unlucky (.311 BAbip). So there is some regression coming there. But, at this point, we know what Shields will produce: a very ratio-friendly 210+ innings and about 170 Ks, with upside to 190. He reminds one a lot of Ted Lilly.

Matt Cain has been around longer than Shields, yet is only 25. In four full seasons, Cain has put together a 3.60 ERA and 1.27 WHIP, while averaging 206 IPs, 10 wins and 175 Ks. Unlike Shields, last year was Cain’s best in terms of WHIP (1.18) and ERA (2.89). The ERA was about one full point lower than his previous three year’s average. Unfortunately, Cain didn’t suddenly get better (his Ks actually decreased by 15 from 2008). He benefited from a .267 BAbip. This means that his 2009 was more of his ceiling and one that isn’t easily attainable. If this wasn’t a keeper situation, I’d endorse James Shields over him. However, given that he is younger than Shields and likely entering his prime in the next few years, I’d roll the dice on Cain over Shields. They really are a toss up, making the age a good tie-breaker.

Matt Garza doesn’t have the innings that the other two have. In just two full seasons, Garza has posted a 3.83 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP, while averaging 194 IPs and 158 Ks. Garza won’t be 27 until November, so he is really just entering his prime. In the minors, Garza was a big strike-out pitcher (10 K/9 rate), so there is room for improvement and he did strike-out 189 batters last year, which was the most of this cohort. I’m willing to bank on Garza hitting his stride and prime and racking up some impressive strike-out seasons over the next few years. So I’m keeping Matt Garza (which I find surprising). I’ll trade Matt Cain (I imagine he has more perceived value than Shields).

Keep: Matt Garza
Trade: Matt Cain
Drop: James Shields

_____________________

Reading this column guarantees that you will achieve fabulous wealth and success in your fantasy baseball league. That’s right, you guessed it: it’s time to debate Keep Trade or Drop (KTD).

While there are tons of player rankings available, they are all for 2010 and nothing more. So, if you are drafting in a start-up keeper league, how do you decide who to take? For example, if they’re both on the board, do you go for tried and true Carl Crawford, or do you roll the dice (but only barely) and select the slightly less proven Justin Upton. Read enough of these columns and you might just get your answer.

The KTD series focuses solely on giving keeper league advice. It poses the question: if you are in a keeper league, which player would you rather keep, which would you rather trade and which would you be forced to drop. Rarely is the decision easy to make, but it might just decide whether you compete and win your championship, not just this year, but for years down the road as well. It will also help you make a snap decision when three similar players are on the board and the clock is ticking.

If you want other KTDs, please let me know. Also, feel free to share your insights below or at my Twitter (@h2h_corner)/Facebook pages.

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