The ESPN articles and such on last night's game are all Bonds/home run related, but I choose to talk about what seems to be the least-talked about phenom that major league baseball is experienced right now: Matt Cain.
There have been some rookie phenoms that have gotten some press in the last month or so, like Jeff Francouer or Zach Duke, and rightly so -- they started their major league careers off with a bang. But Francouer's cooled off and Duke was injured for a while, so perhaps it's time for Cain to shine, eh?
Duke and Cain are very, very good to compare at this point (heck, they even both have 8 letters in their first and last names combined), and to throw in a little curve into the situation, I'm going to include the numbers of Zack Grienke's 2004 season as a point of reference (definitions for the statistics will be at the end of the entry).
Zach Duke, 22 years old:
1.84 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 6.79 k/9, 2.67 k/bb ratio, .644 OPS against, 3.82 p/pa, 15.3 p/ip
Matt Cain, 20 years old:
2.12 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, 6.09 k/9, 1.64 k/bb ratio, .534 OPS against, 4.88 p/pa, 14.9 p/ip
Zack Grienke, 21 years old (20 in 2004):
3.97 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 6.21 k/9, 3.85 k/bb ratio, .752 OPS against, 3.82 p/pa, 15.2 p/ip
Interesting, no? Imagine anchoring a rotation with those three kids. I could include somebody like Dontrelle Willis, but then, I could include a lot of other young pitchers, too. But no, I think these three will suffice.
Has anyone noticed one large piece of information out? Sample size, of course. There's a reason -- mostly because I don't want the fluidity of the numbers to get clogged up, but also because the stats I've presented on these three represent a couple of nice little checkpoints for a young pitcher's first year: the debut (Cain's five starts and 34 total innings pitched), settling in (Duke's 11 starts and 64.2 total innings pitched, and a near full season (Grienke and his 24 starts and 145 total innings pitched from 2004).
Duke and Cain are pretty damned close. I'll ignore ERA, thanks very much, but Cain's got Duke in the WHIP category, as well as OPS against. Duke's got Cain in the k/9 category, as well as a nice k/bb ratio.
I'm not going to try and go any deeper, or try and figure who has the brighter future -- I'd need some minor league data for that. However, they both obviously have bright futures...or, do they?
You see, caution comes in the form of Mr. Grienke, whose numbers weren't too shabby, either, after the longest tenure of the three youngsters. His k/bb ration showed phenomenal control in one so young, and he had a decent k rate, too.
Grienke this year? Well, he's looked much, much better in September this year, but try these numbers on for size in Zack's sophomore season:
5.81 ERA, 1.56 WHIP, 5.49 k/9, 2.10 k/bb, .873 OPS against, 3.86 p/pa, 16.9 p/ip
His WHIP has soared, his strikeout rate went down, his walks rate rose, opponents started teeing off on him, and it was taking him more than a pitch and a half more per inning to get out of the inning.
Now, while some of you may scoff, saying, "Grienke's numbers didn't look quite as good as Cain's and Duke's anyway, so that doesn't mean anything. Duke and Cain are just better", let me remind you that Grienke put his numbers up over 24 starts and over twice as many innings as Duke, and over four times as many innings as Cain. If anyone would've been trusted of those three, most would go with the guy who has shown the most over the longest period of time -- which would've been Grienke.
So, while we should definitely be excited over Cain, and should rightly hope that he's able to have a chance at the starting rotation next season, we should also display a little caution before thinking he's going to do nothing but get better with experience.
But for now? Heh. Wheeeeee!
Stat Definitions: WHIP (walks + hits per inning pitched), k/9 (strikeouts per 9 innings), k/bb ratio (walk to strikeout ratio), p/pa (pitches per plate appearance), p/ip (pitches per inning pitched)