Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner are having nearly identical seasons this year, which has put them both in contention for the National League Cy Young Award.
Bumgarner has started one more game than Cain this year, and has one more quality start thus far. Their rate stats are nearly identical, however:
Matt Cain: 23.3 K%, 5.2 W%, 4.48 K/BB ratio, 1.01 HR/9, 1.03 WHIP, 2.99 ERA, 3.46 FIP
Bumgarner: 22.9 K%, 4.9 W%, 4.69 K/BB ratio, 0.99 HR/9, 1.01 WHIP, 2.97 ERA, 3.37 FIP
They have similarly outstanding results, but they go about their work quite differently.
Cain is an extreme fly-ball pitcher, while Bumgarner is more of a ground-ball guy. Cain pitches at the top of the strike zone effectively, while Bumgarner pounds the knees from his low release point. Cain mixes all four of his pitches, while Bumgarner relies mostly on his nasty fastball/slider combination.
The Giants were very wise to use their first-round pick on Cain in 2002 and on Bumgarner in 2007. Both were big southerners drafted directly out of high school.
The Giants should also be credited for developing both pitchers through the minor leagues, and pitching coach Dave Righetti has done a good job of mentoring them at the big-league level. Righetti has done a particularly outstanding job of helping Cain improve his mechanics, and thus his command and control, since he first entered the big leagues as a bit of wild thrower in 2005.
Choosing which pitcher will have the better career is a very difficult task. They are both among the best pitchers in the game, and they both keep getting better with each season.
However, the edge goes to Bumgarner because he is five years younger than Cain, yet he's already able to match Cain's performance on the mound. Since Bumgarner is only 22, and Cain is 27, Bumgarner is the better bet to make substantial improvements to his game over the remainder of his career.
That said, not all young pitchers continue to improve the way that Cain has throughout his career. There is also no guarantee that Bumgarner will continue to improve, or that he will stay healthy. There's also the possibility that Cain could continue to improve well into his 30s.
No matter who ends up having the better career in the end, both are likely to provide the Giants with significant value over the next half decade, since they both signed extensions during spring training to remain with the Giants through 2017, with a club option for 2018.
Bumgarner is a solid bet to have the better career of the two because he is better than Cain was at the same age, and it could also be argued that he's every bit as good as Cain at the present time. Bumgarner's slider is one of the best pitches in all of baseball, and his command is exceptional.
Betting against Cain has proven to be a fool's errand, but this isn't really a bet against him as much as it is a bet on Bumgarner's unlimited potential. At an age when most of his peers are college seniors, Bumgarner has already thrown nearly 500 innings of 3.05 ERA baseball, not to mention those eight shutout innings in Game 4 of the 2010 World Series.
Bumgarner is my choice to have the better career when compared to Cain, and just about every other pitcher in the game. He's one of the best in the sport at age 22, so what is he going to look like at 28?