Edge: Cain (+2 pts- NL)
Dealing with the pressures of New York scrutiny may be difficult, but with a career W/L record of 31-18 (.633%) and an ERA of 4.20, I'd be willing to bet Phil Hughes is glad he was drafted by the Yankees.
There is no better comparison than Hughes vs. Cain to illustrate the inaccuracy of W/L% in determining a pitcher's abilities. Sitting at a lowly 57-62 (.479%) over the course of his career, Cain's career era is a staggering .75 points lower than Hughes' at 3.45.
Yes, Hughes pitches in the AL East, the premiere hitting division in baseball, but I do not think that is enough to excuse this differential in allowing runs (Cain did just fine against the best hitting team in baseball last year).
Though Cain has logged a lot more innings than Hughes at the big league level, both are poised to continue pitching as dominant No. 2 starters on teams that won the World Series in 2009 and 2010.
I do not think either of these pitchers will be the ace for their respective teams, but are regardless among the top 10 pitchers in their league. The NL has more depth, and I think that Cain would be listed at No. 6 or No. 7 on the AL list.
Don't let Cain's curly blond locks fool you: this kid is an absolute competitor on the mound. Cain was drafted out of high school, and emerged as the Giants top prospect in 2005, pitching very well in limited innings. He was the talk of the town, and was the ace of the future....until Lincecum showed up.
Ever since Lincecum's arrival in San Francisco, Matt Cain has been second fiddle, going literally unnoticed for his first few seasons by anyone outside of San Francisco.
It did not help that the Giants offense was completely anemic in support of Cain, averaging so few runs that he finished 7-16 with an ERA of 3.65. In the 2010 post-season Cain threw 21 1/3 scoreless innings, the fourth-longest in baseball history...the baseball world took notice.
Cain's first season in the league saw him throwing fastballs consistently at 94+ mph. Interestingly, Cain's velocity has dropped quite significantly, averaging 91.6 mph, yet its effectiveness has gone up...it was the fourth-most effective in the NL in 2010!
The explanation behind the effectiveness of Cain's fastball despite its relative lack in velocity is a) it is "heavy" and b) he moves it up and down better than almost any pitcher in the league.
Neither of these arguments can be made using numbers, so let me try to explain: a "heavy" fastball is one that appears firmer than it actually is, and seems to speed up at the last second (see- "late life"). Perhaps because his motion is so fluid, Cains fastball is one of the "heaviest" in baseball, and results in hitters swinging, far too late, behind his 92-mph fastball in the middle of the plate.
Second, Cain has good command of his off-speed pitches, and uses a plus-changeup to keep left handed hitters off balance. His ability to throw the fastball up in the zone is what makes him so effective, and is his primary strikeout pitch.
Many have said Cain is actually the better pitcher on the Giants, and while I do not agree, they certainly make a decent point when looking at his numbers in 2010.
Cain is a workhorse, and will likely continue to pitch well as the No. 2 starter for the Giants, but does not have the stuff to be a true No. 1 guy on a number of teams. I remember when he was being compared to Edwin Jackson...that seems pretty silly now.
Like Cain, Hughes received a lot of hype as a prospect in the Yankees organization. Touted as an elite starting prospect, Hughes showed glimpses of stardom in his first season with the Yankees, and pitched well as a rookie reliever in the post-season.
The following season Hughes sustained a cracked rib, and was sent down to the minors to rehabilitate. Some would argue that last season was Hughes' "breakout" year, but I think that 2009 was his best.
Pitching in a set up role to the great Mariano Rivera, Hughes was one of the most feared relievers in the league, and posted terrific numbers in all areas. His stuff is well above average, and certainly better than Cain's.
I don't think that he has quite yet learned how to be the elite pitcher that he has been touted to be. Last year was a solid one for Hughes, and he is a very solid No. 2 on almost every rotation in the MLB, but he is not quite at the level of Cain.
If Hughes can improve upon his 2010 campaign as a starter, he will solidify his spot as one of the top pitchers in the AL. He's got a very bright future but I don't think that he will take over C.C.'s spot any time soon.
NL- 8 AL- 0