Back in 2005, the coming of Matt Cain was largely seen as the arrival of a pitching savior in the world of Giantdom.
Armed with a mid-to-high 90s fastball, Cain dominated Major League hitters the moment he arrived, posting a 0.93 WHIP in seven starts.
During his 2006 season, he learned how to pitch, went through a few growing pains, and accepted a temporary demotion to the bullpen after some early struggles.
But in 2007, Cain came into his own, pitching brilliantly for the majority of the season, lowering his walks per game and WHIP in exchange for a dip in his K-rate. Even in losing 16 games (most of which was the fault of insanely low run support and bullpen implosions), he managed to give up just 14 home runs in 200 innings of work to go with his 1.26 WHIP.
While Matt Cain was blowing through Major League lineups with two seasons of experience behind him, Tim Lincecum was making Minor League hitters look like Little Leaguers, throwing up ungodly numbers at ever stop on his road to the Majors.
In 31 innings in AAA Fresno, Lincecum gave up one run, striking out 13.35 per nine innings to go with his microscopic 0.79 WHIP. Much like Matty Cain, he hit some growing pains in the Majors, getting tagged for five runs against a potent Philadelphia lineup in his first start.
Featuring a fastball that touches triple digits to go with his 81 mph, 12-6 curveball, Lincecum settled into his own in his next few starts, including one where he struck out 10 Astros in seven innings of brilliant work.
To be quite frank, Lincecum is a freak of nature with an unorthodox delivery that many believe to be a blown out arm waiting to happen. In reality though, his delivery is as fundamentally sound as it gets, as he generates a majority of his power from his legs, taking stress off his golden arm.
His main adjustment throwing to Major League hitters was developing a second kind of fastball. His 98 mph, two-seam fastball was volatile and hard to keep in the strike zone with the movement he generated. Lincecum added a straighter, slower four-seamer that sits around 94-95 mph along with a changeup that has the potential to be an incredibly effective pitch in coming seasons.
When he learned to mix up his pitches, and slow down his curveball, Lincecum was damn near untouchable, with a few snags here and there when he started walking people.
So now I pose the question to you—who's the better pitcher? Does the fact that Cain (who incidentally is younger) has more experience than Lincecum? Or is Lincecum going to get ahead of the learning curve? Many say that Cain's inning-eater body will keep him healthier, while Lincecum's slight 5'10", 170-lb frame will get him injured. Of course, the counter-argument to this is as simple as looking at Pedro Martinez and Tim Hudson.
Both pitchers represent the core of what this team should be rebuilding around within the next few years, and both undoubtedly have amazing careers ahead of them.
But does one pitcher have an edge on other? Or are they merely just two pitchers who dominate hitters in different, but equally effective manners?