Cain he do it? It will be interesting...
Here's the puzzle pieces as I see them pointing to him doing really well in the future. First of all, he's freaking 20 years old (21 on Oct. 1st) and dominating major league hitters. That takes a special type of ballplayer to do that. And not just dominating, but he threw a 2 hitter, striking out 8, only 4 total batters got on base (one on pass ball on a third strike enabling him to get on 1B), and Cain faced 4 total batters over the minimum, in just his third MLB start.
Needless to say, the number of pitchers who have ever had a complete game 2 hitter in their careers is, I would guess, a rather small percent of the total number of pitchers ever. And he did it in his third start. Remember all the big deal about when Jerome Williams got his first complete game in his middle of his first season against the A's? Took Cain three starts. Then again, in the 50's, Bobo Holloman threw a no-hitter in his first start (though he had relieved earlier) and never amounted to anything in his career, so I agree, you never know.
Another thing is the difference between what Cain is doing in the majors versus what he did in the minors. Frankly, he is doing much better than what he showed in the minors, in particular, his first year in AAA this season. In addition, he had his first professional complete game in the two-hitter as well after over a couple of years as a professional. How could he do that?
I think the Giants have been holding him back. For one thing, after his elbow problem in his first season, the Giants shut him down and probably put him on a strict pitch count after that in the minors. There was no need to stretch him out by getting a complete game. In addition, last year, when the Giants got Alfredo Simon from the Phillies, they reportedly overhauled his off-speed pitches (according to a past Future Forty interview) and this made him more hittable in the short run. So the Giants are not against experimenting in-season with a pitcher and letting him compile poor stats in the process as long as he is learning.
I suspect that the Giants and/or Cain devoted his past two seasons towards working on his other pitches as he already had a plus fastball and a curve ball that was pretty good as well. Thus his stats won't reflect how good he really is, kind of like how some veteran pitchers get hit around in spring training because they are trying out new pitches. Only he seemingly has the maturity to understand that and not let it affect his pitching or affect his confidence.
He has shown something with every start he has had thus far. For his two hitter, it is not like the Cubs have some lame road offense. The Cubs are 6th in the NL, out of 16 teams, in total runs scored. They are third in batting average, tied for 8th in OBP, and leads the league in Slugging Percentage and OPS. Plus they are tied for first in HR on the road. (Stats as of today) And Cain shut them down.
Not only did he shut them down, he faced them down in the 9th inning. He gave them the tying run at first base via the single, then proceeded to get out of the inning, all on one pitch each batter, one out per pitch. Most amazingly was how he approached Derrek Lee, probably the major competitor to Albert Pujols for MVP this season and owner of 42 homers, who had hit a homer earlier in the game, the only run Cain had given up all game. Most pitchers would have nibbled at the plate and not give Lee anything good to swing at. Young pitchers would have been nervous and maybe make a mistake in pitching around Lee. Cain challenged him and threw a strike and got him to pop up the ball for an easy out.
In his previous start, he shut down the Arizona D-backs at their home, which has historically been a hitter's park. The D-backs home stats don't rank high this year relative to other teams, and I cannot locate my 2005 Bill James Guidebook but his 2004 book list their park for the following stats at the following indices (where 100 is league average): AVG - 107; Runs - 126; HR - 108. That's for 2003. In addition, baseball-reference.com listed their batting park factor from the beginning in 1998 as over 100 except for 1999. It had been particularly offensive minded from 2001 to 2003 - 106, 108, 111 - before dipping to 103 in 2004; it was 102 in 2000 in addition. According to Baseball Prospectus 2005, the D-backs park factor was 1049 in 2002, 1057 in 2003, 1051 in 2004, where 1000 is average in the league. So the BOB has been a hot bed of offense relative to the rest of the league and, again, Cain shut them down, going 7 IP with 3 hits, 1 walk, 4 strikeouts, and 1 run/ER, gaining his first career MLB win.
Even in his first game, despite his being amped affecting his breaking pitches, he was acting like a veteran. The most obvious example was the 11 pitch battle he had with Todd Helton, a great hitter, an experienced vet. And yet he didn't let that faze him in the least, he continued to battle until he got him out. Other youngsters would get upset that the batter was fouling off his best pitches and lose concentration, but Cain battled and then got him out.
Maturity has been a word that I noticed have been bandied about a lot the past few years about Giants pitching prospects, so I suspect that the same source is feeding this to the news writers and especially wants to make that point about what the Giants are looking for. Of course, like the boy who cried wolf, the message gets deadened when the prospects turn out to be mere mortals. However, Cain does seem mature, he does seem like the real thing.
In the interviews I've heard, he has impressed me greatly, especially for a 20 year old who didn't go to college. He spoke very well, unlike Jack Clark, who added a "you know" as a separator and punctuation, you know, of, you know, words, you know. He exhibited a very mature attitude and has a large amount of self-awareness and confidence, something some 30 year olds don't have, let alone a 20 year old.
He actually understood that he would be nervous and perhaps overamped in his first start, and he accepted that, but otherwise was unfazed by the whole thing. That is maturity. He stated that he is focused on learning with every start, as much as possible, and building on his confidence. Meanwhile Tomko has finally figured out something that helps him and needs to write it down so that he won't forget it; Tomko is only 32 years old. Cain is also humble, not in awe of what he can do nor is he boastful - he gave a lot of credit to Mike Matheny in the interview I heard.
Why, even his voice sounds mature. I've been trying to figure out whose voice he reminds me of and I think I finally just figured it out: it sounds a little like Roger Craig's hum baby drawl. He is very soft spoken, he doesn't put on any airs, he is not boastful or arrogant, he is just a regular guy who just happens to throw the ball with 95+ MPH velocity and can strike out a lot of guys.
What will be interesting is how he will respond tomorrow. He has done very well so far, and with some pretty strong pressure already, first with his first MLB start, then in his third start, outduels the Giants former phenom and stops a three game losing streak plus pitches a game that would be the career highlight of at least 95% of all the major league pitchers there ever were. Plus each start has been an improvement on the last.
This game is even more critical than the last. After today's victory, the Giants are now back by 5 games, tied with the D-gers. With a victory tomorrow, the Giants climb to within 4 games of the Padres, re-igniting some hope that the Giants will get back into the playoff race for the NL West; with a loss, the Giants hopes of making the playoffs is pretty much lost as well, as that would put them 6 games behind with only 18 games left to play. Plus he won't have the luxury of having Bonds in the lineup, it has already been announced that he would, as was his custom in recent years, sit out an afternoon game after a night game, though one would presume that he should be able to handle a pinch hitting assignment. So we should get a better gauge of how big his cajones are with this start; thus far, he has shown that he has pretty big ones.
Go Cain! Go Giants!