Tale of the Tape: Cain vs. Richard

SAN FRANCISCO -- Before the game starts, the only thing that really matters is who's pitching; everything else is just details.

Friday night's matchup -- oh, by the way I'm in San Francisco and I'll be writing as often as I can think of something worth writing -- features Birthday Boy Clayton Richard versus Matt Cain.

A mismatch, right?

Well, Richard's 13-9 and Cain is 13-10.

Advantage (however tiny): Richard.

But we all know that wins and losses are highly subject to fielders and seeing-eye grounders and gremlins (among other unexplainable creatures). Let's forget about wins and losses (as so many American League Cy Young voters are going to do on Monday) and instead look at ERA.

Cain's practically a full run better: 3.71 versus 2.95. Adjusting (granted, crudely) for their home ballparks, Cain's ERA is roughly 40 percent better than league-average. Richard? League-average. No better, no worse. He's a good pitcher, durable and effective and he nearly always keeps his team in the game. But he's no ace, ERA-wise.

The biggest difference between Richard and Cain, though?

One walk.

Exactly one walk every nine innings.

In 220 innings, Cain has given up 19 home runs and struck out 173 hitters.

In 196 innings, Richard has given up 15 homers and struck out 152 hitters.

Both have given up roughly 0.8 home runs and struck out 7.0 batters per nine innings.

The walks, though? That's the difference.

Cain has walked only 2.5 batters every nine innings. Richard has walked 3.5 per nine innings. Percentage-wise, that's a huge difference.

But of course, game-wise it's a tiny difference. Based on those numbers, we would expect Richard to issue one more walk than Cain Friday night. Except it's practically as likely that Cain will issue one more walk than Richard. All it would take is two or three errant pitches, either way.

The Giants do have everything going for them Friday. They have the better starting pitcher. They have the better hitters. They'll have 42,000 screaming fans on their side for three hours.

It's a funny game, though. You never know what might happen.