Friday night in the Arizona desert, Matt Cain outdueled Daniel Hudson in a 5-2 San Francisco win. Cain pitched six-plus innings, allowing four hits, two walks, hitting a batter, and striking out just three in allowing just one run. Hudson was dinged for a three-run homer in the first inning by Pablo Sandoval, but otherwise pitched well: six innings, six hits, three walks, 10 strikeouts, five runs allowed (four earned).
Cain has been a source of frustration for some sabermetrically inclined observers, and he's usually one of the first outliers to which those who disagree with advanced metrics point. It's not completely unwarranted either; his career ERA is 0.42 lower than his FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) and 0.93 lower than his xFIP (which replaces a pitcher's home run rate with the league average). Since his career now totals 1,100 major-league innings (does it seem like Cain has been around that long?), it's possible that Cain possesses a certain talent that does make him somewhat of an outlier.
Hudson was drafted in the fifth round of the 2008 June draft by the White Sox and sent to Arizona last July for Edwin Jackson. Hudson tore through the minor leagues in under two years, going from A-ball to the majors in 2009, and he posted a strikeout rate of 10.6 per nine innings along with a 4.18 K/BB ratio. While some scouts questioned his future given his flyball tendencies, Hudson has had continued success since reaching the major leagues, posting a 2.84 career ERA that is 0.70 lower than his FIP and 1.06 lower than his xFIP.
Hudson's brief career forms an interesting comparison with Cain. Consider the following table showing their career averages in some slightly-advanced pitching metrics:
Hudson doesn't pitch half his games in the cavern that Cain does, so it's likely the home run rates will increase, and the .249 BABIP (that is also .206 with runners in scoring position) will go up. And while Cain has more pitches in his repertoire than Hudson does, Hudson generates swings-and-misses on almost eight percent of his fastballs, well above the major-league average of six percent (Cain is just above six percent).
Cain isn't a perfect comparison for Hudson, but could serve as a model for watching the latter's career unfold; hopefully, Hudson wouldn't create the same stir among the baseball nerds that Cain has.
Just the same, if Hudson can continue down the path he's started, he could provide a type of justification for what Cain's been doing the last five seasons. And then we could never hear about Matt Cain's xFIP ever again.