Entering 2005, both Matt Cain and Felix Hernandez were among the top 15 prospects in baseball. Cain was rated #13 in Baseball America's annual Top 100 Prospects list and Hernadez was ranked 2nd. Both were young phenoms on their way to AAA that year before making their major league debuts in the 2nd half of the 2005 season. Cain was the oldest of the pairing at age 20, and Hernandez was 19.
So it was only natural for both of these young prospects to often get compared to one another, and Hernandez usually came with the higher accolades, due to his younger age and better stuff. Hernandez tore up the PCL in '05, going 9-4 with a 2.25 ERA in 19 games (14 starts) with 100 K's in 88 IP and 48 BB, while giving up only 3 HR. Matt Cain fared well for a 20 year old, with a 10-5 record and 4.39 ERA in 26 games (26 starts) with 176 K in 145 2/3 IP. But Cain also walked 73 and gave up 22 gopher balls.
Hernandez would go 4-4 in 12 starts in the majors that year with a 2.67 ERA with very good numbers of 77 K in 84 1/3 IP while allowing only 23 BB, 61 H, and 5 HR.
Cain went 2-1 in 7 starts with a 2.33 ERA and 30 K in 46 1/3 with 24 H, 19 BB, and 4 HR allowed.
Since then Hernandez has been anointed as one of the best pitchers in baseball, while Cain has been mired in obscurity due to the emergence of Tim Lincecum, and because the Giants putrid offense has given him the worst run support in the league since he's entered it in 2005. Both Cain and Hernandez have thrown in exactly 148 games since entering the league in '05, here are their results:
Hernandez (24) 148 Games (all starts), 8 CG, 3 Shutouts, 969 IP, 929 H, 417 R, 374 ER, 86 HR, 312 BB, 868 K, 60 - 45, 1.28 WHIP, .253 BAA, 3.47 ERA
Cain (25) 148 Games, 147 starts, 10 CG, 3 SHO, 940.2 IP, 791 H, 378 R, 361 ER, 80 HR, 371 BB, 780 K, 47 - 55, 1.24 WHIP, .229 BAA, 3.45 ERA
So while Hernandez is proclaimed a true superstar pitcher who has arrived, virtually nobody talks about Matt Cain. Even many casual Giants fans think Cain isn't that good because he "can't win". As you can see by the numbers, Cain stacks up with Hernandez just fine as their peripherals are pretty spot on, with Cain besting Hernandez in some, while Hernandez is better than Cain in others (notably K/BB ratios), but there really hasn't been much that separates the two other than win total.
The saddest part of this is that Cain is 6-35 when the Giants give him 2 runs or less of support, but that Cain's seems to have performed best when he gets no support:
In 51 starts with 0-2 runs of support, Cain has a 3.17 ERA
While Hernandez is at his worst when he gets 6 + runs of support:
Now I'm not trying to say that Cain is better than Hernandez, just that Cain is deserving of more praise, as he certainly is pretty close to King Felix in terms of performance so far in their careers.
And for those that think Cain has an advantage pitching in the NL, and he'd fair worse in the AL: his numbers in the AL are better than Hernandez vs the NL:
Granted the sample is only that of like half a season of work, but I think the whole thing about advantage pitching in one league over the other is minimal if any, and these two would be great in either league. Just thought this was an interesting comparison given the paths each player's career has taken. Neither has disappointed so far, but Hernandez has gotten far more acclaim than Cain has. It's even easier to compare when they've had the same amount of appearances and broke in at about the same time. Plus their ages aren't that far apart either. Thought it would make for a good discussion.