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Scouting Pitchers: Matt Cain and Chris R. Young

James Benkard

James Benkard writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

Matt Cain and Chris R. Young

Let's look at two big #2 starters. Cain has been billed as the Giants' future ace since he hit full-season ball in 2004. Poor run support in 2007 (7-16, 3.65) tested him, and this will continue as the Giants rebuild. Young has found a home in spacious Petco Park, where he had a 1.69 ERA last year (4.52 on the road). It should be noted that these numbers were reversed in 2006, so Young is hardly a big-park wonder.

I scout these pitchers personally, recording their velocity, pitch selection and motions by watching their games. Please feel free to post your comments below on these columns. I use the standard 20-80 scouting scale to rate pitchers. These velocities are suggestive and not determinant of a pitch's rating. For example, a 75 MPH curveball might rank as a 60 because of its movement and/or deception.

80 Outstanding (96+ MPH fastball, 88+ MPH slider, 82 MPH curveball)
70 Well above average (94-95 FB, 86-87 MPH SL, 80-81 MPH CB)
60 Above average (92-93 MPH FB, 84-85 MPH SL, 78-79 MPH CB)
50 Average (89-91 MPH FB, 82-84 MPH SL, 75-77 MPH CB)
40 Below average (86-88 MPH FB, 79-81 MPH SL, 73-75 MPH CB)
30 Well below average (83-85 MPH FB, 76-78 MPH SL, 71-72 MPH CB)
20 Poor (80-82 MPH FB, 71-75 MPH SL, 69-70 MPH CB)

San Francisco took the right-handed Cain (6-3, 234, Born 10/1/1984) as their first-round pick of the 2002 draft from a Memphis-area high school. A stress fracture in his pitching elbow slowed him in 2003, but Cain took off in 2004 (13-5, 2.56 between Single- and Double-A) and has been healthy since. He pitched most of 2005 in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League at 20. Cain made his major league debut on August 29th, 2005 and threw a two-hitter at the Cubs 11 days later.

Cain experienced some growing pains early in 2006 as he sported a 7.04 ERA into mid-May. A one-hit shutout of the A's on May 21st and a no-hitter into the eighth inning against the Angels on June 19th put him back on track. Cain's 3.26 second half-ERA in 2006 paved the way for 2007, when he led the Giants with 200 innings and 163 strikeouts. He struggled mainly in the early innings, with a 4.81 ERA in his first 45 pitches and 2.92 afterwards.

Matt Cain: (G/F 0.93)

		Rating:  %Thrown:
Fastball		70		60
Curveball	50		10
Slider		60		20
Changeup	60		10
Control		55
Delivery	50
Composure	50

Cain has a "rising" 91-96 MPH four-seam fastball, and appears to throw an 88-89 MPH cutter now and then. His fastball has good movement, and when he is in rhythm he commands it well as he moves it around. Cain's fastball is hard for batters to lay off when it's up in the zone, and he also has a knack for pitching to a hitter's weakness. Cain gets his share of strikeouts but can also stay aggressive with two strikes and settle for an easy out.

Cain uses his 83-87 MPH slider as a good second pitch, and mixes in a 76-81 MPH curve and a surprisingly good 86-89 MPH changeup. His curveball has nice movement but ranks as just average because he often hangs it. Cain's slider and change are more effective. He throws his changeup harder than most pitchers', creating some deception when he throws it well. Cain appears confident and even cocky on the mound, and obviously has the killer instinct to finish off games.

Cain's delivery is fundamentally sound but appears a little stiff and coiled. His body stops his arm after he releases the ball, hinting at future arm problems. I would chalk up his early-inning problems last year to a young power pitcher harnessing his great fastball and learning to mix his pitches. Cain sometimes needs to be hurt on his fastball before he mixes in his breaking stuff. While he sometimes doles out a strategic walk to a tough hitter, this can take him out of his rhythm.

Cain is an intriguing young power pitcher who stands to win a lot of games on a good team. Whether the Giants will provide him with one is still an open question.


The right-handed Chris Young (6-10, 260, Born 5/25/1979) was drafted by Pittsburgh with a third-round pick in 2000 out of Princeton, where he was a star basketball player. Young pitched well in his first full season as a rotation starter, going 11-9, 3.11 in the Sally League in 2002. Montreal had him for 2003, when he made it to Double-A, and Texas acquired him before the 2004 season. Young made his big league debut that August and won 12 games in his rookie season in 2005, finishing second to Scott Kazmir among all rookies with 137 strikeouts. The Rangers then dealt him to San Diego.

Young had good success in 2006 as he led the league in opposition batting average (.206), an achievement he repeated in 2007 (.192). He has won just 20 games for the Padres, as nagging injuries have limited him to an average of 176 innings each year. In 2006, Young had thumb, foot, shoulder and back problems. Last year, he was injury-free until an oblique strain sidelined him in late July. At the time, Young had allowed just 11 earned runs in his previous 15 starts. He had been voted onto the All-Star team by the fans and was a Cy Young candidate.

Chris R. Young: (G/F 0.57)

		Rating:  %Thrown:
Fastball		60		65
Curveball	55		20		
Slider		50		10
Changeup	55		  5
Control		60
Delivery	50
Composure	60

Young's fastball ranges from 86-93 MPH but is most often 89-90. It is more effective than its velocity because he uses his height to good advantage. Young hides the ball well and distracts the hitter by waving his glove at the hitter before releasing the ball. He has a straight- or short-armed delivery, but comes over the top and repeats his motion well. Batters have a hard time identifying his pitches, picking up the ball, and centering it. When he is on, Young mows down lineups with a succession of pop-ups and weak fly balls.

Like Cain, Young relies on his fastball until he is in trouble. He will throw his 77-80 MPH curveball 10-15% before he's hit, and 25% afterwards. His curve has some nice late movement, and hitters are often caught off guard by it. Young also has a 79-81 MPH slider that is hard to tell apart from his curve, and a 77-79 MPH changeup. Young moves the ball in and out well, and his fastball has better vertical than horizontal movement.

Young's biggest weakness is controlling the running game. Over the past two years, base stealers are 85 for 89 against him, including a perfect 44 for 44 in 2007. This hasn't been as big a problem as it could be, yet he and the Padres need to address it. Josh Bard allowed a major-league-worst 121 steals in 2007 and is slated to start again in 2008. Like most pitchers, Young starts to miss his location when he tires. This is a factor when he aims inside and misses over the plate, as he then becomes quite hittable. As a flyball pitcher, he has fewer options to escape big innings.

Young worked out in the offseason with Keith Kleven, the physical therapist for Tiger Woods and Greg Maddux. Improved emphasis on a slide-step, mixing his pitches more and staying healthy could push him over 200 innings and 15 wins.

In two weeks: AL East: Scott Kazmir and A.J. Burnett


Article first appeared 2/26/08

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