Introducing Daily Dopplers: The Next John Smoltz?

Posted on October 29, 2010

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Welcome to my favorite new little corner of the blog, the Daily Dopplers.

This introductory post is not really a Daily Doppler; I’ll begin with those the day after the World Series. Rather, my intention today is to tell you a bit about how I envision this concept.

Like many a baseball analyst before me, I have long loved to find players who share certain remarkable traits or trends in common. Be it a predilection for clutch hitting or a strong correlation in ground-ball rate, I find it fascinating when two ostensibly different players turn out to share some basic baseball characteristic.

Beginning the day after the Rangers (yes, the Rangers) win the World Series, I will be posting once a day on this theme. Each day, my approach and intent may vary: Sometimes, I will use two players to perform an instructive analysis on who will improve or regress in 2011. At other points, I will surprise you by comparing two men who seem to be utter opposites. At still other times, I will use the comparisons to make cases for or against players for the Hall of Fame, or simply for the fun of talking about baseball history. I can think of no other approaches I might take at the moment, but reserve the right to do it if I feel like it later.

Again, the posts will take on a differnet format at the end of the Fall Classic, but here’s a fun little comparison in honor of playoff aces:

John Smoltz, through age 25 season:

979.0 IP

57-54 record

3.50 ERA

2.10 SO/BB ratio

69.7 IP in postseason

1.94 postseason ERA

2.71 postseason SO/BB ratio

Matt Cain, through age 25 season:

1095.7 IP

57-62 record

3.45 ERA

2.21 SO/BB ratio

21.3 IP in postseason

0.00 postseason ERA

1.86 postseason SO/BB ratio

Look, no one is saying Matt Cain is the next John Smoltz… although you would be pretty foolish to squash the notion out of hand. The similarities go beyond the numbers: Each man can dominate at times, but struggles when they get wild. Smoltz pitched in the shadow of teammate Tom Glavine in those early days, especially when Glavine won the Cy Young award in 1991. Cain has endured the same degree of relative obscurity because of Tim Lincecum, who has won the last two Cy Young awards and may yet get another one down the road.

In the playoffs, however, neither could be overshadowed. Pitching around middling peripherals–Cain has forgotten how to strike people out since he reached the playoffs, while Smoltz could not find the plate at times–and reputations as second starters, each became an October hero in their own right. Smoltz, of course, racked up 20.3 IP in the 1992 NLCS alone, which makes all his nunbers look bigger and brighter than Cain’s, but Cain has shined in his limited opportunity.

Smoltz’s career took off once he learned to control his secondary pitches, and his strikeout-to-walk ratio jumped to 2.44 by the time he was 29 and won his own Cy Young. Cain could well do the same thing. Does he have closer stuff, should he ever blow out his elbow? Probably not. But Cain can have the same sort of career as Smoltz until he is at least 32, by which time Smoltz had won 157 games and posted a 2.71 whiff-to-walk ratio.

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