Is John Maine the next David Cone? Before you laugh me out of the room, there are both statistical and anecdotal similarities between the two.
After the 1986 season, David Cone was traded from the Kansas City Royals to Mets for backup catcher Ed Hearn, in what would eventually go down as one of the most favorable trades in Mets history. Hearn would go on to have no impact for the Royals in the two injury riddled seasons he was with the team. Cone was not overly impressive in his first two big league stints. In 1986, he had a cup of coffee with the Royals and posted a stat line of: 11 appearances, 22.7 innings, 5.56 ERA, and a 21/13 K/BB ratio. In 1987, with the Mets, Cone had a much larger workload. In 99.3 innings, Cone went 5-6 with a 3.71 ERA (102 ERA+), a 68/44 K/BB ratio, and a 1.31 WHIP.
Now let's look at the beginning of John Maine's career. While many feel that Maine was a the "throw in" in the Jorge Julio-Kris Benson deal, Omar Minaya has stated multiple times that the organization liked Maine's stuff and minor league credentials (Maine was near the top in minor league strikeouts in 2003) and was an important part of the deal. In the book "The Bad Guys Won" Mets management had similar feelings about Cone. Much like the Cone deal, the trade with the Orioles has worked out decisively in the Mets favor. Julio was flipped for a very effective El Duque and Maine has emerged as a front of the rotation starter, while Benson is out for the season with arm surgery.
Like Cone, Maine's first legitimate call up to the big leagues did not go well. In 2005, in 40 innings of work Maine posted a 6.30 ERA and 24/24 K/BB ratio. Again, like Cone, the change of scenery to beautiful Flushing did him well as he put up this stat line: 90 innings, 6-5, 3.60 ERA (120 ERA+), and a 71/33 K/BB ratio. This is just eerily similar to Cone's first year with the Mets.
Cone's 1988 and Maine's 2007 (thus far) further exhibit statistical similarities. In 1988, Cone went 20-3 with a 2.22 ERA (145 ERA+), a 1.12 WHIP, and rates of 3.2 BB/9 and 8.6 K/9. This year, Maine is on pace for a record of 15-8 and will likely fall short of Cone's 20-3 mark (which is no big deal since win-loss record is often team determinative and not a great stat for statistical comparisons anyway). His ERA and WHIP are just slightly higher than Cone's 1988 rates as Maine's ERA currently sits at a svelte 2.87 (142 ERA+) and his WHIP is 1.20. His BB/9 rate is 3.2- exactly the same as Cone's and he is averaging just 1.4 strikeouts less over 9 innings than Cone did.
Having watched both pitchers, I know that Cone had better stuff than Maine, but Maine has good late movement on his fastball which he generally spots well and his secondary stuff is getting better, thus making his fastball even more effective. Do I think he is as good as Cone? I'm not willing to place Maine on that pantheon yet, but their early career development is too similar to ignore.