Trevor Cahill over performed in 2010 before regressing substantially in 2011. Which pitcher should the Diamondbacks, who picked him up in a deal with the Athletics (Cahill and Craig Breslow were dealt to the D’backs for Jarrod Parker, Collin Cowgill and Ryan Cook), expect to show himself in 2012?
Let’s get right to the numbers with Cahill.
2010: 18-8, 2.97 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 5.40 K/9, 1.87 K/BB, 1.93 GB/FB
2011: 12-14, 4.16 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, 6.37 K/9, 1.79 K/BB, 2.21 GB/FB
I knew a fall was coming, especially in the ratio categories. Here’s what I wrote on June 10th of 2011. “…I’ll continue to warn you that I’d be surprised if his ERA doesn’t end up being a run higher than it was last year.” How did I know that would occur? It should have been obvious.
Cahill is an extreme ground ball hurler who has generated a 56 percent ground ball rate the past two years. That’s a phenomenal number (in 2010 he was 5th in baseball in GB-rate and he was 6th in 2011 – amongst hurlers that qualified for the ERA title). Clearly he is elite at generating ground balls. This skill, more than any other, should lead to a long and successful career for Cahill. Keeping the ball on the ground covers up a multitude of sins as it takes an awful lot of singles to score a lot of runs versus those hurlers who give up the big fly with frequency.
However, despite that one elite skill, the rest of his “game” isn’t that strong. A solid K arm in the minors, Cahill has posted a strikeout mark of 5.48 per nine innings in his career. Given that the AL average during his career has been 6.88, he is clearly deficient in this measure. One could look at the growth he has shown in his three seasons and have a little hope (4.53, 5.40 and 6.37 per nine), but his 2011 mark was still well below the league average. Cahill also issues free passes a bit too frequently. In his career his BB/9 mark is 3.35 versus the league average of 3.23 (he’s also had two of three seasons above 3.50). As a result, his 1.64 K/BB ratio for his career is awful and light years from the league average of 2.13 the past three years. All the ground balls help to cover up some of these issues, but at the same time you will always struggle for consistency if your K/BB ratio is that far below 2.00.
xFIP kind of tells the story with Cahill. Though his career ERA is 3.91 his xFIP mark is 4.23 for his career. Even the last two seasons when his ERA was 3.58, his xFIP was nearly a half a run higher at 3.95. So what is the going rate in the fantasy game for a guy who wins 14 games with a 3.95 ERA, 1.27 WHIP and 5.90 K/BB ratio (the average of Cahill the last two years)? How much would you pay at the draft table for Mark Buehrle who won 13 games with a 3.59 ERA, 1.30 WHIP an a 4.78 K/9 ratio in 2011?
Trevor Cahill is a better real world pitcher than a fantasy option. As a third starter he’s likely to have a long and successful career – he could be a Derek Lowe type who has a decade of success – but I’d feel best about him being a rock as a 4th starter. In the fantasy game he’ll never be a 3rd or 4th starter. The main reason is that Cahill simply doesn’t miss enough bats (his minor league K numbers just haven’t been sustained in the bigs). We’ve seen how good he can be when everything clicks, but we’ve also seen how things can go in the other direction when that sinker isn’t hitting its spots. Cahill is a solid NL-only arm because he’ll get to face the Padres and Giants a lot, two teams that can’t hit and play in pitcher’s parks, and facing pitchers instead of a DH will also be a boost to his value. Still, I have a hard time envisioning him as anything more than a 5th starter in a standard mixed league because of the lack of punchouts.
By Ray Flowers