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Why I Believe in Trevor Cahill

April 8, 2011

Trevor Cahill‘s 2010 season looked fantastic on the back of a baseball card, 18-8, 2.97 ERA what wasn’t to love? Well in those statistics not on the back of said card, his 5.4 K/9 rate didn’t inspire many and in large part it helped contribute to a 4.19 FIP, a rather large discrepancy from those gleaming numbers his ERA and W-L produced, and all in all he posted a very modest 2.2 WAR. Everyone spoke at length about how Cahill was due for a regression, how his K/9 numbers would come back to haunt him, how the A’s vaunted defense came to his rescue, and Trevor Cahill came out to tell all of we were wrong.

Through the first week of the season the A’s defense hasn’t been vaunted but severely flawed, and his K/9 numbers instead of coming back to haunt him are up to 10.7 K/9 nearly doubling his 2011 number. Do I expect Cahill to stay at 10.7 K/9? Absolutely not, but do I think he could significantly improve on his 5.4 K/9? Yes, because he has changed the way he pitched. If everything stayed the same I would chalk it up to luck, but it hasn’t been the same, Cahill has changed his approach.

Year % Curveballs K/9









The curveball. Cahill used to use it merely as a “look at this” type pitch, but now he has effectively integrated it into his repertoire and look at the results. I am not going to kid anyone here and assume the 10.66 continues, and nor do I think that two starts tell a season, but it is a noticeable change in approach that pays early dividends. It also shows that Cahill – a tinkerer – is finding something that is working. The truth is, as this good Fangraphs article explained Cahill isn’t using this to get strikeouts, the author – of whom I am a big fan of – Chris Cwik writes about his first start of the season,

“Of his eight strikeouts, only two of them came via the curve. Cahill was given the inside corner vs lefties most of the night, and capitalized by getting four called strikeouts with his sinker. The other two strikeouts came via Cahill’s changeup. So, if Cahill didn’t utilize the curve as his strikeout pitch, what effect did it have during the game?

The main culprit behind his high pitch count may have been defensive misplays that extended innings, but Cahill’s curve may have contributed to his lack of efficiency as well. Out of the 24 curves thrown by Cahill, 6 were balls, 8 were strikes, 7 were fouled off, 2 led to hits, and 1 led to an out in the field.”

While Chris argues that the use of the curve didn’t contribute to his high strikeout rate, I beg to differ. Just because it was not the out pitch doesn’t mean it didn’t help him out. One of the reasons changing speeds is so effective is because hitters need to guard against a fastball whizzing by them, while looking for some slow change up and not getting ahead of themselves. Cahill’s curve helps him in this regard. The average speed of his curve this season is 79.1 mph, his fastball is 90.2. This pitch being used more often, provides a good change of speeds and helps set up other pitches. So it doesn’t matter simply that this pitch isn’t the out-pitch, but this pitch sets up the out-pitch to potentially make it better. It isn’t mere coincidence Cahill’s strikeout numbers are up, it is due to the curve.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. elmaquino permalink
    April 9, 2011 6:04 pm

    maybe i read that wrong at the beginning, but are you saying he had a not-amazing year in 2010???

    • April 9, 2011 7:41 pm

      Trevor Cahill did have an amazing year. But if he did the same thing this year, realistically the results would have been clearly different because his defense independent statistics indicate he was very lucky. So he needed to change how he pitched, or eventually his luck would change. Thus far he has changed the way he pitched.

      • elmaquino permalink
        April 10, 2011 9:52 am

        Yeah, I guess his fielders aren’t helpin him out much this year.

      • April 10, 2011 10:26 am

        Well more so, the problem is he isn’t doing much to regulate outs on his own end. If he strikes out more players it doesn’t matter what type of defense you have of course. This year that’s exactly what thus far has happened, he has changed the way he has pitched to a degree, employing the curveball more and now is racking up K’s taking the decision out of the defense’s hands and putting the responsibility on him.


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