Pitcher Spotlight: Trevor Cahill Is Doing It Again

In these Pitcher Spotlight articles, there are specific types of pitchers I like to dive into. Some are new to many and need an introduction, some are struggling as I try to find a solution, while others are exhibiting trends in a small sample that could be stickier than we think moving forward.

Trevor Cahill falls into the latter category. There is plenty that can go wrong over the next few months to prevent Cahill from producing at a high level, though he’s showing signs of being a legitimate Top 50 starter and that’s interesting. It’s the fun stuff.

The story of Cahill is unorthodox. After seasons of mediocre as I elected to give him a nickname akin to his Irish doppelganger Trevor O’Cahill, the spring of 2017 gave us a jolt. A sudden performance spike that magically forced Jeff Sullivan to call him “good,” producing excellent numbers across a seven-game stretch:

Trevor Cahill’s First 7 Games in 2017
IP ERA WHIP K% BB% Whiff % Groundball %
41.1 3.27 1.21 29.5% 9.8% 13.8% 60.2%

Of course, after that final May 13th start, Cahill hit the DL with a shoulder injury and wasn’t the same after. He was traded to the Royals before returning to the field, was as terrible as your high school gym teacher when he finally pitched again, and the collective fantasy community sold him like their old pog collection.

But this isn’t about 2017. This is about 2018 and after getting his call from the minors in April, Cahill has looked not just great, but familiar. Let’s compare each pitch in his repertoire from their 2017 iteration to their current states.

Sinker

Before we dive in I need to preface this by saying baseball stadium camera angels are mostly terrible – AL West in particular. The best I could do for comparison’s sake was San Diego and Texas, but let’s be honest, it’s going to be tough.

Alright, first let’s look at the 2017 version of Cahill’s sinker:

And compare that to 2018’s version:

Trevor Cahill’s Sinker 2017 vs 2018
Year Usage Whiff% Zone% O-Swing% LD%
2017 39.7% 4.7% 48.9% 21.5% 26.5%
2018 34.7% 6.4% 51.1% 21.7% 7.1%

Their movement is roughly the same with Cahill focusing glove side plenty, either as a backdoor option to right-handers or sneaking front-door to lefties. Good movement that helps contribute to his excellent groundball rates and it looks like we’re back where he left off here. What is remarkable – and you’ll see this with each pitch – is how Cahill has been able to limit his line drives allowed with sinkers, but I expect that to stick. Roughly the same results usage, whiff, zone, and chase rates as well (the 2017 numbers are from all of 2017 keep in mind, not just the seven-game stretch), and you’ll see quickly, that’s kinda the point.

Changeup

Here’s the 2017 version:

Here’s the 2018 version:

Trevor Cahill’s Changeup 2017 vs 2018
Year Usage Whiff% Zone% O-Swing% LD%
2017 22.4% 16.8% 44.8% 46.5% 14.3%
2018 28.8% 23.1% 43.6% 54.6% 6.7%

You may be looking at those two GIFs and saying “hey, I think Cahill got more drop on his changeup.” You’d be correct, as he’s added two extra inches in vertical movement, which explains his significant bump in whiff and O-swing rates. He’s also turning to it a little more often as well – not much of a surprise given the depth! – And while these could easily regress against tougher opponents, all we’re chasing here is a repetition of last season. But let’s be honest, who cares what we’re chasing, this has been an elite pitch thus far and that’s wonderful.

Curveball

Here’s the 2017 version:

Here’s the 2018 version:

Trevor Cahill’s Curveball 2017 vs 2018
Year Usage Whiff% Zone% O-Swing% LD%
2017 21.7% 14.9% 32.5% 30.6% 17.5%
2018 19.2% 19.2% 48.1% 18.5% 0.0%

If you read the Sullivan piece earlier in the article, you’ll see that by May 3rd of last season, Cahill’s curveball whiff rate was well over 20%. So while the movement is still there (actually another vertical movement gain, this time of 1.5 inches!), the results are slightly different. You can thank a whopping 15.5 point boost for that, which is simply absurd. Cahill is confidently throwing his curveballs for strikes while getting batters to miss nearly 20% of the time. Even with the small sample, that’s still wild.

Conclusion

Upon comparing 2017 and 2018, the pitches themselves look right back where they used to be, if not improved in some areas (curveball zone rate, changeup whiff rate, added vertical movement). This is good news.

Now for the fun part that is rooted in small samples but I’m going to do it anyway. You saw the numbers from Cahill’s pre-injury 2017 season, now let’s compare that to 2018’s early run:

Trevor Cahill’s 2017 (First 7 Starts) vs 2018
Year IP ERA WHIP K% BB% Whiff % Groundball %
2017 (First 7 starts) 41.1 3.27 1.21 29.5% 9.8% 13.8% 60.2%
2018 18.0 3.00 1.00 27.1% 7.1% 14.0% 55.8%

That’s very similar, albeit over half the innings fewer, but too close for me not to consider that we’re seeing a pitcher healthy and picking up where he left off. Trevor Cahill is doing it again.

I need to mention that Cahill gets the Orioles on Saturday – I’ll be starting him for that – but may hit an obstacle facing the Yankees and Red Sox in his two starts after. What I will tell you is that I want to own Cahill after that Red Sox outing. He will be facing the Mariners on May 22nd and from that start forward, I’m going to be all in on Cahill, save for a trio of major step backs or injury prior. If that means stashing him after the O’s outing or knowing your league well enough to wait until after the Red Sox on May 16th, do whatever you feel is right. Just consider Cahill for that open spot on your roster come the end of May.

We hoped you liked reading Pitcher Spotlight: Trevor Cahill Is Doing It Again by Nick Pollack!

Please support FanGraphs by becoming a member. We publish thousands of articles a year, host multiple podcasts, and have an ever growing database of baseball stats.

FanGraphs does not have a paywall. With your membership, we can continue to offer the content you've come to rely on and add to our unique baseball coverage.

Support FanGraphs




Nick Pollack is the founder of PitcherList.com and has written for Washington Post, Fantasy Pros, and CBS Sports. He can be found making an excessive amount of GIFs on twitter at @PitcherList.

newest oldest most voted
SucramRenrut
Member
Member
SucramRenrut

Is there an MLB wide increase in (certain) pitch movement that might be attributable to the new ball and not necessarily increased skill in respect of some players?