Now that we have several appearances worth of information to examine, this seems like a good time to take a brief look at some of the high-profile rookie pitchers in the majors this spring. How are Anderson, Porcello, Cahill et. al faring so far? After taking a peek at Porcello and Perry last time around, let’s now shift our focus out West to Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill.
The Oakland Athletics are off to an inauspicious start in 2009. While fortunately residing in a division where a mid-80’s win total may well get the job done, the A’s have nonetheless collectively hit like a team of evil Jose Vidro doppelgangers (dead-last in wOBA at .288, while posting an MLB-worst .322 SLG% that’s 49 points lower than 29th-ranked Cincinnati).
While the bats have been slack, the pitching hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire thus far either: Oakland’s starters have compiled a 5.06 FIP, 24th in the majors. Two of the culprits in the early going are Anderson and Cahill, whose rookie years have gotten off to bumpy starts.
Anderson (profiled here) has a 5.24 FIP in 23.1 frames. The 6-4 lefty has displayed his deep four-pitch mix, with a 91 MPH fastball (thrown 55.2% of the time), a 82.7 MPH slider (29.8%), a 74.7 MPH curve (4.4%) and a 83.3 MPH changeup (10.7%).
Looking at Anderson’s Pitch F/X data, you can see that his heater has slightly more tailing action in on lefties than most southpaw fastballs (7.4 inches, compared to the 6.5 inch average for LH). His slider has shown unusual depth: the pitch has -3.4 inches of vertical movement (meaning that the pitch drops 3.4 inches more than a ball thrown without spin). For comparison, the MLB average for lefty sliders is positive 1.8 inches.
To this point, however, that four-pitch assortment hasn’t yielded many swings and misses. Anderson has 14 K’s (5.4 per nine innings), while his contact percentage (88.6%) is well above the 80.6% MLB average.
On the positive side, the 21 year-old has continued a career-long trend of inducing grounders (54.5 GB%), and his control hasn’t been too shabby (3.09 BB/9). His FIP might look kind of ugly, but that’s partially the product of an elevated home run rate (1.54 HR/9) and HR/fly ball figure (13.8 HR/FB%- the average tends to hover around 11%).
Perhaps Anderson hasn’t hit the ground running, but he has held his own as a rookie whose only upper-level experience in the minors includes 31 innings at AA and a playoff stint with AAA Sacramento.
While Anderson has run into some occasional trouble, Trevor Cahill has found the strike zone about as often as A’s hitters have found themselves on base: it’s a rare occurrence. Oakland’s other prized pitching prospect (examined in more detail here) has dished out free passes like they were bobble head give-aways, walking 15 batters in 20 innings of work. Couple that lack of precision with just 7 K’s, and you have the recipe for a nasty 6.33 FIP.
While Cahill also features a fastball, slider, curve and a change, he has chosen to work almost exclusively with his cheese. Thrown at an average of 88 MPH, Cahill has thrown his fastball 85.8% of the time. That’s the third-highest rate in the majors, trailing only sinkerballer Aaron Cook and Bartolo Colon. Cahill’s other offerings have made just brief cameos: a 82.9 MPH slider (thrown 4.1%), a 78.4 MPH curve (2.2%) and a 78 MPH changeup (7.9%).
Given the 21 year-old’s difficulty in placing his sinker with the zone, opposing hitters have chosen to lay off Cahill’s pitches for the most part. Cahill is garnering swings on pitches thrown outside of the strike zone just 19.8% of the time, below the 24.3% MLB average. Overall, opponents have swung at Cahill’s stuff 40.5% of the time (44.5% MLB average).
Oakland’s dynamic duo might not be off to a rousing start, but they remain highly promising young arms who have been forced to make quite the dramatic leap in competition and skill. Anderson and Cahill should be near the top of any keeper league rankings for young starters.
A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at firstname.lastname@example.org and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.