Trevor Cahill enjoyed a breakout season in 2010, his second full season in the Major Leagues.  At the surface the numbers are certainly impressive, but there certainly are reasons to be concerned.

Before we get to the reservations, let’s take a look at his statistics:

18 Wins
196.2 Innings
2.97 ERA
1.11 WHIP
118 Strikeouts (5.4 K/9)
63 Walks (2.9 BB/9)
.238 BABIP

The BABIP sticks out like a sore thumb.  In fact, it was the luckiest number in the Major Leagues in 2010, as he was one of just two pitchers to post a mark below .250 (Bronson Arroyo was the other at .246).

The number certainly was advantageous, considering his inability to strike batters out.  He did show significantly more upside in the minor leagues, with a career K/9 of 9.9 over 247.1 innings.  Of course, he also spent just 45.2 of those innings above Single-A, so it’s tough to get a great read on him there.

Prior to the 2009 season Baseball America ranked him as the A’s second best prospect saying the following:

“Cahill works off an 88-92 mph two-seam fastball with outstanding heavy sink and running life, enabling him to rack up both grounders and swinging strikes. He also can touch 94 mph with his four-seamer. He backs up his fastballs with a nasty 79-81 mph knuckle-curve, a swing-and-miss pitch with hard downward movement.

“He also has another tough breaking ball in a low-80s slider with cutter-like action at times. He’s a good athlete with a simple, compact delivery and good balance over the rubber.”

The groundballs were certainly there, at a 56.0 percent clip in 2010.  That is an incredibly impressive mark, putting him fifth in the league.  That certainly will allow him to pitch to a lower BABIP, as does the ballpark he plays in.  Look at his split:

Home: 11 W, 2.18 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 64 K, .241 BABIP over 103.1 innings
Road: 7 W, 3.87 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 54 K, .235 BABIP over 93.1 innings

OK, so he was lucky everywhere.  To put it in better perspective, since 2003 there has been only one other pitcher who qualified for the ERA title who has posted a BABIP below .240 (the Padres’ Chris Young posted a .237 mark in 2006).  There’s no way he maintains it.

His groundball rate helps, making it more likely to post a strong mark.  However, a regression there (and it is an almost certainty to happen) is going to mean a regression across the board, unless he can significantly improve his strikeout rate.

He’s shown the potential there, so there’s hope, and at 22-years old (he’ll turn 23 before the start of the 2011 season), there is reason to believe that he can take another step forward.  You have to think a pitcher who averages 90.4 mph on his fastball can strikeout more then five batters per nine innings.

Still, he’s not going to suddenly become a strikeout an inning guy.  So, even with his elite control, his WHIP is going to take a hit.  Maybe not a huge one, bit he’s not likely to be around 1.10 once again.  In turn, his ERA is going to rise as well.

The truth of the matter is, he should’ve been closer to 4.00 then below 3.00 in 2010, but luck played a tremendous impact in is numbers.  I’m not going to say that he should be avoided, because with his groundball rate and control, there is the potential to be a great low-end option.

The perfect comparable I can have for him is Chien-Ming Wang in 2007.  Just look at the numbers:

3.70 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 4.70 K/9, 2.7 BB/9, 58.4% groundball rate, .293 BABIP

Cahill will likely out produce the strikeout mark, but not necessarily by much.  The rest of the numbers look about spot on, so that’s exactly how I would value him heading into 2011.

He’s got a ton of potential, thanks to his strikeout upside, but until we see it he’s really nothing more then a late round option, just like Wang always was.

What are your thoughts on Cahill?  Am I being overly skeptical of him?  Do you think he will be a fantasy ace in 2011?

Make sure to check out our 2011 projections:

Freese, David
Morrow, Brandon


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