In some ways, my favorite aspect of this interview is not in the exact content but rather in my apparently "beating the odds." When I first got down to the dugout, Susan Slusser said, "I heard you've got 10 minutes with Cahill," and when I said yes she replied, "I hope you brought a lot of questions." "He's not real chatty?" I asked. "Nope."
Then I saw Jane Lee, who said, "You have 10 minutes with Cahill? You'll only need 3." That bad, so bad that everyone felt compelled to warn me of the awkward doom that lay ahead?
Even Kristy Fick, who arranged the interview for me, seemed keen to know if I had prepared a lot of questions and I just said, "Yeah, I think I'll be fine," opting not to admit I had only scribbled 5 phrases like "FIP" and "White Rabbit" on the back of my press credential to remind me of topics I wanted to cover.
Well, the interview is 20 minutes long. 15 minutes in, I said, "I think I've used my allotted time with you," and Cahill said, "It doesn't matter," and we continued. I was the one who stopped the interview after 20 minutes when I saw that Kristy Fick was pacing a bit and I wanted to make sure I didn't overstay my welcome.
So to Sluss, Jane, Kristy, and others, I say, "Ha! Ye of little faith!" To Cahill, a genuinely nice, thoughtful, and articulate guy, I say thank you for being so generous with your time. And to AN, I just say that I hope you enjoy this two-part chat with the only baby-faced pterodactyl in all of baseball.
Part I, running today (after the jump), is all about Trevor Cahill, the pitcher. Part II, running tomorrow, is mostly about Trevor Cahill, the guy.
Nico: This is for Athletics Nation, and you're a strangely controversial figure on there because you keep outperforming what the predictive statistics say you should be able to do. Partly because you don't strike out a lot of guys, you put a lot of balls in play. So one of the things I was interested in trying to find out is, how aware you make yourself of the stats out there that say, "Here's what you need to do to continue that success. Do you look at the stats, like "Fielding Independent Pitching" --
Cahill: Naw. I don't know anybody that does, because it doesn't really affect how you're gonna pitch. I go out there. I'm trying to get a weak ground ball. I'm a sinker guy, not a strikeout guy, so my goal is to go keep it in the game, get a lot of early action. I'm not a guy -- like if I get 0-2 or something, I don't have Gio's curveball or Brett's slider, where I can just punch ‘em out. I'm trying to locate sinker and if he takes it for a strike, good, and if he swings hopefully he just hits a weak ground ball, or a chopper to shortstop or second base or something.
Nico: Do you feel that you have any influence over how hard the ground balls are hit off you?
Cahill: Yeah, definitely. If you make a good pitch, if you set a guy up, like if I throw a lot of fastballs and then throw a good changeup down in the zone, I'd like to think he's not gonna hit it as hard as if he's looking for a changeup and just gets on top of it, or vice-versa. So yeah, definitely. Obviously, sometimes, the weaker ground balls are gonna - they'll beat it out - but if you're going up against a big power guy you're gonna want to get a weak ground ball.
Nico: So, what would be the summary of the things you do to try to intentionally induce weak contact, versus solid contact?
Cahill: Basically, keep the ball low in the zone, on the corners, just like everybody else does, I guess. Change speeds - I change speeds a lot, like 2-0, if I threw him two fastballs at 90MPH, I might take off and throw an 85MPH sinker, and hopefully, he sees it and gets out in front of it a little bit and hits the ball to 2B.
Nico: Can you explain actually, for fans who don't know, what are the things you physically do when you throw the "BP (batting practice) fastball" -- you know, to add and subtract?
Cahill: I move my thumb up a little bit on the ball, and mostly I just don't try and throw it as hard -- just kinda throw like it was "bullpen": Just kinda throw it and let the movement work. It's not like I grip it a whole lot different...(laughs) I just don't throw it as hard.
Nico: So how do you keep the same arm speed? It has to always look the same to the hitter, right?
Cahill: Yeah, I think if I was throwing 80MPH or 78MPH it would look a lot different. But the difference between throwing -- I don't think they're gonna pick up 86MPH vs. if I throw a fastball 90MPH. It's just such a slick difference; they're having a hard enough time trying to hit a small ball and I don't think they're gonna notice the arm speed a whole lot.
Nico: It's probably important to remember that -- that the pitcher succeeds most of the time. I mean, when you're going out, trying to have confidence against a tough hitter. What are the things that you do to psych yourself up when you're in a bad situation?
Cahill: I just stay loose most of the time; I try to joke around. I'm not a guy that feeds off of my adrenaline, I'm a guy that changes speeds. So I'm not gonna be able to get super pumped up and if I start trying to throw too hard, I'm gonna do worse because I'll leave the ball up, my ball won't move as much. So I have to be as relaxed as possible, and just try to have fun.
Nico: They usually say that sinkerballers, if anything, are better when they're tired. Have you found that when you're really fresh, or when you're really tired, there's a difference?
Cahill: They say that. Sometimes, definitely as far as the strikeouts go, if I'm tired or it's late in the game, or it's just one of those days where you don't feel you have your velocity, sometimes I do well, I get lot of ground balls but I find I'm not striking a lot of guys out. It's usually when I feel crisp, that's when I feel I can really put a guy away, when I'm ahead in the count. It's certainly a good thing that you have your movement even when you're tired, so I guess that's one of the good things about being a sinkerballer.
Nico: One of things I think is kind of cool about your path is it seems like you're really comfortable experimenting with different pitches, and throwing a bullpen saying, "Hey let's try..." I mean, you've already gone knuckle-curve to slider to curve -- what are the things you're most focused on, in terms of your repertoire and your abilities going forward, if you want to sustain the success instead of stagnating?
Cahill: I think just obviously fastball command. I was just talking to the pitching coach (Ron Romanick) today about it, and we were talking about just getting my fastball command and letting all the other stuff come off that, because I feel if I have my command on my fastball down I give myself a fighting shot and then I can work on the other stuff. But first things first: Get the fastball working both sides of the plate and then obviously next I'd start working on my changeup, and then just kind of go from there. It's just one of those foundation things, you've got to get that down especially here in the spring. I mean we had a couple bullpen sessions where we just threw fastballs to one side of the plate and the next day we did fastball/changeup.
Nico: Are you interested in expanding your repertoire, or do you have the repertoire you think you want to have for your career?
Cahill: No, I mean today I was throwing (hesitates)...a different pitch and (laughs, knowing I want to know what pitch and that he almost said it) and just the pitching coach won't allow it. ("Really?") Yeah, it's one of those things -- guys always try to work on stuff, and I think sometimes I get carried away and it kind of takes away from me working on what I should be working on. It's one of those things also that's kinda fun and gives you something to look forward to, "Oh I can't wait to go try out my new pitch today."
Nico: Well, you don't want to be 47 and suddenly realize, "I had this great pitch that I never used."
Cahill: Yeah, I mean, that's the thing. I think maybe if I start getting in trouble I can start experimenting with a different curve ball or cutter, or different kind of slider, or whatever, but right now especially in spring training I'm just trying to get the fundamentals down: the fastball/changeup command, worked on my curveball last start, and just kind of go from there.
Stay Part II runs Thursday at 4:30pm...