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Trevor Cahill: From Castoff To Mainstay In 24 Innings?

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Baltimore Orioles v Oakland Athletics
“You can’t spell ‘pterodactyl’ without ... spell check!”
Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The last time we saw something like this it was Rich Hill, signing by the A’s on the basis of 29 spectacular innings over 4 late season starts for the Red Sox. Hill’s sudden resurgence — he hadn’t really done much of anything for 8 years prior — was real and the A’s had plucked an ace out of thin air.

Of course there’s a reason front offices don’t generally make decisions based on 4 starts, or 30 at bats, or a handful of defensive plays. Small samples tend to zoom in too far to see the bigger picture of ebbs and flows, hot and cold, mirages often fueled by wishful thinking.

Signed to a $1.5M deal at the end of a spring training in which a bevy of teams in search of starting pitching shrugged their shoulders at him, Trevor Cahill has taken the league by storm for 4 starts: 24 IP, 31 K, 6 BB, and a 2.25 ERA. Thing about is that there isn’t anything fluky about it.

Cahill has unleashed a killer changeup not before seen from the A’s former 2nd round pick. Not only has he been able to consistently command it, this changeup has what Khris Davis accurately described as “Bugs Bunny action” diving down and away from a left-handed batter much like a screwball only with more dramatic movement. The Cahill who toiled in his 20s featured a sinker/knuckle curve combination in which his changeup was a serviceable, but distant third, selection. Now he is throwing it 30% of the time and it is a great “swing and miss pitch”. Fangraphs lists Cahill’s changeup as having a pitch value of 6.9 and I can honestly say that I have no idea what this means! Except that it’s very good. I mean my lasagna only rates a 5.4 and people love my lasagna so that should put things in perspective.

Cahill’s sinker has been impressive as well, sitting at 93MPH and diving late at the knees. Last night Cahill struck out Trey Mancini to start the game by unleashing a 93MPH sinker that looked like a “power splitter”. With average velocity of 93.1MPH and the kind of movement Kendall Graveman is trying to recapture, Cahill’s sinker is a “real deal” pitch worthy of the front of a rotation.

Only Cahill’s breaking pitches have been a bit inconsistent, hanging and sent deep into the night by Robinson Chirinos and George Springer, but more often fooling batters and complementing the sinker and changeup nicely. Cahill is throwing both the knuckle curve and a sharp slider, giving him a true 4-pitch arsenal that has kept hitters off balance and confused.

Yes, it’s only 4 starts and one has to be sobered by the reality that Cahill is coming off a shoulder injury that rendered him utterly ineffective for the Royals the second half of 2017. However, two other realities enter the picture to create intrigue:

- Moving forward, absent A.J. Puk and Jharel Cotton through at least mid-2019, with Grant Holmes on the shelf indefinitely due to his own shoulder maladies, and with Kendall Graveman just trying to get his mojo back in AAA, the A’s are in search of starting pitching stability at the front of their rotation.

- Remarkably, Cahill is just 30 years old. (If you’re wondering how that’s possible, Cahill was drafted out of high school at age 19 and had just turned 21 when he debuted in the big leagues 9 seasons ago.)

In other words, to compete going forward the A’s just need a really solid starting pitcher or two to complement a talented group of position players who are either in Oakland or soon on their way, and Cahill is not some grizzled and aging veteran trying to rescue his career as his stuff fades. In fact, Cahill is throwing better than he ever has, and at 30 could have several years ahead of him before he loses a tick or two due to age and mileage.

This is starting to look a bit Rich Hill-ish, where you can look at 4 starts, forget about the past and just see the stuff and the results, and you what you have is a worthy front-of-the-rotation arm with plenty left in the tank — health permitting, of course.

I guess what I’m saying is that Cahill could be more than a 2018 savior. He could wind up being a guy to bring back beyond 2018 as part of the core aiming to topple the Astros sooner rather than later. No one would have predicted it 2 months ago when Cahill was looking for work and still no one was answering the phone, but keep a close eye on his next 4 starts because we might have “the real deal” here and the A’s may want to look into a long term relationship with this suddenly sexy pterodactyl.

Poll

How do you view Trevor Cahill after 4 starts?

This poll is closed

  • 40%
    You can see he’s the real deal, a la Rich Hill: a legitimate front-of-the-rotation arm now
    (223 votes)
  • 47%
    He’ll regress significantly, but he’s a solid back end SP worth having
    (260 votes)
  • 5%
    It’s 4 starts — no reason to think he’s anything more than the guy no one wanted all off-season
    (33 votes)
  • 6%
    He’ll be on the DL within a month and the fairy tale will end as a horror story
    (36 votes)
552 votes total Vote Now