Trevor Cahill: The Comparables

OAKLAND, CA - AUGUST 18: Trevor Cahill #53 of the Oakland Athletics pitches against the Toronto Blue Jays at O.co Coliseum on August 18, 2011 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

Max Scherzer. Johnny Cueto. Noah Lowry. Gio Gonzales. Anibal Sanchez. Hey, don't look at me. I'm just quoting what Baseball Reference reckons are the most similar active pitchers to Cahill. Just about any of those would make it seem like Kevin Towers met a drunken Billy Beane down a dark alley, and went all pool-ball in a sock on his Brad Pittness. I was particularly amused by the Gio Gonzales comp, since Cahill was thought of as Gio Lite in some circles, in terms of who we were wanting.

Let's dig a little deeper...

A key factor is that Cahill won't turn 24 until after pitchers and catchers report to Salt River Fields, but has already thrown 583 major-league innings.That's a ton. Only five currently active pitchers had more by the end of their age 23 season. Three have a Cy Young on their mantelpiece, and all were All-Stars, with a dozen All-Star Game appearances to date between them (of course, something Cahill has already accomplished). However, caution compels me to mention that one of these is Dontrelle Willis, who had two All-Star appearances before his 24th birthday, then largely flamed out following it, with an ERA north of five thereafter.

Let's drop the cut-off to 400 major-league innings by the end of their age 23 season. That gives us a better number - ironically, 23 including Cahill - with which to work. Here are the stats for all those active pitchers, in descending order of ERA+.

Rk Player SO/9 BB/9 H/9 IP G W L H R ER BB SO ERA ERA+ HR Tm
1 Mark Prior 10.70 2.74 7.92 446.2 70 30 16 393 165 153 136 531 3.08 139 43 CHC
2 Clayton Kershaw 9.36 3.49 7.06 716.1 118 47 28 562 245 229 278 745 2.88 135 46 LAD
3 Carlos Zambrano 7.55 4.10 7.79 539.2 101 34 29 467 227 195 246 453 3.25 132 34 CHC
4 Jair Jurrjens 6.30 3.24 8.25 434.0 72 30 21 398 174 155 156 304 3.21 131 30 DET-ATL
5 Mark Buehrle 5.22 2.25 8.43 511.2 94 39 21 479 218 200 128 297 3.52 131 54 CHW
6 Chad Billingsley 8.25 4.15 8.45 437.2 96 35 19 411 175 162 202 401 3.33 130 36 LAD
7 Felix Hernandez 8.06 2.85 8.58 905.0 138 58 41 863 385 347 287 810 3.45 125 80 SEA
8 Dontrelle Willis 6.83 2.64 8.65 594.0 93 46 27 571 239 216 174 451 3.27 125 44 FLA
9 Scott Kazmir 9.73 4.13 8.41 570.2 98 35 29 533 262 231 262 617 3.64 124 49 TBD
10 Matt Cain 7.67 3.79 7.70 654.2 105 30 43 560 284 272 276 558 3.74 119 55 SFG
11 Jake Peavy 8.22 3.30 8.34 458.2 76 33 24 425 197 180 168 419 3.53 110 57 SDP
12 Mat Latos 8.65 2.83 7.56 429.2 72 27 29 361 174 161 135 413 3.37 108 39 SDP
13 CC Sabathia 6.96 3.72 8.27 776.0 126 54 35 713 377 355 321 600 4.12 107 75 CLE
14 Trevor Cahill 5.48 3.35 8.55 583.0 96 40 35 554 274 253 217 355 3.91 107 65 OAK
15 Jon Garland 5.09 3.97 9.16 571.0 115 34 40 581 326 292 252 323 4.6 101 77 CHW
16 Zack Greinke 6.41 2.33 9.96 456.1 112 21 35 505 244 235 118 325 4.63 99 62 KCR
17 Oliver Perez 9.97 4.82 7.80 515.2 90 27 30 447 256 244 276 571 4.26 97 80 SDP-PIT
18 Ryan Dempster 7.78 4.79 9.00 428.0 72 22 23 428 226 212 228 370 4.46 97 57 FLA
19 Chris Volstad 5.62 3.33 9.29 418.1 74 27 26 432 224 208 155 261 4.47 95 49 FLA
20 Rick Porcello 4.84 2.38 10.02 515.1 89 38 30 574 280 260 136 277 4.54 94 59 DET
21 Javier Vazquez 7.40 2.99 9.86 544.2 92 25 32 597 323 300 181 448 4.96 91 75 MON
22 Jamey Wright 3.82 4.16 10.82 447.1 76 21 30 538 316 284 207 190 5.71 91 51 COL
23 Brett Myers 5.98 3.41 9.67 441.0 76 29 25 474 250 237 167 293 4.84 86 62 PHI

It's an interesting and broad mix, especially in terms of where those pitchers have gone thereafter. You've got everything from flameouts like Willis and Oliver Perez, to half the Cy Young winners in the majors over the past five years. In terms of K-rate - something a good number of people have brought up as a knock on Cahill - he is lower than most, ranked 19th of the 23. However, it's still a better strikeout rate than Mark Buerhle and Jon Garland had at this point in their respective careers.It's also encouraging to note Trevor's improvement in this area, going up from 15.1% to 16.3% last season, though well short of his fabulous 27.1% minor-league number.

Cahill's walk-rate puts him dead in the middle of the sample, sitting between Chris Volstad and Brett Myers. The former had a pretty 'meh' season with the Marlins, putting up a 4.89 ERA, but Myers has been solid - a 112 ERA+ over the six seasons (Cahill's control period, including his team options) which followed, with Philadelphia and Houston. That number did tick up in 2011, from 8.1% to 9.1%, and an overall lack of control was fingered by Cahill in last night's chat, as a reason for his struggles. But speaking of fingers... Here's an interesting piece from Athletics Nation last August, when Cahill was in the midst of his struggles:

It's surprising to me that the bruised index finger on Cahill's right hand isn't getting more attention. Clearly he has been pitching poorly for a while now, following a terrific start to the season, but this nagging problem is almost mentioned only as an afterthought: "Oh, by the way he can't throw his spike curve because of the bruised finger." This is no small deal. It was the emergence of the spike curve to replace the "slider which replaced the knuckle curve" that helped Cahill leap from the valley that was 2009 to the mountain top that was 2010. Losing the ability to throw any pitch is a big deal, and it's not clear whether Cahill's sinker and changeup might be affected but since they are thrown with the same fingers you'd think it's quite possible.

Hmm. That would go a long way to explaining his struggles late in 2010, and if so, would suggest there's a very good chance that a 100% healthy Cahill would be back to the form he had for 2010 and the first half of 2011. Over those 50 starts, he had a 3.03 ERA, which would be ace-caliber level, even before moving to the National League and its pathetic-hitting pitchers [Diamondbacks excluded, obviously...] It's also worth noting he finished strongly, three consecutive quality starts and a 2.66 ERA there, with six earned runs allowed over 20.1 innings - two against division winners in the Tigers and Rangers. Here's his final outing, seven scoreless vs. Seattle:


But it's the uncertainty which adds to the anticipation in some ways. For the next three months, D-backs fans will be like kids on Christmas Eve, wondering if Santa Towers has got them a shiny new train-set or a lump of coal.

And remember folks: Gibby knows if you've been good...

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