Prior to the start of the 2012 season when we did our 10 Bold Predictions, I had high hopes for Trevor Cahill. He had taken a step backwards in his third full season with Oakland, but had several things working in his favor that had me thinking there were bigger and better things on the horizon for him. After all, he was just 24 years old, a ground-ball pitcher whose strikeout rate had increased each season, and now he was headed to the National League to pitch in a notoriously weak-hitting division filled with pitcher-friendly ballparks. Maybe his new home was hitter-friendly, but there seemed to be enough working in his favor that would counter that. Unfortunately, things didn’t go as planned and left me wondering if there was any more upside to Cahill or if we had reached the ceiling and the 48th spot in which he inhabits on Zach Sanders’ Starting Pitcher End of Season Rankings was as high as he’d go.
The primary reason that I ask if this is all we have to look forward to in the future is that, while he did improve across the board, the step forward taken really wasn’t all that big. Even with a significant increase in ground-ball percentage (from 55.9% to 61.2%) thanks to a greater use of his slider, Cahill’s ERA and FIP didn’t really change that much more for the better. He saw a minor increase in strikeout total, a slightly reduced walk rate and he even served up fewer home runs this year. Sure his HR/FB took a slight turn upwards, but that’s what happens when you post just a 22.7-percent fly ball rate.
So where did it go wrong with him? If everything seems to be looking good, why was there not a greater showing of improvement? Was it because he was pitching to less contact and that .289 BABIP was simply too much to overcome? Maybe. It’s definitely possible that luck was involved. But then I went to his splits and there is where I think the answer lies. Evidently, I was wrong when I thought that the change in his home park could be overcome as a ground-ball specialist moving to the National League.
Cahill’s home-road splits say it all. A 4.68 ERA (1.43 WHIP) at home versus a 2.91 ERA (1.16 WHIP) on the road with just a four inning difference in favor of the road; more base hits, more extra-base hits, more home runs with a much better slash line and wOBA for the opposition. His BABIP was .318 at home as opposed to just .258 on the road. His strikeout rate was slightly better at home and he actually improved that rate as the season went along, but overall, hitters were getting the better of him at Chase Field. He was giving up more line drives and more fly balls and a number of those fly balls were carrying.
You’d like to think that, at his age, he can still make the necessary adjustments to counter the effects of the home field. He was playing around with release points and making a few mechanical adjustments during the spring but aside from changing up his pitch mix to throw more fastballs and sliders, there hasn’t been much of a noticeable change. He’s still not a bad middle to back-end of the fantasy rotation type guy, especially if you believe in a potential strikeout surge, but you might have to start monitoring him even closer and start him solely on the road if things don’t change at home.