SweetSpot: Trevor Cahill

Offseason report card: A's

February, 8, 2013
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2012 in review
Record: 94-68 (92-70 Pythagorean)
713 runs scored (8th in American League)
614 runs allowed (2nd in AL)

Big Offseason Moves
Traded Cliff Pennington and Yordy Cabrera to Arizona for Chris Young. Re-signed free agent Bartolo Colon. Signed Japanese shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima. Acquired John Jaso in three-way deal that sent A.J. Cole to Washington. Traded Chris Carter, Brad Peacock and Max Stassi to Houston for Jed Lowrie and Fernando Rodriguez. Lost free agents Brandon McCarthy, Stephen Drew and Jonny Gomes.


More than anything, Billy Beane improved Oakland's athleticism and versatility. He lost two designated-hitter types in Carter and Gomes, but acquired an elite defensive center fielder in Young and picked up two infielders to go along with the return of Scott Sizemore (the team's best hitter in 2011 who missed all of 2012). Nakajima was a star player in Japan and since Lowrie's range at short is limited, the A's are counting on Nakajima to live up to his defensive reputation. The loss of McCarthy will hurt, but re-signing Colon helps maintain their rotation depth. For the tight-budgeted A's, a solid offseason that gives manager Bob Melvin multiple options around the diamond.

Position Players

As you can see from the projected lineup, there is a lot of unsettled aspect to Oakland's starting nine, but in a good way. Melvin will be able to mix and match and the depth gives the A's injury insurance.

But how good is the lineup? The A's set an all-time strikeout record last season and hit just .238. They did hit better with runners in scoring position -- .265 -- which is one reason they ranked eighth in runs despite finishing 12th in on-base percentage and ninth in slugging percentage. Three reasons to like Oakland's chances to score more runs this year, however: The second basemen hit .228 with five home runs; the third basemen had a .280 OBP, lowest in the AL; and the shortstops had a .272 OBP, again lowest in the AL.

And a fourth reason: Yoenis Cespedes surprised everyone by hitting .292/.356/.505. Very nice numbers. Those could be big numbers this year.

Pitching Staff

Either you believe in Oakland's young starters or you don't. I'm a believer. Remember that the best of the group might be Brett Anderson, and he made just seven starts in 2012 after returning from Tommy John surgery. Jarrod Parker, Tom Milone and A.J. Griffin enter their second seasons with playoff experience under their belts and Colon returns after his suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs. Dan Straily and Travis Blackley provide depth.


If we're going to nitpick, it's that it's not a big strikeout rotation. The A's ranked 10th in the AL strikeout rate among starting pitchers at 16.6 percent -- more than 5 percent less than Tampa Bay's 21.9 mark. But guess which staff tied for the lowest walk rate? The A's won't beat themselves and they pitch to their big home ballpark -- where Young, Coco Crisp and Josh Reddick have the speed to run down a lot of flyballs.


If you watched the A's down the stretch, you saw the hard-throwing trio of Grant Balfour, Ryan Cook and Sean Doolittle dominate the late innings. Those three combined for a 2.49 ERA over 195 innings; not bad for a minor free-agent signing, a throw-in in the Trevor Cahill trade and a guy playing first base in the minors in 2011. All told, opponents hit .206 off the Oakland pen, second-lowest in the league to the Rays' .205 mark. There's depth behind those three guys as well.

Good rotation. Good pen. Some will predict regression from this group, but I expect another solid season in which the A's once again rank among the AL leaders in fewest runs allowed.


Jarrod ParkerESPN Stats & InformationJarrod Parker's 3.8 WAR ranked 10th among AL pitchers in 2012.
Heat Map to Watch
Beane acquired Parker from the Diamondbacks and the rookie right-hander showed why he was highly rated coming up through the Arizona system. His changeup made many left-handed hitters look foolish at the plate -- in 140 plate appearances ending with that pitch, they hit .163/.216/.194, with just three extra-base hits (two doubles, one triple). It's one of the best pitches in the game and the reason I expect Parker to have another solid season.

Overall Grade

SportsNation

How many games will the A's win?

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    21%
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    46%
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    26%
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    7%

Discuss (Total votes: 5,643)

Many won't believe in the A's simply because they were such a big surprise a year ago. But I'm trying to find reasons to expect a decline and am having trouble identifying them. OK, the offense was sort of one-dimensional last season; but the A's basically received nothing from three positions and they have likely upgrades at all three spots. I didn't even mention Jaso above; if he hits like he did with Seattle, he's another plus at the plate (though the Mariners clearly didn't like his defense behind the plate).

OK, maybe you don't believe in Reddick and Cespedes and Brandon Moss. I do. I think they return to the playoffs.

Clearing the bases: Craig, Parker, Lowrie

May, 2, 2012
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First base: That’s where Allen Craig was playing for the Cardinals on Tuesday night, not just giving the Birds back the ninth bat they’ve missed, but more importantly giving them an immediate substitute for the still-injured Lance Berkman. Much like fellow postseason hero David Freese, Craig showed he also hasn’t missed a beat from last October, pelting a pair of singles in his first game back, and contributing to the Cardinals’ bit of 10-7 stompery over the reliably feeble Pirates.

Second base: Jarrod Parker’s second start for the Oakland A’s was perhaps even better than his first against the White Sox last week. Parker shut down the Red Sox in a 5-3 win, going slightly deeper into the game (two batters faced and one out), throwing just 98 pitches while delivering a 6.2-4-1-1-2-4 line with no home runs. So while Trevor Cahill was doing just fine mowing down Nationals in last night’s D-backs spoiler of Bryce Harper’s home debut, the primary prospect he was acquired with was giving Athletics fans a reason to forget the past and embrace something more tangible than a future in San Jose.

Third base: As the Book of Armaments in Monty Python’s Holy Grail reminds us, three is the number that shall be counted before big ’splosions go off, and that’s pretty much what Jed Lowrie did for the Astros on Tuesday night, plating a pair with his third home run of the season while also drawing three walks. In the two weeks-plus since his return from the DL, Lowrie has been the multifaceted offensive terror that GM Jeff Luhnow’s crew envisioned when they acquired him from the Red Sox. So just a month into his Astros career, you can say they’ve already gotten the full Lowrie experience: A trip to the DL, power, patience, and enough good work afield to make you think his staying at shortstop makes sense after all.

Home plate: The tweet of Tuesday goes to Orioles reliever Darren O’Day, who was partially responsible for the numerical feat he chose to celebrate social mediatically:
Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.

Meet our new Oakland A's blog

December, 20, 2011
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We're happy to announce a new member of the SweetSpot network: Beaneball.org, covering all things Oakland A's. Jason Wojciechowski runs the site and you may be familiar with his contributions to The Platoon Advantage, another member of our network.

Welcome aboard, Jason! Be sure check out Jason's witty and excellent writing at Beaneball, including his take on the Trevor Cahill trade. You can also follow Jason on Twitter @jlwoj.

Podcast: Breaking down latest news

December, 13, 2011
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The Baseball Today podcast returned for Tuesday as a spirited Mark Simon and myself tackled many topics, not all of them the most pleasant. Then again, all is right with the world when your fave team signs Dontrelle Willis!

1. Ugh, Ryan Braun, are you kidding me? We both want to see how this ends up before reaching full judgment, but regardless, it’s a shame one of baseball’s top stars has seen his reputation sullied. We also discuss the MVP award subject.

2. Meanwhile, good news for the Brewers, as they sign Aramis Ramirez to handle third base. Then again, one of us doesn’t think that news is all that good. We also deal with some of the other signings and trades, including Trevor Cahill to Arizona.

3. In our Simon Says segment, Mark discusses his latest project, delving into the top defensive games of the season, and also waxes poetic about Burke Badenhop. Hey, relief pitchers should be inexpensive!

4. Our ridiculous email of the week dealt with the San Francisco Giants and their litany of first basemen, but we only received the email thanks to our trusty, um, intern.

5. Our special guest of the week was Sam Miller, from Baseball Prospectus and the Orange County Register, and the "Mark Simon of the West Coast" was a good sport about the serious topics (Angels and Albert Pujols) and the not-so-serious ones (whither Mark DeRosa!).

So download and listen to Tuesday’s Baseball Today podcast, because it’s the right thing to do! We’ll be back next Tuesday with Keith Law. Have a great week!
The Twitter world had mixed opinions on the Oakland A's-Arizona Diamondbacks deal that sent Trevor Cahill to Arizona and top prospect Jarrod Parker to Oakland, but it seemed most liked Parker's No. 1 potential over Cahill's proven performance.

I like the deal from Arizona's perspective for three reasons:

1. The Diamondbacks needed rotation depth, especially since Joe Saunders and Josh Collmenter are strong candidates to decline from their 2011 performances. They also can shop Saunders, a free agent after 2012, if they desire.

2. I like Cahill better than most, it seems.

[+] EnlargeTrevor Cahill
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesTrevor Cahill, who had a 4.16 ERA last season, is heading from Oakland to the Arizona Diamondbacks.
3. The Diamondbacks needed a lefty in the bullpen, and Craig Breslow gives them a southpaw who has held lefties to a .227 average in his career.

After a strong 2010, in which he went 18-8 with a 2.97 ERA in his second season, Cahill was every stathead's top candidate to regress in 2011, which he did, posting a 4.16 ERA. In 2010, he allowed a .236 batting average on balls in play, the fifth-lowest average of the past 10 seasons. That figure shot up to .306 in 2011, closer to the American League average of .296 for starting pitchers, and thus the increase in ERA. Critics also would point out that pitching in Oakland has helped, as he has a career ERA of 3.24 at home, 4.71 on the road.

All that is true, but there are positives here as well. He increased his strikeout rate from 5.4 per nine innings in 2010 to 6.4 in 2011. He relies on a sinker and gets more ground balls than fly balls. He has been healthy in his three seasons and doesn't turn 24 until March. He is signed through 2015 at a total cost of $28.7 million, with teams options for 2016 and 2017.

The other thing I like: When he's on, he's very tough. He had 13 starts in 2011 in which he allowed one run or zero runs -- among AL starters, only Jered Weaver, Justin Verlander, James Shields and Josh Beckett had more (Jon Lester and Gio Gonzalez also had 13). If he can gain a little more consistency and learn to avoid the bad outings, he has a chance to remain a solid No. 2 or 3 starter for a long time.

As for Parker, the A's are taking the risk that he'll develop into ... well, something better than Trevor Cahill. After missing 2010 because of Tommy John surgery, Parker returned in 2011 and reached the majors late in the season, even making Arizona's playoff roster. Keith Law ranked him the No. 19 prospect in baseball in his midseason top 50 list, and you can argue he'll be a few spots higher after his command improved in the second half.

Overall, Parker didn't dominate Double-A, striking out 112 batters in 130 innings, and his 112/55 strikeout/walk ratio was merely solid for such a top prospect. Another season removed from TJ surgery will tell more about whether he can harness his stuff and develop into a No. 1. And that's the chance the A's take: Will he?

Just taking the five-year sample from 2005 to 2009, here are the pitchers who ranked in Baseball America's top 10 overall prospects:

Brett Anderson
Homer Bailey
Chad Billingsley
Clay Buchholz
Madison Bumgarner
Joba Chamberlain
Neftali Feliz
Tommy Hanson
Felix Hernandez
Phil Hughes
Scott Kazmir
Clayton Kershaw
Francisco Liriano
Daisuke Matsuzaka
Andrew Miller
Franklin Morales
David Price
Justin Verlander

It's a good list, but with its share of disappointments. And that's the top 10; Parker is more of a top 15 or 20. The point is, he's not a sure thing. But the A's do get a cheap starter for three years, plus some usable parts in Collin Cowgill and Ryan Cook. Looks like it could work out for both sides, but with Arizona looking to repeat its National League West title in 2012, Cahill is a solid acquisition.
The Baseball Today podcast finished off another stupendous week of shows with Friday's version, as me and Mark Simon didn't "balk" at any topics ... see what I did there, Mets fans? Sorry ... but not really. On any given day in baseball you see something cool. Here are reasons to listen to the Friday show:

1. The Mets found an interesting way to lose, but let's spin it positively: The Braves found a way to win! Regardless, a balk-off win isn't as unique as one might think.

2. Nice job by New York Yankees right-hander Brian Gordon in his first big league start. Gordon's outing highlights a fun Thursday of baseball, which we chronicle by the numbers 1 through 9.

3. Which pitcher benefits the most from his home ballpark? We stat the case for a West Coast right-hander.

4. Last week I was able to interview Mike Schmidt, my favorite player growing up, and now Mr. Simon discusses the same thrill this week. Look, it's baseball, it's fun, we all have memories and remember anniversaries, right?

5. I love interleague play, because we get fun series like Yankees-Cubs, Brewers-Red Sox and Phillies-Mariners. Not all the series are winners, but they don't need to be as we preview another great weekend!

Plus: Excellent emails, the streaking Twins get help, the Pirates are contenders -- at least today -- and we say a Happy Father's Day to everyone this weekend, all on Friday's Baseball Today podcast! Enjoy your baseball this weekend!
There are many reasons you should listen to Wednesday's three-headed Baseball Today podcast with myself, Keith Law and SweetSpot blogger David Schoenfield, but here are the top five:

1. Tuesday was a far different day for the De La Rosa pitchers, as one blew out of his elbow, and the other got the call to the big leagues. Are the Colorado Rockies in trouble replacing their De La Rosa? And what are the Los Angeles Dodgers doing promoting theirs?

2. Sticking with the NL West, do the San Francisco Giants want to score runs? Of course they do, but then why aren't they playing their best hitters? Then again, this isn't the same offense it was a year ago.

3. Should MLB take a cue from Premier League soccer and bump out the bottom few teams each season? As always, Mr. Law brings a strong opinion.

4. We talk relief pitchers, from the hierarchy of the Atlanta Braves' top duo to the fellow that earned a three-year contract from the Detroit Tigers.

5. On Wednesday's docket is a rematch of one of the best pitched games of 2010. Not to give too much away, but you can find this game on ESPN2!

Plus: Excellent, Gleeful emails (send to baseballtoday@espnradio.com, incidentally), discussion about a few prospects in the upcoming draft, Alfredo Simon's presence in the big leagues, Edinson Volquez's presence in the minor leagues, why Madison Bumgarner isn't a bum and I wantonly ring the Kara-bell, all on Wednesday's Baseball Today podcast!

OK, Trevor Cahill didn't really say that.

But would you blame him if he did?

Last season, Cahill went 18-8 with a 2.97 ERA. Opposing hitters batted just .220/.287/.332 off him. However, because his strikeout rate was just 5.4 per nine innings, the common refrain was that Cahill wasn't that good. He was just lucky. Setting aside for the moment the philosophical debate that his 2.97 ERA was a real result and did actually happen, the point being made was that Cahill wasn't dominant so much as he was lucky on balls in play. Baseball Prospectus, in their season annual, wrote "... Cahill boasted a .238 BABIP [batting average on balls in play], the lowest among AL pitchers with at least 80 innings pitched. That apparent assist from Lady Luck is the one concern with the A's rotation."

Cahill's FIP (fielding independent pitching) from FanGraphs was 4.19. His fair run average from Baseball Prospectus was 4.06. In other words, the analysts said Cahill's ability was that of a mediocre starter rather than that of a potential ace. The projections expected similar results: ZiPS projected a 3.95 ERA, Prospectus a 4.14 ERA.

But here we are, eight starts into the season, and Cahill is 6-0 with a 1.72 ERA. He's allowed 10 runs and while thousands of words have been spilled about Roy Halladay and Josh Johnson, not much has been said about Cahill.

As smart as the projection systems are, they can't account for everything. And pitchers -- young pitchers, in particular -- can improve. They can develop a new pitch, or improve their command, or learn how to attack hitters better. Cahill was a top-rated prospect coming up through the Oakland system. Scouts loved his stuff and his knowledge of pitching, even if he didn't have an explosive fastball. What's happened this year? He's gotten better. His strikeout rate has improved to 7.7 per nine, making up for the fact that his BABIP has risen to .257. He gets great movement on both his sinking fastball and changeup. He's throwing more first-pitch strikes this season (62 to 57 percent) and hitters are making less contact.

But here's something I noticed and a reason why I had a feeling Cahill had a good chance to defy the statistical expectations for him this year: He doesn't give up a lot of solid contact. He allowed 19 home runs last season -- a fairly normal rate -- but only 20 doubles. He allowed just 40 extra-base hits in 197 innings. That's .20 extra-base hits per innings, a figure that matched Clay Buchholz for the lowest rate in the majors among starting pitchers. BABIP doesn't differentiate between singles and doubles; they're treated equally. Now, maybe some of that figure is attributable to Oakland's defense (Gio Gonzalez was third, although teammate Ben Sheets had one of the worst rates), but groundball pitchers like Cahill do tend to give up fewer extra-base hits. And this season? We're seeing the same results: His home run rate is actually down a bit (three home runs in 52 1/3 innings), but he's allowed only five doubles (and Oakland outfield isn't as good with the likes of Josh Willingham and Conor Jackson seeing time out there).

Maybe Cahill will regress; some still argue that his BABIP is due for a correction. His current FIP is 2.87, and obviously he's unlikely to keep up a 1.72 ERA. But I believe this guy has become one of the best pitchers in the league.

Follow David on Twitter: @dschoenfield. Follow the SweetSpot blog: @espn_sweet_spot.

Trevor Cahill and Sabermetric discontents

April, 13, 2011
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So, last night I made my way to the Cell to see whether Trevor Cahill's performance would be “the story,” or if it might be the latest White Sox bullpen conflagration. As it turned out, the game didn't exactly cooperate. Early on, Cahill struggled in his first game after agreeing to a five-year, $30.5 million deal on Monday, while the Sox's bullpen did not combust late, instead aiding an extra-innings win over Oakland, 6-5 in 10.

So, my memes were already shot to hell, but it makes sense to talk about Cahill nevertheless, because there are some general points about evaluating pitchers worth making, especially the perils of taking any of the multitude of well-designed interpretive metrics out there as the final word for evaluating a pitcher's quality.

As fields go, sabermetrics is as guilty as any when it comes to picking its favorites on the basis of who does what, why and how. Mathematics, raised to the level of immutable logic as a matter of faith, winds up becoming less of a language that describes an assembly of events on the diamond in a way that we can easily aggregate and summarize them, and instead becomes the vehicle for absolute pronouncements -- some which of which have the virtue of being true.

[+] EnlargeTrevor Cahill
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhOakland's Trevor Cahill allowed four runs on six hits Tuesday night.
There is nothing better than absolute certainty, after all, and so as long as you can hum a few bars, add a mysterious floating head and some flames (both preferably green) and voila! You are the Wizard of Oz, something less than Ozzie Smith when it comes to playing the field, and yet quite determined to be oracular in matters mathematical. It may not matter that you may not be absolutely certain. Instead, you stick to what you know, because you've got numbers to prove it.

Take Cahill, already something of a disappointment for the predictive punditocracy. Cahill upset the analytical applecart from the very moment of his being drafted in 2006, because he was a second-round high school pitcher picked by the so-called “Moneyball” A's -- you know, the team that didn't pick high school pitchers, or didn't pick them early at any rate. Cahill didn't throw especially hard, then or now, usually topping out around 92 or so, sitting around 90, hardly the stuff of Nolan-esque legendry or drool-worthy stuff.

As it turns out, it should have been anyway. In 2009, as nothing more than a 21-year-old rookie, Cahill upset statheads his latest time by posting a 4.63 ERA for the A's. BIS' Component ERA (referred to as ERC) said that was a 4.79 season in its interpretation of his performance, while Baseball Prospectus' SIERA, aimed at anticipating future work, judged Cahill's rookie season as worthy of a 5.08. Per FIP, FanGraphs reports that season was a 5.33 campaign.

That doesn't sound like much to base a future on, of course, except that Cahill followed it up by finishing fourth in the AL in ERA in 2010 as a sophomore, despite a SIERA of 3.90 and an FIP of 4.19. At least ERC had jumped the other way by evaluating his performance as a 2.81 -- instead of over-performing, somebody's metric was finally suggesting that maybe, just maybe, Cahill was actually something like this good.

When a pitcher outperforms his metrics, statheads usually run for the usual suspects, clothing performance with wailing about BABIP, or scurrying toward an observation about his HR/FB percentage. They could do the former, but not the latter, because Cahill's HR/FB rate wasn't better than league-average, inconveniently enough. But at least there are his strikeouts, or the lack of them, a sin with which you can condemn anyone to statistical sub-worthiness. With 4.5 K/9 and an 11.6 percent strikeout rate as a rookie, followed by 5.4 K/9 and 15.1 percent K-rate in 2010, Cahill was below average, perhaps even in Lake Wobegone.

Of course, there's the additional problem that different databases wind up with different classifications of what is or is not counted as a fly ball, but that's one of those snaggy-nasty details that might get people to wondering about how far we can stretch the data we do have to make all-knowing pronouncements.

Get hung up on these facts -- or factoids -- and you run the risk of not being ready to rush to an absolute condemnation or endorsement of the A's decision to give Cahill a five-year, $30.5 million deal. Committing to this extent of erasure, of arbitration cases-to-be that never will be, to faith in Cahill's performance, seems like a huge leap of faith in a pitcher who hasn't punched people out, and who has gotten the benefit of a lower-than-expected BABIP.

The problem with these kinds of broad strokes is that they risk missing the trees for the forest. Cahill is a strike-thrower, yes, and one armed with a hell of a sinker. He's showed a plus curve in the minors, and hasn't really thrown it all that much in the majors (less than 14 percent of the time last year). It would be crazy to get too hung up on how much he has or hasn't thrown that curve this year -- not that some statheads aren't willing to try -- except that pitch selection is defined by the opposing batter's strengths and weaknesses, as well as whether Cahill's trying to execute on those pitches from the stretch or a full windup. But in the rush to judgment over whether the money has been spent badly or well, or if Cahill's going to be something or nothing, it's easy to lose sight of the fact that maybe he's just a 23-year-old talent who has already pitched well and is nevertheless a couple of years removed from what would constitute a normal career peak.

Cahill's mediocre velocity marks and equally tepid strikeout rates do not reflect something he does have going for him already. He got looking strikes 32 percent of the time last year, against a MLB average of 28 percent, an improvement from a league-average rate as a rookie in 2009. Where he generated swinging strikes just 11 percent of the time in 2009 (where 15 percent is average), he ticked that over to 16 percent in 2010. He's been doing that while overwhelmingly relying on a sinker/fastball/change mix, perhaps not all that surprising given his youth.

You want more curves? The kid's 23: Give him time, and count on his club to let him grow as he must, not as it might need -- having already put down more than 30 large on the proposition, it's safe to say the team is betting on his career, and not just his 2011 success rate with breaking stuff.

Cahill pitched last night, of course, and didn't have much to say about his breaking stuff. After the game, he and A's manager Bob Geren talked about execution on fastballs and fastball location. Geren speculated about whether Cahill was having trouble with his grip in the first two innings, when he walked three and allowed an Earl Weaver special -- a three-run homer that put the Sox in the driver's seat. Cahill observed that, early on, he “didn't really know where the ball was going. I was trying to get my fastball outside to righties, inside to lefties,” but “I was leaving everything down the middle.” As for the question of being able to hold onto the ball on a cold spring night in Chicago, “It was a lot harder ... I couldn't really get a hold of the ball.”

Single samples being what they are -- essentially meaningless -- the outcome instead seems to suggest that it would be nuts to jump to some sudden conclusions, about Cahill's curve, or his future. He's beaten expectations consistently and well in his five-odd seasons as a pro, and he might continue to. For statheads, it's important to remember that by getting too stuck on the general truth -- that what is true for the population as a whole is true for everybody, leading to too-quick guesstimates of impending doom -- analysts too can get left holding the bag more than we'd like to admit.

Take Matt Cain of the Giants, for example. My fellow statheads have been burning electrons on the subject of Cain's impending doom for a good four seasons now, and yet Cain keeps managing to stand that proposition on its head and rank among the more effective starters in the league in each subsequent season.

It gets especially ridiculous when you start positing how the Giants' defense must be the answer for Cain being able -- this is the team that has employed ex-catcher Pablo Sandoval at third, DH types like Pat Burrell or Aubrey Huff in the outfield corners and aging leather-less mediocrities like Freddy Sanchez or Miguel Tejada or Edgar Renteria in the middle infield. Naturally, the analysis crew will get it right, eventually: Cain is doomed to go the way of all flesh, the same as you and me, so predict failure long enough and consistently enough, and you're guaranteed to be “right.”

This won't be the first or last time a stathead prefers the security of theory over the virtue of accepting anomalies. As one colleague put it to me more than nine years ago, he “couldn't wait for Livan Hernandez's arm to fall off,” all the better to prove what we “knew” to be true about pitch counts to be immutably so. Livan is still pitching, of course, and if anything has been better than ever, even without reaching six strikeouts per nine since 2004, that at a time when MLB-wide strikeout rates have moved in the opposite direction, past 7.0 K/9.

Livan may yet get to 200 wins, which might seem surprising, but he is at 166 already. As long as there is a need for human beings capable of throwing 30 starts in a season and throwing strikes -- and you can already define that need as permanent -- he might last as the right-handed universe's answer to Jamie Moyer, deathless and dutiful and competent as an innings-eater, if something short of all-powerfully awesome.

To bring this back to Cahill, it's worth keeping in mind that what we think we know can be dangerously misinformational. In his own way, like Cain or Livan, he's beaten expectations and projections. In his age-23 season, he might continue to. The vast preponderance of data suggests that he might not, but against that you have his youth, his limited repertoire and the absence of any knowledge of when and whether he might expand it and how effective he'll be, and I think we've come up with another reason to watch and learn.

If Cahill succeeds where Livan has or Cain has, it's our job to learn from how he beat that “preponderance” of interpretative data, and enjoy the results as baseball fans in the meantime.
Eric Karabell and Keith Law discuss some injury situations, some bad pitching and some good matchups to watch on Tuesday's Baseball Today podcast.
  • Daisuke Matsuzaka was awful Monday night. What are Boston's options? Is it time to rethink how good the Red Sox are?
  • Ryan Zimmerman heads to the DL. Who plays third base for the Nationals?
  • Rafael Furcal out four to six weeks with a broken thumb. Will we see prospect Dee Gordon get a shot?
  • Mailbag: More on Manny and PEDs, what college players should Mariners fans be watching, players who are wasted in the minors.
  • Tuesday's games: David Price versus Jon Lester; Chad Billingsley versus Tim Lincecum; Trevor Cahill on the mound with a new contract.
  • Keith's thought on the save.
Less than two weeks into the 2011 season and we're already seeing starting pitching performances that could make 2010 look like the year of the hitter and stat lines that could read like an old Times Square scrolling news marquee that would resemble a 1940s version of Twitter for passersby: "Germany surrenders ... Josh Beckett vs. Yankees Sunday night: 8 IP, 2 H, 1 W, 10 K in 4-0 BoSox win ... Ray Milland wins Oscar for "The Lost Weekend."

Beckett's performance Sunday night was his best since his signature win with Boston: his start in Game 5 of the 2007 ALCS at Cleveland, with Boston trailing 3 games to 1, when he dominated as the epitome of a postseason ace, forcing the series back to Fenway Park for an eventual AL pennant and World Series championship. He and Jon Lester combined to pitch 15 scoreless innings with five hits and 19 strikeouts in their latest starts.

Sunday against the Blue Jays, Jered Weaver struck out a career-high 15 batters, the most by an Angels pitcher in 16 years. Weaver's season line reads like a misprint: 3-0, 0.87 ERA, 20.2 IP, 9 H, 2 ER, 9 BB, 27 SO, 0.83 WHIP.

[+] EnlargeJered Weaver
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesJered Weaver recorded his third victory of the season on Sunday.
After a search of several months, the nickname for the Phillies' rotation may have finally been found: "The Dubee Brothers," after Philadelphia pitching coach Rich Dubee. Cole Hamels silenced the Braves Sunday, with eight strikeouts over seven innings of four-hit ball. Hamels' performance came just three days after the White Sox's Edwin Jackson and Oakland's Trevor Cahill combined, in separate games, to allow just two runs and seven hits over 16 innings while striking out 20 and walking only one. However, it's not just the Times Square marquee names that have stood out.

If you like the "Dubee Brothers" nickname, how about "The Narvelous"? That's what Brewers closer John Axford has called Milwaukee starter Chris Narveson. Here's another impressive stat line: how about an ERA of zero? Narveson pitched seven scoreless innings in Saturday's 6-0 win over the Cubs, helped by all the work he's put in on his changeup. "The Narvelous" has pitched 13 scoreless innings and is challenging Jim Slaton's Brewers record of 20.2 scoreless innings by a starting pitcher to open a season, set in 1976. Not bad for a guy whose Cactus League ERA was 6.23.

The Red Sox, who sent Justin Masterson to Cleveland in the 2009 trade deadline deal for Victor Martinez, have reportedly been trying to bring Masterson back to Boston (according to Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer). Masterson certainly has hit some bumps in the road as an Indians starter after his tenure as a promising and reliable Red Sox reliever, but he had manager Manny Acta calling him "filthy" after a dominant start in Seattle. Masterson's sinker/slider repertoire, combined with sharp movement on his fastball, have put up a 2-0, 1.35 ERA.

Kevin Correia as an Opening Day starter might make anyone shrug, but Correia has been very effective leading what has been a surprisingly competitive Pirates rotation (3.39 ERA, fifth-best in the NL). Correia is 2-0 and has his fielders behind him admiring the late movement on his pitches.

Baltimore's Opening Day starter was Jeremy Guthrie, who earned the respect of his manager, Buck Showalter, on Sunday when he threw six innings of four-hit ball at the Rangers only days after being hospitalized with pneumonia. Guthrie's ERA and WHIP so far both sit at 0.64.

One day earlier in that series, Texas' 6-foot-4, 240-pound lefty Matt Harrison retired 18 straight Orioles. His velocity has been impressive and he's 2-0 with a 1.29 ERA and 11 K's in 14 IP.

The Mets have made the 1-year, $1.1 million signing of Chris Young look like a steal so far. Shoulder problems kept Young to just 18 starts over the previous two seasons in San Diego but he's allowed only six hits in 12.1 innings with 12 strikeouts and a 0.97 WHIP. On Sunday, Young held the Nationals to one hit over seven innings while retiring 18 of the last 19 he faced.

I'll see you all this week on "Baseball Tonight" at 10 p.m. and midnight ET. Follow me on Twitter.

Steve Berthiaume is a regular anchor for "Baseball Tonight" and "SportsCenter." He'll be contributing all season to the SweetSpot blog.

The Red Sox are 0-6, but things could be worse: the 1988 Braves started 0-10, the 2002 Tigers started 0-11, the 1997 Cubs started 0-14 and the 1988 Orioles lost an amazing 21 in a row to begin the season. The Cubs finished 68-94, the best record of the four teams. Thomas Neumann at Page 2 digs into the archives to see what was being said about those teams. Take his quiz to see where the Red Sox fit in.

Nishioka out with broken leg
Nick Swisher's hard slide breaking up a double play took out Tsuyoshi Nishioka, the Twins' rookie second baseman from Japan. Swisher sought out Nishioka after the game to apologize and nobody on the Twins complained that Swisher was out of bounds with the slide. I thought it was a little rougher than you usually see, as Swisher kind of kicked his legs out and up to get Nishioka.

Nick Nelson over at Nick's Twins blog makes a good point that in Japan takeout slides aren't really part of the game and the Twins worked with Nishioka on this during spring training. Matt Tolbert presumably steps in at second base. Considering his career .246/.305/.345 line, the Twins won't be getting much offense up the middle. The Twins have hit just two homers in their first six games and anxiously await Justin Morneau launching his first long ball.

Yankees-Red Sox: Friday's big game
You may have heard about the afternoon tilt at Fenway. It's not just the Red Sox with the spotlight on them, however. Phil Hughes struggled in his first start for the Yankees, topping at about 88 mph with his fastball. Dave Cameron writes that his velocity drop isn't a cause for concern Insider right now. Other links of the day
Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter at @dschoenfield. Follow the SweetSpot blog at @espn_sweet_spot.

SweetSpot Network roundup

February, 17, 2011
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Following Jason Rosenberg's lead from last week, we once again borrow the concept published daily by The Platoon Advantage: a roundup of the best stories around the SweetSpot Network. My hats are off to the hard work done by Bill and TCM on a regular basis -- keep them bookmarked.

Now, on to the links: Joe Janish writes the Mets Today blog and is a part of the SweetSpot blog network.

Oakland's Anderson still most talented A

September, 28, 2010
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Bloomberg Sports' Tommy Rancel reviews Oakland's pitchers and arrives at Trevor Cahill as biggest surprise, Ben Sheets as biggest bust, Gio Gonzalez as 2011 keeper, and cites Cahill as a good candidate for 2011 regression ...
    As mentioned, Cahill has really good traditional stats, but a quick check of his peripherals show he has not been as impressive as those numbers suggest. His 5.31 K/9 IP is poor and his 2.89 BB/9 is acceptable, but only with a higher strikeout rate. In addition to the mediocre control rates, his .237 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is not likely to be repeated again (league average is typically around .300). Cahill is a fine young pitcher with a terrific groundball rate (55.7% ranks among the league leaders) and plenty of room to improve. But buyers beware next season - his ERA's likely to rise, and 17 or more wins might be a reach.

You think? W/L-wise, Cahill might be the biggest (positive) fluke of this season. It'll be akin to a miracle if he wins 15 games next season. Especially considering the Athletics' chronically anemic hitting.

But yes, Cahill's been the biggest surprise, Sheets has been the biggest bust -- as long as I live, I'll never figure that one out -- and Gonzalez is a keeper.

He's not the only one, though.

Dallas Braden shares Cahill's strikeout rate but has walked roughly 30 percent fewer hitters. Not to mention founding the autonomous region of Bradenia. (Granted, Braden's been both hit-lucky -- like Cahill -- and probably homer-lucky this season, so he's also a candidate for ERA regression.)

And Oakland's best starting pitcher is the guy with the 6-6 record: 22-year-old Brett Anderson. In 48 major league starts, he's got a 3.62 ERA and a 3.32 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Anderson missed two months in the middle of the season with an elbow injury, but since coming off the DL in late July he's pitched as well as ever. The only category he wins is probably "2011 Cy Young candidate if he doesn't get hurt again."

Cahill, BABiP, Cy Young, and the A's

August, 31, 2010
8/31/10
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As Dave Cameron wrote last night, "The Trevor Cahill for Cy Young bandwagon lasted four days."

After beating the Indians last week, Cahill's record was 14-5 and Cahill's ERA was 2.43, which did lead to some talk about Cahill's Cy Young worthiness.

Now, it's worth noting that Cahill's ERA still ranks third in the league. And that one of the guys with a lower ERA (Felix Hernandez) is just 10-10, and the other (Clay Buchholz) has essentially the same record (15-5) as Cahill's. It's also worth noting that the Cy Young race is wide open. With an 18-5 record, CC Sabathia's obviously the No. 1 candidate, but his ERA is just eighth best in the league, and if he drops a few more spots on that list, some voters will go looking for a candidate who's been a little better at preventing runs.

Cahill does have a case, based on his ERA and his record, the two legs upon which most Cy Young candidacies stand. There is a third leg, though: strikeouts. And that's where Cahill falls well short of the other candidates.

How does Cahill have such a low ERA despite so few strikeouts?

You probably know. Cahill has induced a huge number of ground balls -- in the American League, only Justin Masterson has coaxed more of them -- and he's also been extraordinarily lucky, with a .224 batting average on balls in play (BABiP) that's the lowest in the league by a whopping 33 points.

Should Cahill's BABiP have any bearing on his Cy Young candidacy? I lean toward yes, but today I'm not willing to engage in some lengthy philosophical discussion. Rather, I'm curious about what BABiP says about the future of Oakland's impressive young rotation.

Look, regardless of what you think about Cahill's season, BABiP tells us -- in this case, with great conviction -- that his ERA won't be nearly as low this season. In the high minors -- and he wasn't there for long, at all -- Cahill struck out a lot of guys, but he also walked a lot of guys. He seems to have made the eminently reasonable decision to throw more strikes and get loads of ground balls, and it's working brilliantly for him. But if you want to be a sinker-baller and a perennial Cy Young candidate, you still have to rack up some strikeouts. From 2006 through '09, Brandon Webb averaged seven strikeouts per nine innings; Cahill's at five per nine innings this season.

Looking ahead, Cahill's demonstrated ceiling is goodness rather than greatness. Of course, he's only 22 and he's still got time to demonstrate something else. With that in mind, let's look at all the young Athletics starters this season: Age, ERA, and BABiP ...

Trevor Cahill: 22/2.82/.224
Gio Gonzalez: 24/3.23/.278
Dallas Braden: 27/3.28/.273
Brett Anderson: 22/3.32/.315
Vin Mazzaro: 23/3.61/.284

We would expect Oakland's pitchers to have relatively low BABiPs, because Oakland's fielders have the highest Defensive Efficiency Rating in the major leagues this season. Braden's and Gonzalez's numbers are a little low, but not so low that anybody should worry about them.

Obviously, BABiP is just one metric. And while it's somewhat tyrannical, it's not the only metric. We could look at ground-ball rates and strikeout-to-walk ratios, too (among other things). And Mazzaro in particular probably doesn't have the skills to consistently support a sub-4.00 ERA. But with the exception of Cahill, BABiP doesn't suggest significant regressions next season for any of the A's young starters.

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