Baseball is full of interesting stories.
For as many stories there are about the top draft pick that went on to be a complete bust, there are just as many for players drafted in later rounds who went on to have great success. While those two are the most interesting stories to watch, I would argue that up and down careers are the most intriguing.
The newest member of the San Diego Padres’ ragtag rotation has just that type of story.
Originally drafted in the second round with the 66th overall selection by the Oakland Athletics in the 2006 MLB Draft, right-hander Trevor Cahill has seemingly been in the Major Leagues for an entirety. Surprisingly enough, Cahill is still only 28 years old, and perhaps still in the prime of his career.
After spending parts of three seasons with the Oakland A’s minor league affiliates, and throwing just over 200 innings, Cahill saw his first major league action in 2009. In 178.2 innings over 32 starts, Cahill struggled, finishing the year with an ERA of 4.63 and a FIP well over 5.00. Despite not finishing a single minor league level with an ERA over 3.00, Cahill struggled mightily in his first taste of big league action.
Even with the struggles, there were some bright spots for Cahill, as he benefitted from a low BaBIP, at just .272, and also pitched to a near 50% ground ball rate on the year. Going into 2010, there was some optimism that Cahill could bring it together and have a more consistent season for the Athletics. And Cahill did not disappoint. After a rocky rookie season, Cahill ended up having the best season of his career in 2010, at just 22 years old.
Not only did Cahill increase his strikeouts and lower his walks, but he also further improved his ground ball rate, dropped his ERA by nearly two full points, as well as somehow garnered an even lower BABIP than his strong 2009 number. On top of that, Cahill threw even more innings for the A’s, finishing just shy of 200 after throwing 178.2 in 2009.
After a somewhat less successful 2011 campaign with the Athletics, in which he once again finished with an ERA over 4.00, Cahill was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks as part of what now seems like an inconsequential trade. Cahill had some success in Arizona in 2013, having his most successful season to date, striking out more batters and getting more ground ball outs than in any previous season, despite still finishing with an ERA closer to 4.00 than 3.00.
Cahill saw his innings fall in 2013 to just 146.2, although he still had some success. This was followed by a disastrous 2015 season that led to him being traded to the Braves at the end of it. Cahill was released mid-season by the Braves in 2015 before signing with the Dodgers and then opting out in August. Cahill ended his whirlwind 2015 season with a contract with the Chicago Cubs and a postseason appearance.
Following his success out of the bullpen, the Cubs elected to bring the right-hander back for 2016 on a one-year deal worth just over $4 million. Cahill excelled in that role for the Cubs, finishing the season with a career-high strikeout rate (9.05 K/9) and a career-low ERA of 2.74. Cahill had more walks than he had in his successful years with the Athletics and D’backs but he was able to overcome those and still have a successful season.
One thing Cahill has always done consistently over the course of his career is get ground ball outs. Even when the strikeouts weren’t there or the home run numbers were higher than he wanted them, Cahill has consistently run ground ball rates near or over 50% every year. What the following table shows is how elite Cahill has been at inducing batters into ground balls.
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