Ball Don't Lie
Oakland A's #1 starter Trevor Cahill is over-rated. I heard this enough during the 2010 year, during the entire off-season and even now. Relax Sabre-Dorks. I get the argument. BABIP.
Now, first off, I have a bit of skepticism regarding BABIP, which is Batting Average on Balls In Play, for you people who have lives. BABIP basically says the pitcher has no bearing whatsoever on balls hit into the field of play (obviously home runs are excluded), that once wood hits horsehide, it's all luck, the Baseball Gods with their fakery and whimsical ju-ju are now fully in control.
Do you think Mariano Rivera's cutter in on the hands of a lefty (where it is, roughly, all the time) influences a batted ball? Of course it does, in the form of a weak grounder to the right side or a measly pop-up and, usually, a shattered stick. Does a mighty hitter, every once in a while, manage a bloop over whomever the Yanks are paying ungodly sums to man first base? Sure. But the Mo's cutter surely has a major impact on...er...impact and the former scenario is massively more likely than the latter.
Which brings us to Cahill. Have you seen him pitch? His sinker evokes Brandon Webb in his prime. Or Dan Haren now. Heavy ball. Darting action. No surprise he gets a ton of ground balls (1.35 GB/FB ratio last year) and he is aided by a fine Oakland infield defense (last year anyway) and the spacious Coliseum.
But the Sabre-Guardians can't quit their moaning about Cahill. Unsustainable BABIP (with which I agree, with the above "luck" caveats). Doesn't strike out enough hitters. This is a guy who, at age 22 last season, was an All-Star, had an ERA under 3 (I know, ERA doesn't mean anything, it's peripherals(!) that predict performance; well, maybe I'm an idiot, but I'll take ACTUAL performance over predicted performance any day) and an OPS Against of .619.
Read that last stat again. Also, 22 years-old.
So now, Cahill is off to a heated start in 2011--at age 23. ACTUAL performance. The Sabre-Wonks are trotting out small sample size and "See! His BABIP is up 23 points! WEEEEEEEEE! Regression to the mean! Regression to the mean!"
Except Cahill is allowing an OPS Against of .549 through seven starts. Is striking out more than two batters per nine than last year (and I assure you this isn't a fluke; I've seen all his starts. He is putting suckas away) and his K/BB ratio is at 2.53 versus 1.87 last year. He dominated the best offense in the league last night.
I think we can say that--right now--Trevor Cahill is really good, even over the protestations of those who say he really isn't as good as he looks. Here's the thing:
Maybe it hasn't occurred to others, but young pitchers mature. Young pitchers with nasty movement learn to harness it and have better command. Young pitchers with wide-eyed immaturity gain experience and learn the hitters and vary their attack patterns. Young pitchers get better.
Perhaps this is blasphemy from an A's fan, one who loves and preaches "Moneyball," but sometimes the eyes don't lie. Sometimes watching a player do work is more illuminating than poring through the numbers. Trevor Cahill is on the cusp of being an elite pitcher.
And luck doesn't have anything to do with it.