Pittsburgh Pirates: Examining Trevor Cahill’s Inconsistency

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 01: Trevor Cahill #35 of the Pittsburgh Pirates in action against the St. Louis Cardinals at PNC Park on May 1, 2021 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 01: Trevor Cahill #35 of the Pittsburgh Pirates in action against the St. Louis Cardinals at PNC Park on May 1, 2021 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images) /

Pittsburgh Pirates’ right-handed starter Trevor Cahill has pitched extremely well, but also extremely poorly so far into his 2021 season.

In late March the Pittsburgh Pirates signed veteran pitcher Trevor Cahill to a low-risk one-year deal. Thus far he’s had his moments but has also struggled at times. It’s been very much of a rollercoaster for him through his 5 starts as a Pirate. When he’s on, he’s on, when he’s not, he’s not.

In his 2 quality starts, Cahill has pitched 11 innings, allowing just 2 earned runs on 5 hits and 4 walks. None of the five hits he has surrendered have left the park. He has also struck out 10 batters in these 11 innings of work.

However, the rest of the innings he’s thrown, 13.1 to be exact, they haven’t been great. Walks haven’t been a big issue with just 4 and he still got 14 strikeouts, but he’s given up 24 hits. Three of those hits have been home runs. This has led to 18 earned runs.

His two strong starts have been against some pretty strong lineups. In his 2nd start of the season, he went 5, one-run innings against the San Diego Padres. During that game he had to face a lineup consisting of hot hitters like Manny Machado, Wil Myers, Eric Hosmer and Jake Cronenworth. In the other game, Cahill faced Byron Buxton, Nelson Cruz, Josh Donaldson, all three of which had an OPS above 1.000 at the time, and Luis Arraez. Yet, he fired 6, 1 run innings.

His other starts where he struggled have been against some pretty decent lineups too. Those are against the Cincinnati Reds, Milwaukee Brewers and, most recently, the St. Louis Cardinals. The Reds have had some great bats to start the season. While the Cardinals do not have one currently healthy player performing well above expectations, they have a handful of other batters who are hitting well. The Brewers are the worst out of the three, yet still, have some hot bats.

All told, Cahill’s bottom line consists of a 7.40 ERA, 3.73 FIP and 1.52 WHIP. Despite those numbers, he still has some decent ERA estimators. Cahill sits with a 3.43 xFIP, 3.76 SIERA and 3.52 DRA. He’s still inducing ground balls at an extremely good 56% rate, although he is well below average in terms of hard-hit rate (48.1%) and exit velocity (90.2 MPH). However, he has the best flyball rate of his career since 2016.

Most of the reason he has struggled so far is that he hasn’t been able to get out of the first inning unscathed. So far, opponents have a 1.186 OPS in the first inning. Things don’t get much better in the second inning with a 1.140 OPS. However, his highest single inning OPS after the 3rd is .528, that coming in the 4th.

Now part of this has been because he’s gotten unlucky. His .351 batting average on balls in play is way higher than his career mark of .286. Currently, the Pittsburgh Pirates are the 4th worst defensive team in baseball by FanGraphs’ metric. They have not seen Ke’Bryan Hayes play in a month. It also hasn’t helped the Pittsburgh Pirates have the worst defensive outfield in terms of DRS (-10), UZR/150 (-11), outfield arm runs above average (-4.3), while ranking 20th in range runs above average (-0.8).

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So far, we’re only looking at 5 games and less than 30 innings. The real Cahill is probably somewhere in between these extremes. He likely won’t keep pitching as poorly as he did against the Cardinals, Brewers or Reds. However, he likely isn’t the ace that we saw shutdown the Padre and Twin lineups.

Cahill is probably closer to what his ERA estimators are saying. A 3.50-3.70 pitcher who will give you 5 or so solid innings each outing. If Cahill can prove he’s more of that pitcher heading into the summer, he could be a potential trade piece for the Bucs come the deadline.