This is the year of the super utility pitcher, I can feel it. It’s going to be discussed, shared, overused, misused, dismissed and accepted all throughout baseball.
At the top of the discussion, though, might actually be the Chicago Cubs. By my count, there are four pitchers that fall into the super utility category, all of which appear to be near-locks for the bullpen. Those pitchers are, of course, Adam Warren, Travis Wood, Clayton Richard and Trevor Cahill. While each have their story and have had their success, for a moment we’re going to take a quick look at the latter.
Trevor Cahill had a roller coaster of a season in 2015, having begun the year as a starter with the Braves, before a failed transition to the bullpen, and minor league deal with the Dodgers. After Los Angeles, you know the story; Cahill opted out of his minor league deal, and signed on with the Cubs. It wasn’t until his time with Chicago that Cahill really started realizing his success.
It was a small sample, there’s no question, but what Cahill did in limited duty was impressive. But was it legit? Was it something we can expect him to repeat in 2016?
Typically, when certain starting pitchers transition to the bullpen, the expectation is that he will increase his production and/or success. The thinking is that in shorter doses, a pitcher can:
1. Throw with greater velocity;
2. Eliminate his weakest pitch(es), simplifying his repertoire; and
3. Be exposed fewer times to the same hitters in the same game.
In this deep dive over at FanGraphs, Owen Watson takes a stab at explaining the entire story, and digging into the actual changes in Cahill’s game. So give it a read, and see what you think. It’s interesting to see that, in addition to the expected starter-to-bullpen changes, Cahill also reworked his arm slot a bit with the Cubs, with great success.
For me, I have to agree with Watson’s conclusion, though, that despite the small sample, Cahill has done enough – made enough changes – to give us some comfort that the guy he was with the Cubs to end the year is the guy he can be again in 2016. And that guy is an incredibly valuable pitcher who can be used in a wide variety of roles.