Judging the Royals

Does Trevor Cahill make the Kansas City Royals better?

New Royals pitcher Trevor Cahill.
New Royals pitcher Trevor Cahill. Tribune News Services

Teams often make deals that seem underwhelming; fans look at the new guy’s numbers and can’t see the point. So if you were wondering why the Royals went after Trevor Cahill — a pitcher who is 73-79 with a lifetime ERA of 4.03 — the following information might help.

Let’s start at the beginning.

Had things gone as planned the Royals starting rotation would be Danny Duffy, Jason Vargas, Ian Kennedy, Jason Hammel and Nate Karns; but injuries happen and other pitchers had to make starts. Here’s how those other pitchers did in those starts:

Jake Junis: six starts, 33 innings pitched, .299 batting average allowed, 6.00 ERA, 1-2 record.

Eric Skoglund: three starts, 9  2/3 innings pitched, .333 batting average allowed, 5.59 ERA, 1-1 record.

Matt Strahm: three starts, 11  2/3 innings pitched, .320 batting average allowed, 7.71 ERA, 1-2 record.

Travis Wood: three starts, 13 innings pitched, .379 batting average allowed, 8.31 ERA, 0-1 record.

Chris Young: two starts, 6  2/3 innings pitched, .419 batting average allowed, ERA 12.15, 0-0 record.

Luke Farrell: one start, 2  2/3 innings pitched, .467 batting allowed, 16.88 ERA, 0-0 record.

If those numbers made you react like Dracula being served a piping-hot order of garlic bread, you see the problem: 3-6 record, sky high ERAs and batting averages allowed, short outings and the bullpen being blown out every fifth day.

Trevor Cahill doesn’t have to be a Cy Young candidate to provide a better alternative.

We could get diverted into an argument about what other pitchers might have been available or how much the Royals should be willing to spend, but those are different columns.

For now, let’s concentrate on the guy the Royals did acquire:; Trevor Cahill.

A look inside the numbers

73-79 and a 4.03 ERA are Cahill’s overall numbers; now let’s break them down.

Cahill has appeared in 273 games and started 185 of them; he’s averaged just under six innings per start, so compared to the guys he’s replacing, Cahill is less likely to leave early and blow out the bullpen.

Even if Cahill loses a game, but gives the Royals six innings, he might help them win the next day or the day after that because the Royals have more relievers available.

Fans might be underwhelmed when a team acquires a pitcher known as an innings-eater, but teams take a different view; a guy who can give you innings without getting knocked out the game early and blowing up the bullpen has value; even if that guy doesn’t win.

The numbers indicate Cahill probably won’t get blown out in the first few innings, but he probably won’t go extremely deep in a game either:

The first time through the order batters hit .237, the second time through batters hit .257, but the third time through the order batters hit .286.

Same thing goes for Cahill’s pitch count: batters hit .238 on pitches 1-25, .252 on pitches 26-50 and .256 on pitches 51-75. But on pitches 76-100, batters hit .293.

Cahill might be throwing well some night and go deep in a game, but most of the time, we’re probably going to see a pitcher who tends to go five to six innings.

If he does that, and keeps the Royals within striking distance, Cahill has done his job.

Being ahead or behind in the count will be the difference

Like every pitcher since David faced Goliath, Cahill needs to throw a first-pitch strike.

If Cahill’s first pitch is a ball, batters hit .279 after that; if Cahill’s first pitch is a strike, batters hit .219.

When a pitcher gets ahead in the count he has more options; he can throw a wider variety of pitches to a wider variety of locations. When a pitcher gets behind, he might be stuck throwing fastballs down the pipe.

Like a lot of other starting pitchers, Cahill saves his best stuff for the biggest at-bats; with two outs and runner in scoring position, batters hit .228.

And matchups will matter.

When Cahill’s teammates score two runs or less, his record is 4-44. If his teammates score 3-5 runs, he’s 27-24 and if they score six or more runs Cahill’s a world-beater; with that kind of run support, his record is 36-5.

Bottom line: it appears Cahill is an improvement

When the Royals acquire a pitcher like Johnny Cueto, it makes a big splash and intrigues fans, but a GM working on a budget has to figure out how to squeeze the most wins out of what he’s allowed to spend.

If Trevor Cahill wins one more game than the pitchers he replaces and the Royals make the playoffs by one game, he was a huge acquisition.

When you look at what the alternative starting pitchers have done, it seems pretty clear: Trevor Cahill should make the Royals a better team.

Now let’s see what happens with Francisco Liriano.