Champ or Chump: Trevor Cahill & Dallas Keuchel

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This has been a rotten year to invest heavily in starting pitching. Perhaps your ace is on the DL, like Madison Bumgarner or Noah Syndergaard. Maybe they are just underperforming, like Matt Harvey or Julio Teheran. Either way, you're probably looking for a reliable arm, or three.

Trevor Cahill is far from the sexiest name, but his early season success is worthy of fantasy attention. Dallas Keuchel looks to have returned to Cy Young form, but can he be trusted to continue performing as an ace? A closer look will reveal the former as a champ and the latter as a chump.

As always, ownership rates provided are from FleaFlicker formats.

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The Fantasy Jury is Out

Trevor Cahill (SP/RP, SD) 28% Owned

Cahill is currently 3-2 with a 3.06 ERA as a starter for the Padres. Those numbers are no fluke, as his LOB% (72.1 percent, 72.2 percent career) and BABIP against (.280, .284 career) are right on his career averages. His HR/FB is a little low (9.1 percent vs. 12.2 percent career), but regression wouldn't hurt too much. Overall, his 2.79 FIP suggests that Cahill could be a little better going forward.

How did a fantasy streamer become a reliable every-start option? Strikeouts! The owner of a pedestrian career K% of 17.1 percent, Cahill has ramped it up to 30.1 percent so far this year. Cahill is generating all of these Ks by throwing more knucklecurves (19.1 percent last year to 24.5 percent this) at the expense of his sinker (46.3 percent to 38 percent). The K-Curve offers a 21.8 percent SwStr% and 41.6 percent chase rate, making it a devastating wipeout pitch. He has also continued to mix in a change (25.7 percent) that he began to use last year with the Cubs (15.5 percent in 2015, 23.8 percent last year). Its 19.5 percent SwStr% and 41.9 percent chase rate are nearly as good as the K-Curve, and its Zone% is much higher (42.3 percent vs. 28.9 percent).

This pitch mix change has helped Cahill perform better on balls in play as well. The K-Curve is virtually unhittable, limiting batters to a triple slash line of .057/.083/.143. The change is tough to hit too, holding batters to a .226/.294/.323 line. Even Cahill's sinker seems to be benefiting, as batters have a line of .179/.360/.231 versus a career line of .271/.361/.399 against it. Cahill is burying his sinker more often too (43.6 percent Zone% vs. 49.1 percent career). Cahill appears to have changed his entire approach to generate more Ks, and it is working for him.

The downside to this approach is that Cahill is walking a lot of batters (11 percent BB%) as none of his pitches are strikes even half of the time. This drives his pitch count up, limiting the amount of IP he can throw per game. While this hurts his value in wins, quality starts, and IP, it actually helps in IP-capped formats where the emphasis is on the quality, not quantity, of innings thrown. Cahill is also eligible at SP and RP, potentially giving you room to monkey around with your league's rules. It is a sin that Cahill is currently available in over 70 percent of leagues.

Verdict: Champ

 

Dallas Keuchel (SP, HOU) 95% Owned

If you have Keuchel, he probably seems like the savior of your pitching staff. He's 5-0 with a 1.88 ERA, after all. A FIP of 3.73 suggests that his future performance will resemble his disappointing 2016 (9-12, 4.55 ERA, 3.87 FIP) more than his current production though.

Unlike Cahill, Keuchel's luck stats all suggest extremely good fortune. Batters have a .195 BABIP (.292 career) against Keuchel this year despite an extreme ground ball profile (63 percent GB%) that would be expected to inflate BABIP a little. The Astros infield has combined for -10 Defensive Runs Saved this year, so Keuchel's defense is probably not responsible for his low BABIP. His 6.5 percent IFFB% would also be a career worst if Keuchel maintains it all year. Furthermore, he has managed to strand a whopping 93.1 percent of baserunners against him versus a career rate of just 73.2 percent. Keuchel is going to crash and burn if he keeps pitching the way he is.

Worse, there is reason to believe that he will pitch less effectively moving forward. Keuchel's current BB% of 6.7 percent is fine, but he never throws a strike. His 2-seamer has a Zone% of 37.5 percent, his slider stands at 25.9 percent, his change is at 29.8 percent, and his cutter has a Zone% of 36.8 percent. Cahill is walking too many guys with two pitches in the 42 percent-range, and Keuchel is worse! If batters stop chasing out of the zone, Keuchel is doomed.

Finally, Keuchel lacks the strikeout upside offered by many other hurlers. His 21.1 percent K% is average at best, and none of his offerings have high SwStr% numbers relative to their Zone%. The best is his changeup's 17.3 percent whiff rate, which isn't great when paired with a 37 percent chase rate and a low Zone%. The play here is to sell high, before everyone realizes he's waiver fodder.

Verdict: Chump

 

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