Closing Time: Trevor Cahill reinvents himself as fantasy factor

<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/mlb/players/8410/" data-ylk="slk:Trevor Cahill">Trevor Cahill</a>, jumping off the wire (AP)
Trevor Cahill, jumping off the wire (AP)

When I think of Trevor Cahill, I think more about an old friend than a fantasy stock. He’s been around a while. We’ve had some good times. I fondly remember the 18-8 year with Oakland back in 2010. He was effective in Arizona, despite the park, in 2012.

Cahill’s MO back in the day was simple — pitch to contact, collect a bushel of ground balls. He never struck out many batters, and occasionally walks were an issue.

Fast forward to 2017, with Cahill back in the fantasy eye. He’s getting a chance to start in San Diego — always a plus — and he’s still getting all those ground balls, in between some walks. But there’s a wonderful change to the profile — Cahill is striking out batters, too. Maybe he’s figured some things out at age 29.

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Cahill didn’t last long in Monday’s win over Texas, but he still gave us a useful start (5.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 5 BB, 7 K). You want a deeper turn and better control, but the strikeouts (and the win) are a great deodorant. The ERA dropped to 3.06, the WHIP to 1.16.

Cahill didn’t miss a lot of bats in his salad days. That 18-8 season came with a 5.4 K/9 and a paltry six percent swinging strike rate. We’d laugh those numbers out of town today.

But no one’s laughing at Cahill now. He’s whiffed 44 batters in 35.1 innings this season, getting a swinging strike on 13.9 percent of his pitches. He looks like a totally different guy.

Cahill’s had the feel of his curveball this year, and he’s been spotting his fastball brilliantly. Just about everything he throws has movement — sometimes too much movement, as the walks will tell you. But with a friendly home park to work in, and some good targets in the NL, this is someone who should move towards universal ownership.

As everyone has noticed, injuries have ripped fantasy baseball to shreds in 2017. It’s especially true on the mound, where 13 of the Top 50 Yahoo commodities are on the DL (or suspended) as Tuesday’s play begins. The bad teams in your league need pitching. The good teams in your league need pitching.

Cahill has been aggressively added in the last few days — the Del Don bump surely helped — but he still looks underrepped at 41 percent. The profile has flipped. This is not the Cahill we grew up with.

• I’ve fallen for Aaron Hicks before, and it hasn’t always been a happy ending. He had a nice run in the middle of 2015, but he did nothing last year, his first with the Yankees. A post-hype pedigree story is a good place to start, but sometimes these players never catch up to the expectations.

And yet here we are with Hicks again, watching him force his way into the Yankees lineup. He’s rocking a .342/.462/.644 line, settling in as New York’s No. 2 hitter most of the time. He’s homered six times, stolen five bases, and collected more walks than strikeouts. The K/BB metric isn’t a perfect indicator — we remember the Colby Rasmus silliness from 13 months ago — but it is a stat that stabilizes quickly. Hicks is currently the No. 10 outfielder in 5×5 value.

Playing time isn’t handed out freely in New York; they have too many good hitters for not enough slots. Aaron Judge, Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner also take up time in the outfield, and Chris Carter and Matt Holliday are around for first base and DH at-bats. Maybe Greg Bird will reenter the mix at some point, though he was terrible in the first month.

Nonetheless, Hicks is on a bunch of my teams as I chase the siren of a well-rounded profile and a draft pedigree. The overall lineup in New York is also a selling point — the surging Yankees are the top-scoring team in the American League. Perhaps Hicks is ready for a career breakout at age 27.

This was actually a hit (AP)
This was actually a hit (AP)

• What’s happened to Mike Napoli in his return to Texas? When does a bad start become a bad season?

The .164/.221/.328 slash speaks for itself. And I don’t want to hear about that .200 BABIP — Napoli is making most of his bad luck. He’s 12th in the league in soft contact, his walk rate has plummeted, and he’s at the highest swinging-strike rate of his career.

Napoli is also in his age-35 season, a time where a cliff season is entirely plausible. I’d rather be a year early than a year late in this case. If you can still flip Napoli for something of value, I’ll sign off. And if you prefer to trade with the waiver wire, that’s fine too. Cleveland 2016 was a blast, but sometimes a shorter memory is needed in these cases.

Trey Mancini is another player caught in a numbers game — the Orioles have too many sluggers for not enough roster spots. But with two homers in the last three days — and seven over 69 at-bats — Mancini is at least putting a case together.

Mancini’s a 25-year-old righty slugger with a modest pedigree. He had a .280 average and a .349 OBP at Triple-A last year, that’s good. But a .427 slugging percentage doesn’t fit someone who profiles as a DH, first baseman, or corner outfielder. And the Orioles already have an overflow at those positions; more than any other AL team, this is an offense designed for a slow-pitch softball league. Tap the Natty Boh in left field, swing for the fences.

Nonetheless, all managers are prone to notice a hot streak, and Mancini is getting good at-bats these days. You worry about 22 strikeouts versus just three walks, and the .313 average is probably completely smoke, but maybe Boom Boom Mancini has a few more homers in his bat. He’s owned in a modest 12 percent of Yahoo leagues.

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