It has long been the reluctance of players and teams to send pitchers to the bullpen unless absolutely necessary. Some times it’s the best for the player.
Former Tampa Bay Rays starter Wade Davis is a perfect example. Reluctant to allow the Rays to send him to the ‘pen, the World Series winning closer just signed a 3/$52MM deal with the Colorado Rockies. That’s the largest deal ever for a relief pitcher in annual salary.
Last year the Los Angeles Dodgers signed Brandon Morrow to a minor league deal much like the one the Rays gave to Tommy Hunter. Morrow has since signed a two year deal guaranteeing him $21MM, and Hunter signed a two year deal worth $18MM.
This year one pitcher that could look to make the move back to the bullpen and follow a similar road to success is Trevor Cahill.
Last year Cahill signed a deal for $1.75MM with the San Diego Padres. It had minor incentives that could be earned through starting (games started) or relieving (appearances). Cahill made 14 starts putting up lackluster results. In 81.0 innings split between 14 starts and seven relief appearances Cahill put up a 4.93 ERA and 5.28 FIP.
In 2016 Cahill signed a free agent deal with the Cubs for a larger $4.25MM guarantee. It also included incentives that could be achieved as a starter or reliever. He made 50 appearances with only one start. In the 65.2 innings he put up a 2.74 ERA and 4.35 FIP. The results were great, even if the peripherals suggested he was quite fortunate.
In Cahill’s career he has thrown 131.1 innings out of the bullpen where he has a 3.70 ERA, 4.48 FIP, and 3.71 xFIP. The numbers aren’t spectacular, but there’s something to work with, particularly due to a surge in strikeout rate from 16.5% as a starter to 23.1% out of the bullpen.
In 115.1 innings out of the bullpen between 2014 and 2016 Cahill posted a 3.36 ERA, 3.84 FIP, and 3.48 xFIP. Batters hit .225/.320/.337 against him and put up a .293 wOBA.
Moving to the bullpen allows Cahill to leverage his two best pitches, because his 92 mph sinker and 84 mph changeup are his real weapons. His sinker has led to a groundball rate of over 56%. His change up has posted over 22% whiff rates in three of the past four years.
Cahill had a strong run as a mid rotation starter from 2010-12 with the Oakland Athletics and Arizona Diamondbacks. He was able to limit walks during that time period but since has traditionally run a walk rate in the 10-12% range, including last season.
After a tough 2017 there might not be any starting offers or maybe even major league offers at all. If Cahill is interested in a return to the bullpen, the Rays should be willing to listen.