2011 Fantasy Baseball Projections: Brett Anderson or Trevor Cahill?

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2011 Fantasy Baseball Projections: Brett Anderson or Trevor Cahill?
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Through the team’s first 17 games, the Oakland Athletics lead the majors in ERA, and it’s not even close. The A’s team ERA currently sits at 2.44, while the major’s second-lowest ERA (Angels) is 3.01.

Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill have been big contributors to the team’s stellar ERA thus far.

From a fantasy standpoint, however, one can’t help but wonder: Who is better—Anderson or Cahill?

Anderson turned 23 on Feb. 1 this year. Cahill did the same a month later. Both were drafted in the second round of the 2006 draft—Anderson by the Diamondbacks, Cahill by the Athletics (Anderson was later traded to Oakland in the outrageous Dan Haren deal).

The duo ranked No. 1 (Anderson) and No. 2 (Cahill) among Oakland prospects by Baseball America prior to the 2009 season.

Scouting report on Anderson—a left-hander—via Baseball America:

Anderson has premium command, averaging 1.9 walks per nine innings in his pro career and frequently locating his fastball on the corners of the plate…His two-seam fastball sits at 88-92 mph and generates a lot of groundouts. He also can touch 94 mph with his four-seamer. Anderson has above-average secondary pitches across the board, including a mid-to-high-70s curveball with two-plane break. His low-to-mid-80s slider gives him a second quality breaking ball, and his changeup is often a plus pitch.

In 244.2 minor league innings, Anderson posted a 3.38 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 9.6 K/9 and 1.9 BB/9.

Scouting report on Cahill—a right-hander—via Baseball America:

Cahill works off an 88-92 mph two-seam fastball with outstanding heavy sink and running life, enabling him to rack up both grounders and swinging strikes. He also can touch 94 mph with his four-seamer. He backs up his fastballs with a nasty 79-81 mph knuckle-curve, a swing-and-miss pitch with hard downward movement. He also has another tough breaking ball in a low-80s slider with cutter-like action at times.

In 247.1 minor league innings, Cahill posted a 2.62 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 9.9 K/9 and 3.7 BB/9.

The only knock on Anderson at the time was his lack of athleticism. Cahill drew red flags for a slight mechanical flaw and less-than-spectacular command. Both were regarded as having top-of-the-rotation potential.

Fast-forward two years. Baseball America—and the Athletics—look brilliant.

Through 27.2 innings this season, Anderson boasts a stellar 1.63 ERA and 1.05 WHIP to go along with a 6.83 K/9 and a minuscule 0.98 BB/9. Cahill has been nearly as good, with a 2.49 ERA, 0.95 WHIP with an uncharacteristic 9.59 K/9 and 2.49 BB/9 in 25.1 innings.

Both were spectacular last season (Anderson’s ERA was 2.80, Cahill’s 2.97), but the advanced stats suggest Cahill’s 2010 campaign was far from legitimate.

Consider Cahill’s 2010 advanced stats:

  • BABIP: .236 (MLB average: .293)
  • LOB rate: 76.5 percent (MLB average: 72.2 percent)
  • FIP: 4.19
  • xFIP: 3.99

For these reasons, I had Cahill flagged as a bust this season. He’s proven me wrong thus far, however.

His career BABIP of .252 in 400.2 innings is mind-boggling, forcing me to wonder if he’s another advanced-stats defier such as Matt Cain. His groundball rate (career 52 percent) certainly makes a low BABIP possible, but I still suspect a hint of luck; his current strikeout rate (9.59) is completely out of whack as well.

Anderson, on the other hand, is much more legitimate. His 2010 ERA (2.80) was backed by a 3.21 FIP, and his BABIP (.294) supports this even further. Anderson certainly isn’t as good as his current 1.63 ERA suggests, but given the information I’ve presented—past and present—he’s the better fantasy starter.

Comparing their career major league totals support this observation:

  • Anderson: 315.1 IP, 7.02 K/9, 2.0 BB/9, 3.40 ERA, 3.37 FIP, 3.49 xFIP
  • Cahill: 400.2 IP, 5.28 K/9, 3.19 BB/9, 3.68 ERA, 4.61 FIP, 4.29 xFIP

For the season, I’d expect Anderson to post a sub-3.50 ERA with the help of the pitcher-friendly Oakland Coliseum. An average strikeout rate and elite walk rate should ensue.

As for Cahill, I wouldn’t be surprised to see his season-ending ERA balloon into the 4.00 range, with below-average strikeout and walk rates.

Of course, I was wrong about Matt Cain too, so if Cahill becomes an advanced-stat defier, he’ll be an extremely unusual pitcher.

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