Enter Andrew Cashner

In the previous episode of the Carlos Silva Chronicles, our hero exited stage left, no doubt brooding over his dramatic return. Meanwhile, in the stead of our intrepid and silver-tongued protagonist, a young and handsome right-hander — a prospect highly touted, mysterious and oft-cloaked in shadows — has emerged. Enter Andrew Cashner.

Having won the spring’s now-contested fifth starter competition (“It’s a farce!” cries our hero), the youthful Cashner now aims to prove he can begin and maintain a career as a Large League starter on the 2011 Cubs roster and avoid the scouts’ runic portents of a transition to the bullpen.

What Cashner Has Did
Over the last two years, Andrew made many a minor leaguer reconsider occupation changes. Whilst starting games ranging from High- to Triple-A, Cashner nary a once touched a 3.50 Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP):

FIPs Thru Time
2009: 3.18 (A+, 42 IP)
2009: 3.29 (AA, ~58 IP)
2010: 2.31 (AA, 36 IP)
2010: 2.01 (AAA, 21 IP)

Then, in what we can assume was only a response to complaints from Triple-A hitters, Jim Hendry invited the Cashner to join the Cubs Triumvirate of Doom — perhaps the most elite, top-heavy bullpen in the non-competitive world.

However, Cashner failed in the short run to fulfill his Watchers’ prophecies, offering a less-than-epic 4.80 ERA and 5.02 FIP during 54.1 innings. Wise Sabermagicians and Fanatic Graphers will know well that relievers’ numbers spin yarns and untruths more than most, and Cashner’s numbers in relief likewise belie the facts.

Consider the nights of July 27th and 30th. On those nights, Cashner made two appearances, allowing an even six earned runs in both — retiring only four batters on the 27th and no batters on 30th. Whatever it was on these two consecutive appearances — perhaps a fly in Cashner’s grits, a ominous alignment of heavenly bodies, or a nagging case of Scott Schoeneweis — but Cashner pitched like a turd.

If we remove those two star-crossed nights from the record (CAUTION: Do not attempt!), then we find a very different impression:

2010 in reality: 5.03 FIP, 4.80 ERA, 54.1 IP
2010 in pretends: 3.99 FIP, 2.89 ERA, 53.0 IP

We can see those two nights were certainly out of character with Cashner, and, when we cover them with our greasy, pudgy thumbs, we see the young, highly-touted prospect we anticipated to find. A ~4.00 FIP in relief isn’t necessarily shiny, but for a (then) 23-year-old rookie who had just completed a barnstorming tour of the minor leagues, it’s more than satisfactory (and much closer to his 2010 xFIP).

What Cashner’s About’a Do
Most projections systems expect Cashner to start in the 4.20 to 4.50 FIP and ERA range, lobbing close to 150 innings as a starter — putting him in the respectable 1.6 to 2.2 WAR range. However, this is a man who utterly embarrassed minor leagues that were on average one to two years older than him. Does it sound unreasonable for him to outplay Paul Maholm (4.05 FIP since 2008)? No.

The problem with Cashner, as any nearby scout will tell you, is his lack of an arsenal. Consider the pitches he employed in 2010:

Cashner's Pitches

Cashner did not precisely offer a clinic on pitch selection, but coming out of relief (as well as throwing your heater comfortably in 96-mph range) affords that kind of one dimensionality.

Keys For Cashner to Cash In
For Cashner to be the awesome this year, he needs to:

    master his change. Possessing a changeup 10 mph slower than his sizzling fastball would equalize the lefties who fared well against him last year. His slider already makes righties cry, but a strong change could spell doom and despair for both hands.
    keep it fielding independent. Cashner certainly has the potential to repeat — if not beat — his ~8 K/9 from last year, and he’d be wise to do so. With the exception of possibly Darwin Barney or Jeff Baker, the Cubs fielders are neither glove mavens nor short-toothers. Over recent years, UZR reports the Cubs fielding has not been fantastic, and has only declined with the likewise aging of its sluggers.
    hit some home runs. If Cashner cares about his wins, he’s going to need to help an otherwise unspectacular Cubs offense cross the plate e’ry now and then.

The Cubs newest star has an excellent opportunity before him, playing on a mediocre club teetering on the cusp of playoff hopes. If he wants to step out of the shrouding shadows and become the game’s next young star, he’s got every chance to do so in 2011.



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Bradley writes for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. Follow him on Twitter @BradleyWoodrum.


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Telo
Guest
Telo
5 years 5 months ago

Hahaha. Loved it. Really nice read.

(Minor correction: you wrote “2011 in pretends”, instead of 2010)

Carson Cistulli
Editor
Member
5 years 5 months ago

Fixed!

JohnnyComeLately
Guest
JohnnyComeLately
5 years 5 months ago

Well written. I enjoyed this a lot!

Rice Cube
Guest
Rice Cube
5 years 5 months ago

Brad, in the next iteration of this article might I suggest that you Photoshop Cashner’s head onto Bruce Lee’s body and call it “Enter the Luck Dragon”…great job as always.

Doug
Guest
Doug
5 years 5 months ago

This was filled to the brim with hilarity. And also truth. I love Cashner, I fully expect him to do well. His last spring start didn’t go well at the beginning, but my God if his change-up looks as good as it did during that start then it will absolutely not be a problem this year. It was Harden-esque.

Steve-0
Guest
Steve-0
5 years 5 months ago

What?!? A semi-upbeat article regarding the Cubs on Fangraphs…Excuse me whilst I go shit a purple twinkie.

BassmanUW
Guest
BassmanUW
5 years 5 months ago

Not only some great analysis, but great humor in there as well. Very enjoyable. To try to match your tone in compliments I will give you a huzzah good sir!

Jack Nugent
Guest
5 years 5 months ago

If names like Jason Hammel, Jamie Garcia, Doug Fister, and Brett Cecil can be 2.5+ WAR pitchers in less than 180 IP, I see no reason why an arm with as much upside as Cashner’s can’t have a similar impact. If the changeup is as improved as some people are saying, then I could see him really catching people by surprise.

Kirsh
Member
Kirsh
5 years 5 months ago

Have him for $4 in ottoneu. Will he be worth it this year, or am I going to have to wait?

Brian
Guest
Brian
5 years 5 months ago

I know that Cashner has been good in the minors and I certainly think he can put up 2 WAR this year, but I feel like your general tone might be too enthusiastic (forcing “minor leaguers to consider changing professions”).

In only one minor league stint did he strike out above 8 per nine innings and his walk rate is good but not great. I like the guy, but I’m not sure he will amount to more than Jason Hammel.

neuter_your_dogma
Guest
neuter_your_dogma
5 years 5 months ago

“but I’m not sure he will amount to more than Jason Hammel.” Given that Hammel has been the WAR equivalent of Cole Hamels and Matt Cain over the last 2 years, that’s pretty good.

CubsFan
Guest
CubsFan
5 years 5 months ago

Bradley,

It’s hard for me to determine which I liked better, the well-written nature of this post or the subject matter. I certainly hope Cashner’s results this season justify the optimism felt by those of us who believe he will make it as a big league starter.

ofMontreal
Guest
ofMontreal
5 years 5 months ago

You know Bradley, every time I see your byline I think of Bradley Headstone. And you’ve only furthered this by adding prose to the mix. Nice article.

Buford
Guest
Buford
5 years 5 months ago

The first paragraph must have Grantland Rice turning over in his grave.

I stopped reading after “runic portents” in the second paragraph.

Buford
Guest
Buford
5 years 5 months ago

To be fair, I’ve since read the entire article and this is what I have learned:

1- A two-pitch pitcher should develop a third pitch to be a starter.
2- If your defense is bad, strike out as many batters as possible.
3- If your offense is bad, drive in some runs yourself.

This is the analysis that posters were gushing over ?

My advice to the master-of the-obvious who wrote this article is the same as the request that Michael Douglas made in the movie “Wall Street” which was “Tell me something I don’t know, sport!”

Also, the writer’s motto must be “A metaphor a day keeps the doctor away” in which case he must be the healthiest person on this palnet.

Metaphors in small doses are fine, but when they start pouring out of every orifice of the body on a nonstop basis then “Houston, you have a problem.”

[Note: I used used metaphors in my previous paragraph to ensure that those who can only communicate via metaphors understand my position.]

Doug
Guest
Doug
5 years 5 months ago

You failed to learn anything about Cashner’s minor league career then? Or the fact that Cashner already has a developing third pitch, and that last year in the pen he didn’t throw it often?

Or how about the fact that last year he had two Godawful games that skewed his numbers beyond recognition?

You learned none of that at all?

Buford
Guest
Buford
5 years 5 months ago

That’s all last year’s news. And yes I did know that info beforehand.

Anyone who keeps up on a team would have known that also.

Bill
Guest
Bill
5 years 5 months ago

Wow, I’ve seen some FG posts suffer from reporting on the obvious, but this clearly isn’t one of them. I knew nothing about Cashner, now I feel I have a general understanding of his pitching ability. Also, I loved the writing style, it was fun…if you are complaining about the number of metaphors, I think you’re missing the point.

Buford
Guest
Buford
5 years 5 months ago

“… I knew nothing about Cashner …”

When Cashner entered a game, the Cubs fine broadcasting team of Kasper and Brenley (especially Brenley who is one of the best analysts around) gave plenty of information and opinions on Cashner that you read here:

– Minor league information
– His assortment of pitches
– Strengths and weaknesses
– Needs to develop a 3rd pitch to become a starter

Maybe you should watch a few games.

Reid
Guest
Reid
5 years 5 months ago

Great info, and humor works in small doses — but small doses only. There’s little that’s more painful than humor that just tries too hard. And it gets in the way of the analysis, so I had to scan. That prevented me from learning more. A shame.

Bobby g
Guest
Bobby g
5 years 5 months ago

Hahaha…thankfully thats only a shame for you. The fact that you didn’t get it really doesn’t bother me much.

dat cubfan daver
Member
5 years 5 months ago

Great stuff, Brad. I’m very happy that the Cubs are doing the right thing here and giving a high-ceiling arm like Cashner every opportunity to maximize his value in the starting rotation.

But an additional concern of mine, besides whether his secondary pitches will be effective enough to keep him in the rotation, is just how many innings the Cubs will expect him to throw this season. He threw only 54.1 in 2010 and barely crossed the 100 innings mark in 2009 in the minors. The good news is the Cubs’ pitching coach Mark Riggins is aware of this problem and will be closely monitoring Cashner’s pitch counts. Still, this is another wrinkle to his story that could affect how long he stays in the Cubs’ rotation this season.

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