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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:

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.