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858s & Heartbreak?

Okay, technically Petco Park is in the 619 area code, however Kanye West never had an album that sounded similar to “619s & Hearbreaks.” With that out of the way, we can now take a look at my thoughts on a long time favorite, Andrew Cashner. Minds smarter than my own have already compiled the consensus starting pitcher rankings, but there was dissenting opinion regarding Cashner. His highest rankings were 35 and his lowest was 64, meaning that the jury was still out on Cashner’s ability to put up strong fantasy numbers as a starter.

There were plenty of reasons to fall in love with Cashner’s ability. He kept the ball on the ground with his 52.1% ground ball rate. Moving from Wrigley Field and the windy city to spacious Petco Park should have (and did) help his home run rate. Last season Cashner managed to post a 3.09 ERA and trimmed more than a walk off of his BB/9 rate. So why am questioning my love for Cashner?

Cashner burst onto the scene in 2012 with a great performance as a reliever. He eventually worked his way up to starting five games that season, though his numbers as a starter and as a reliever varied. Seeing a difference in strikeout rate and velocity is nothing new when a pitcher moves from the pen to the rotation, and after an adjustment period I hoped that Cashner would settle in as a strong fantasy SP 2. The 2013 season saw him once again open the year in the bullpen, however after just five outings he was moved to the rotation and didn’t look back.

Below is a table of his career numbers as a reliever against his numbers as a starter.

IP K% BB% FIP xFIP BABIP
Starter 190.1 18.8% 5.9% 3.28 3.48 0.270
Reliver 96 22.2% 13% 4.59 4.01 0.287

Cashner managed to maintain a solid — albeit not spectacular — strikeout rate while trimming his walk rate as a starter. The loss of the strikeouts was frustrating, however his other ratios remained strong. Rather than continuing to examine his career numbers, the following tables are a breakdown of his 2013 season split up into his SP and RP appearances. As usual, the pitch type breakdown is courtesy of BrooksBaseball.net.

Reliever Four-seamer Slider Change Sinker Curve
Frequency 63% 6.7% 26.7% 3% 0.6%
Whiff% 12.5% 18.1% 6.8% 0% 0%
Velocity 95.9 84.8 86.4 94.1 80.7

 

Starter Four-seamer Slider Change Sinker Curve
Frequency 39.3% 11.4% 18.6% 24.4% 6.3%
Whiff% 8.36% 17.7% 10.2% 6% 6.9%
Velocity 94.6 83.4 83.8 93.8 80.2

Cashner only threw 9.1 innings as a reliever last year, clearly not a huge sample size. Still, there was a large difference in his pitch selection. Our own Chris Cwik tackled the potential difference in Cashner’s breaking balls last year in detail here. Given the two distinct pitch classifications in his slider and curveball as well as the decreased reliance on his four-seamer, I think Cashner will rediscover his strikeout rate. As a starter he dropped his fastball usage over 20% and leaned on his sinker, curve and slider more. His changeup, never his out pitch anyways, also saw a drop in frequency after he was moved to the rotation full time. With his track record of keeping the ball on the ground and a favorable home park, I agree with the rankings that place Cashner in the top 35 starting pitchers. Andrew, I’m sorry. It was me, not you. Take me back and I’ll be more supportive.