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Missing: Andrew Cashner’s Hard Slider

Andrew Cashner has always been a tantalizing pitcher. Armed with impressive stuff, he’s already shown flashes of brilliance in the rotation. But due to injuries, we haven’t been able to see Cashner dominate over a long period of time. With Cashner getting his fifth start of the season Tuesday, he’s already matched his previous career high. The results have been mixed. Cashner’s getting by with a strong 2.84 ERA, but his 4.04 FIP and 4.34 xFIP indicate struggles are ahead. A major part of that has been Cashner’s inability to get strikeouts. Cashner struck out 28.8% of hitters as a starter last year, but that’s down to 17.1% in 2013. The biggest culprit appears to be the disappearance of his hard slider.

Cashner is not throwing the same slider he’s flashed in past seasons. Last year, the pitch averaged 87.50 mph according to BrooksBaseball.net. This season, it’s coming in at 82.24 mph. That’s a significant difference. There are a number of things that could be going on here. Cashner has moved between starting and relieving during his career, and there’s a chance his slider comes in much slower as a starter. There’s actually some evidence for this. Cashner’s slider has come in slower as a starter, but he’s shown an ability to throw it hard as well. In his three first starts last season, Cashner’s slider averaged between 85 mph and 86 mph. When he returned from his lat injury, the pitch averaged about 83 mph. The pitch has come in even slower in his starts this year.

There’s also a chance that Cashner is mixing in a completely different pitch that is being classified as a slider but isn’t. Cashner talked about bringing back his curveball during the spring (skip to 1:35), and that could explain why he’s suddenly lacking velocity on his breaking pitch. In Monday’s start, Cashner threw two pitches classified as sliders that looked different.

Here’s a gif of Cashner’s slider from Monday:

slowslider

Here’s another pitch classified a slider. Note the movement and difference in velocity:

cashcurve

And, for reference, here’s his fast slider from last season:

fastslide

There’s a lot going on here, but the second pitch is the most important. That’s either some variation of the curveball Cashner talked about using this year, or it’s a hanging slider or a variation of the slider. It’s important to note the second pitch came in three mph less than the pitch in the first gif.

Whatever Cashner is throwing this year hasn’t been nearly as effective. Cashner’s slider was his best strikeout pitch last year, garnering a 23.58% whiff rate. His slower slider has an 8.51% whiff rate this season. That’s wildly different. Cashner’s whiff rates are down on all of his pitches, except the fastball, but the slider has seen the biggest drop-off. He’s also not using it as much in two-strike counts this season, preferring to use his fastball in those situations.

It’s unclear exactly what is happening here. Cashner may have lost some speed on the pitch now that’s he’s in the rotation, but that doesn’t explain how he was able to throw a harder slider as a starter last season. If he’s throwing two different pitches, it could just be a classification issue. But he could also be throwing a modified slider, or two different variations of the pitch. What is clear is that the slow pitch has not been nearly as effective this season. Cashner’s less effective slider has been a huge reason behind his missing strikeouts. If he’s scrapped the pitch or can’t throw it as hard as a starter, the reduced strikeout rate could be here to stay.