Back in May, Chris Cwik noticed something very interesting about Andrew Cashner. His hard slider was gone. Whether the pitcher had done it to save his arm, or the pitch had changed because of the rigors, the pitch was gone. And, seemingly, the strikeouts with it.
It looks like the hard slider is back.
Check out his velocity chart on the pitch, and there’s a fairly obvious change that happened around his July tenth start — that’s the one with the large error bar. Maybe he was changing it up that day, because after that day, the pitch settled in to the 84-85 mph range where it used to live. In his one-hitter last night, the pitch averaged 83 mph.
The results have followed. His strikeout rate before July 10th was 5.9 per nine, after it was 7.2. His ERA dropped from the high threes to the high twos. He’s gone seven-plus in six straight, with seven-plus strikeouts in five of those.
It’s doubly assuring that the pitch itself showed better peripherals after that date. His swinging strike rate on the pitch doubled, and the pitch now gets more whiffs than a regular slider instead of fewer. And all of this makes sense because back when he was a reliever with the cubs, Cashner threw the changeup less. The slider was his bread and butter. Now it’s back.
It’s quite a journey for the pitcher, who was the butt of health jokes and had never thrown more than 112 innings before. If hard slider is coming back, he has the potential to pair good strikeouts with ground balls and great control (not to mention a great home park). Is there anything worth worrying about?
Of course there’s still the injury history. Even if you discount the missed time this year due to the hunting injury as a freak thing, there’s almost a full year in 2011 missed due to a rotator cuff strain, and then added shoulder issues in 2012.
And then, even that good news with respect to the hard slider doesn’t come without an asterisk — the ground-ball rate on the pitch has dropped with the added velocity (down from over 50% to right around 40%). And check out his ground-ball rate on the season. That peak ground ball rate? July tenth, the day velocity changed on the slider.
I’m not too worried, though. Not only is the ground-ball percentage back on the rise, but the slider isn’t normally used for ground balls. I’d rather have the Cashner with the strikeouts. He throws his sinker third-most according to Brooks Baseball, and that pitch burns many worms (64% since July tenth). He’ll still get his grounders.
The changeup — GIF above aside — gets about half the whiffs it should. And you can tell, even in that GIF, that it’s not the greatest pitch. If you’re worried about it, though, you’ll be happy to know he’s throwing it less since the hard slider has resurfaced. And, over the same hard-slider period, Cashner’s changeup has increased its ground-ball rate (to 53%). Harry Pavlidis most excellently reminded us recently that a good changeup can be used for whiffs, or it can be used for ground balls. Then again, in that same piece he suggests that if your changeup is a ground-ball inducer, it should be ‘firmer’ and depend less on the velocity gap. Maybe Cash could throw the changeup harder?
It doesn’t matter. Andrew Cashner was once a flame-throwing fastball/slider guy with strikeouts, great control, and an okay changeup. Then he took the gas off his slider for a bit — who knows why. Now the old Andrew Cashner is back. Hopefully without the shoulder issues.
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