The Steady Improvement of Andrew Cashner

It’s tough to say San Diego Padres’ pitcher Andrew Cashner is breaking out. After posting a 3.09 ERA, and a 3.35 FIP, over 175 innings in 2013, Cashner had officially arrived. On top of that, his second half success hinted that there was even more in the tank. If there was one complaint about Cashner’s game, it was that his strikeout rate as a reliever failed to translate in a starting role. He’s put some of those concerns to rest in 2014. Through nine starts, Cashner’s posted a 2.67 ERA, with an equally respectable 2.81 FIP. He’s also managed to pull his strikeout rate into an acceptable area. It can’t be called a breakout, but it’s definitely another step forward in his development.

As Eno Sarris noted in his Cashner article for FoxSports.com, Cashner’s been more reliant on his two-seam fastball since transitioning to the starting role. He’s taken that approach even farther this season. After using the pitch 22.23% of the time in 2013, Cashner has jumped his two-seam usage to 41.05% this year. Cashner explained he uses the pitch to get quicker outs, which helps him go deeper into games. On top of that, it’s also raised his ground ball rate to 54.1%, the highest it’s been since he’s been a starter. It was as high as 56.2% prior to Tuesday’s start, but Cashner oddly induced far more fly balls during the start. Though it’s been a slight increase, Cashner’s ability to get ground balls is important, particularly if he’s not going to be an elite strikeout pitcher.

Though Cashner hasn’t hit an elite strikeout rate yet, he’s been able to show some improvement in that area as well. The problem is, it’s tough to tell how he’s been able to accomplish this thus far. The only pitch with a higher whiff rate this season is Cashner’s changeup, which he’s actually using less often (from 19.05% to 9.21%). His swinging strike rate is also down to a career-low 6.4%. There are two possible explanations for this. One is that Rene Rivera is a framing wizard. A quick glance at the numbers places the Cashner/Rivera battery as the fifth best this season. So, that checks out. The second is just a theory, but it could be that Cashner is getting more called strikes due to the late movement of his two-seam fastball. His swing rates have been lower this year, particularly on balls that wind up in the strike-zone.

Part of his improved success has been an altered repertoire against lefties. Cashner has basically scrapped the curveball this season, and has used a steady diet of sliders as a strikeout pitch against left handers. Lefties posted a .229 batting average against the pitch last season, and throwing it more often has seemed to have an impact thus far. It’s been nearly as effective, as lefties as hitting .211 on his slider. He’s also managed to get seven strikeouts with the pitch in 19 at-bats. Lefties weren’t a huge problem for him last year, but the improvement has helped him take a step forward.

Even if there are some concerns about his strikeout rate holding up, it’s safe to say Cashner has gotten better. He’s learned how to utilize his two-seamer, and has found a way to limit lefties. Cashner obviously works well with Rivera, and as long as the two are together, there’s a chance he’ll continue to steal more strikes. Cashner may not have turned into the flame-throwing, high-strikeout rate starter people drooled over, but his development the past two years has been just as impressive.




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Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.


12 Responses to “The Steady Improvement of Andrew Cashner”

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  1. Injury risk? says:

    Lower zone%, higher contact%, velocity all over the place

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    • Emcee Peepants says:

      Velocity looks remarkably consistent from start to start and has even gradually increased as the season has progressed, which is nice to see.

      As for the lower zone% and increased contact%, I think the article above and Cashner himself say it: he’s pitching more to contact now with his two-seamer. He’s using it over 3 times as much as in 2013, so you would expect different plate discipline numbers with such a drastic change in pitch mix.

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    • bdhudson says:

      Not sure what you mean by all over the place…his velocity has been pretty steady all year.

      http://www.fangraphs.com/pitchfxo.aspx?playerid=8782&position=P&pitch=FA

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      • randplaty says:

        Maybe he means from ’12 to ’13?

        Cashner still has his 98mph fourseamer. He just doesn’t throw it very often anymore. He’s more content with a 94mph twoseamer like Eno’s article points out.

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      • Emcee Peepants says:

        True, but 2012 he was primarily a reliever, so it’s kind of apples to oranges. Since becoming a starter, his velocity is consistent.

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    • bdhudson says:

      But to your overall point, he is Andrew Cashner, and he is also a pitcher, so yeah, injury risk.

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  2. Fatbot says:

    I keep going back to Pod’s Picks on Cashner: “I can’t project him based on hope and wishes,” said Pod. Pretty funny that’s exactly what this fantasy stuff comes down to sometimes.

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    • majnun says:

      Pod, in maybe half a dozen articles, said he can’t support cashner and every single time someone in the comments point out the fact that he changed his approach, and he never responds. It’s weird. Ah well. He’s wrong and we tried to help.

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  3. randplaty says:

    His SwStr% has been pretty worrying to me all year. Last night was his best SwStr% of the season. Its strange how he’s getting more Ks with a lower SwStr%.

    As Eno’s article points out, I think Cashner fiddles a LOT.

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    • Andrew says:

      His SwStr% is a function of pitch usage. Cashner has pretty clearly stated he wants to pitch deeper into games and utilize the two-seamer to do so; his numbers bear that out.

      He has thrown the two-seamer 47% of the time with a mere 1.9% whiff rate, which is below league average (5%), so it’s no surprise Cashner’s SwStr% on the year is so low. But Cashner throws his two-seamer for a strike 71.7% of the time, well above the league average (57.21%). This has resulted in an in-play percentage of 23.9, unsurprisingly above league average (19.9%).

      His change up (+5.2% difference) and slider (+1.2% difference), on the other hand, still boast above average whiff rates while his four-seamer is about league average. It appears Cashner is achieving everything he intends to with his pitch usage and can still strike out anyone if necessary.

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  4. randplaty says:

    Thanks for the great article BTW.

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