How to Raise Your Stock in 10 Days, Starring Andrew Cashner

Any team looking to acquire starting pitching at this year’s trade deadline is going to have to be prepared to take on some risk in the form of uncertainty. Rich Hill, long viewed as the prize of potentially available arms, is a 36-year-old former journeyman who only started pitching like the kind of arm you’d pay to acquire less than a year ago. Now, he’s recently been scratched from a start due to a blister, left the following the start after five pitches, and is doubtful for his next one. The next-most intriguing option was Drew Pomeranz, who’s been good for an even shorter period than Hill, and comes with potential workload limitations. Even the big names of the market, like Chris Archer and Sonny Gray, come with significant recent performance concerns, and both seem unlikely to be moved regardless.

The entire market being littered with question marks, in a way, makes the individual question marks less concerning. It’s just about choosing your question mark. Someone’s going to choose Andrew Cashner’s question mark. Take his word for it:

That’s about as straightforward as it gets. The Marlins and Orioles are both in on Cashner. The Rangers’ biggest area of concern is the rotation, and they’re reportedly interested, too. Probably can’t rule out a team like the Blue Jays or Astros. Hell, it’s not crazy to think the Dombrowski-Preller connection couldn’t strike again.

But, those question marks. Cashner’s got them. Everyone on this market does. Cashner’s question marks go like this: For one, he’s been bad. No sense in beating around the bush. The numbers this year don’t look pretty. He’s got a 4.79 ERA, and an identical FIP. The xFIP isn’t much better. And he’s done it in a pitcher’s park in the National League, so his adjusted numbers are even less appealing.

The second question mark is the durability. Cashner’s been a starter for four years, and he’s reached 30 starts just once. Injuries have been an issue in previous seasons, and they’ve been an issue in this one. It was tightness in both hamstrings that sent him to the disabled list in early May. Then, a neck injury shelved him again in June. He’s had shoulder problems in the past, but the good news, for this year at least, is that the arm’s been clean.

And there’s more in the way of good news. The tricky thing about injuries and player evaluation is figuring how much stock to put in the pre-disabled list performance. If the player was going out there hurt before, and he’s healthy now, how much do you care about the injured performance? It’s the healthy guy you’re after. I say this because Cashner’s looked different since returning from his most recent trip to the disabled list. Considerably different.

Last night, Cashner faced a tough Cardinals lineup, and he struck out eight without a walk or a homer in 5 2/3 one-run innings. The time before that, he faced a tough Giants lineup, and he struck out nine without a walk or a homer in six one-run innings. Admittedly, the start before that was a disaster, his worst of the season, but then the start before that was his first following activation, and he pitched great then, too. Point being: Cashner’s made four starts since getting over the neck injury, including his three best outings of the year.

Those are just results, and in four games nonetheless. Teams are smarter than to react wildly to four starts, especially when one of them was terrible, but this should go a longer way:

Three Andrew Cashners
Time FB Velo SL Velo SL% O-Contact% Z-Contact% Contact% K-BB%
2013-15 94.8 84.2 19.0% 66.2% 88.8% 82.1% 12.1%
2016, Pre-DL 93.8 83.8 20.3% 74.2% 93.6% 86.5% 5.9%
2016, Post-DL 94.3 87.0 37.3% 52.9% 86.2% 74.5% 22.7%

Cashner’s picked up a half-tick on his average fastball. Pre-disabled list, 15% of his fastballs went 96 or harder. These last four starts, he’s reached that upper-tier of velocity on 21% of fastballs. The walks are down from a bit over 9% to a bit under 6%. The strikeouts are way up, from 15% to 28%, because Cashner is missing plenty more bats. He’s missing more bats inside the zone, perhaps due in part to the added life on the heater, and he’s missing more bats outside the zone, and that’s because of the slider. The slider is really what this is all about.

You see that fourth column. Cashner’s nearly doubled his typical slider usage, and he’s added an improbable three miles an hour. Just last night, he threw 85 pitches, and 35 of them were sliders. Aside from a weird, abbreviated outing in Colorado a couple years back, he’s never relied so heavily on the slider for a start in his career.

The usage these last four games has been nearly unprecedented:

CashnerSlider

The usage is way up. The velo is way up. The confidence is way up. He threw it 6% of the time to lefties before, and 13% with two strikes. These last four starts, lefties have seen it 22% of the time, overall, and 40% once Cashner gets ahead. Used to be that the slider was Cashner’s out-pitch against righties, and he stuck with the fastball against lefties. Now, he wants to end every at-bat with the slider.

And why wouldn’t he, so long as he’s touching 90 with it and hitting his spots:

CashnerSliders_PrePost

He says he’s placed a greater emphasis on improving the slider in recent weeks, and has found a new grip that he likes. Earlier in the season, when Cashner didn’t look right, he was leaving the slider up, and consistently throwing it in the low-80’s. Now, it’s in the high-80’s, and buried.

An example of an early-season slider; floaty, slow, elevated, and donged by Randal Grichuk:

An example of a slider from last night; firm, fast, buried, and waved at by Randal Grichuk:

Cashner’s still got some question marks. This is all still just four starts. He’s still just a half-season rental. You can’t totally discard the early-season performance, and you certainly can’t discard the eight-run disaster against the Dodgers two weeks ago. He’ll always have the injury concerns, so you can never feel great about the durability. He’s only pitched into the seventh inning once this year, and he’s yet to finish one.

But right now, Cashner looks healthier; healthier than he’s looked all year. At the risk of hyperbole, we’ve never quite seen him pitch this way as a starter. Not with this slider, at least. And in this market, among all the other question marks, that might be all Andrew Cashner needs to stand out above the rest.





August used to cover the Indians for MLB and ohio.com, but now he's here and thinks writing these in the third person is weird. So you can reach me on Twitter @AugustFG_ or e-mail at august.fagerstrom@fangraphs.com.

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matt
5 years ago

Cashner has seemingly shelved the change, I can’t remember him throwing one yesterday but maybe he did.
Btw according to heyman blue Jays were scouting him.