Going Deep: Should We Cash in or Cash out on Cashner?
You might not believe this, but Andrew Cashner was a first-round pick of the Chicago Cubs in the 2008 draft. You also might not believe this, but Andrew Cashner was in a trade where he went to San Diego and Anthony Rizzo went to the North Side of Chicago. So I guess us fantasy GMs should feel a little bit of solace knowing even real general managers have been fooled on the idea of Andrew Cashner being a lights-out starting pitcher.
His velocity was up there with some of the fireball throwing starters, but he could never put up the strikeouts to go along with it. He put up a decent season in Arlington before signing a two-year deal last year with the Baltimore Orioles. His first season in Baltimore was one to forget. He had a 5.29 ERA to go along with an awful 1.58 WHIP and 13.6 HR/FB ratio.
Cashner had burned too many bridges and probably went undrafted in your fantasy league. However, in his past five starts before the All-Star break, Cashner has been killing it. In 32 innings, Cashner has a 1.41 ERA, 0.72 WHIP, and picked up four wins. Is this for real? Let’s dig a little deeper into Cashner’s season to date.
Getting Rid of the Stinky Sinker
One of the biggest changes Cashner has made this season is that he totally has given up the sinker, which is huge.
In 2018, the sinker was an absolute awful pitch. It was extremely hittable, evidenced by a 93.9% contact rate. Traditionally, a sinker is a ground-ball pitch, and while Cashner’s sinker got ground balls 44.5% of the time, it decreased from 48.2% in 2017. He traded these ground balls for fly balls, and those fly balls left the park 18.9% of the time. All of that led to a -10.5 pVAL, so it is not a shock why Cashner moved on from the pitch.
If Cashner shelved his sinker, then what did he replace it with? Cashner is using his four-seamer much more, up to 46% from 25.8% last year. Cashner has been steadily losing velocity on the pitch for years, but his average velocity is almost up 1 mile per hour from last year, 93.0 mph to 93.6 mph. He also has some increased spin rate, up from 2,188 RPM to 2,206 RPM. These changes have led to more ground balls. His topped rate has increased by almost seven points from 20.49% to 27.43%. He is also getting more called strikes with the four-seam, especially in 0-0 counts.
Now, look at this year.
Going from 8.7% to 23.5% is huge. The league average for a called strike in a 0-0 count is 3.2%, so he was above average even before this massive jump. Of course, he has gotten a few gifts, but overall, Cashner is just pounding the zone with the four-seamer, and batters are just not swinging.
Alongside the four-seamer, Cashner is also using his changeup more. He is using it 25.7% of the time, up from 13.1% last year. The changeup has been pretty successful for Cashner. Just like the four-seamer, he is just pounding the zone with the pitch. The zone rate this year is 48.7%, up from 38.6% last year. He is also generating a bunch more ground balls with the changeup, 40.6% last year versus 56.0% this year.
Now, look at all of these ground balls to the left side of the diamond Cashner is getting this year:
With all those ground balls, batters are hitting a paltry .173 with a slugging percentage .239. The changeup has improved against righties. Last year, right-handed batters were hitting .278 with a .500 slugging percentage. This year, the average slugging percentage has dropped to .190 and .357 respectively. The strikeout rate has drastically improved as well, 9.5% in 2018 to 23.9% this year.
Now, take a look at this year.
Whiffs and foul balls have both increased noticeably. If Cashner can keep this up, the combo of the four-seamer and changeup can be successful.
Switching to the Stretch
As I brought up earlier, Cashner has been on fire in his past five games before the break. Can we chalk the success to the pitch mix changes and just a lucky streak? He did face the Blue Jays and Mariners but also the Astros, Athletics, and a red-hot Indians team during that stretch, so he was not facing cupcake lineups. What I found is Cashner is now pitching from the stretch. Check out this video from earlier in the season:
I noticed that Cashner switched to the stretch while in Houston on June 8, which was right before this run of excellence.
I did some quick Google searching and was unable to find any quotes on why he made the switch. This is the No. 1 question I would ask Cashner if I had the chance. Maybe he feels he can better repeat his mechanics when he has one pitching motion?
So… Is Cashner Fantasy-Relevant Now?
I never thought I would say this, but yes, I believe that Cashner is relevant in mid to deep fantasy leagues. He will never rack up strikeouts, but he should be able to help in the ERA and WHIP categories. He also has an excellent chance to rack up quality starts. The Baltimore bullpen is absolutely dreadful, and Brandon Hyde, the O’s manager, will try to keep Cashner in as long as possible.
There is also a chance that Cashner might be moved before the trade deadline at the end of the month. If this is the case, and I would be shocked if it does not happen, he might help you in the wins category.
Featured image by Justin Paradis (@FreshMeatComm on Twitter)