31 March 2018

If Andrew Cashner's Slider Is Back, Expect More Strikeouts

Andrew Cashner will make his first start for the Orioles today. Despite a 3.40 ERA in 166-plus innings in 2017, projection systems aren't that high on him due to clear concerns with his peripheral stats (including a low strikeout rate). There are reasons to be nervous, but now that the O's also have Alex Cobb, they'll rely on Cashner more as a No. 4 starter instead of a No. 2 or 3, and that's helpful. It's also a positive that, as Jeff Sullivan pointed out at FanGraphs, "Cashner still has most of his old velocity, the velocity he had when he got more strikeouts."

There may be another cause for optimism. That's because "Cashner believes he's regained the feel for his slider, a pitch that was a regular part of his arsenal before last season pitching for the Texas Rangers," according to Eduardo Encina of The Baltimore Sun. Here's more, from Cashner, a few days ago:
“I really think I just figured it out in the last five days,” Cashner said. “For me, I’ve been throwing a cutter. The cutter is still pretty good, but I think I’ve finally found my balance point and release point with my slider and right now, I’ve got it. So you just have to keep that feeling and keep going forward with it.”
It remains to be seen if Cashner has indeed figured things out with his slider. I couldn't find any video of Cashner throwing his slider in spring training, not that that would offer definitive proof anyway. But first, per Brooks Baseball data, last year was the first year in which Cashner didn't throw a single slider. Instead of throwing his slider about 20% of the time, as he did in 2015 and 2016, he threw a cutter about 12% of the time, while also mixing in more curveballs and change-ups.

That mix of pitches, along with Cashner's sinker (40%) and four-seam fastball (24%), helped him post one of the best ERAs of his career, in what also happened to be his first year pitching in the American League. But simply looking at one year's low ERA doesn't paint a full picture.

Cashner's 4.64 K/9 was the lowest of his career (previous low of 6.58), and his 3.46 BB/9 was good but far from great. His groundball rate of 48.6% was also basically the same as his career average of 49%. But he was also able to do a couple things well: limit home runs (8.6% HR/FB) and induce weaker contact (his 18.5 Soft% was a career best).

Perhaps those are things Cashner will be able to keep doing well, or at least keep doing them adequately enough. The reintroduction of Cashner's slider, though, could give him an extra boost. That's because it's easily his best swing-and-miss pitch. Throughout his career, the whiffs per swing on Cashner's slider have never dipped below 32%. In 2017, the whiffs per swing on his cutter was about 22%.

Here's an example of Cashner's slider from 2015:

Here's another from 2016:

Those are both effective pitches, the first a down-and-away breaking ball to finish off a right-handed batter (Hernan Perez); the second, a pitch breaking in to a left-handed Brandon Crawford who has no idea what to do with it. They aren't the best sliders you've ever seen, but they're certainly good enough to give Cashner something useful to work with to finish off opposing batters.

A return to a mix of pitches that includes his slider, along with some increased durability -- Cashner has only thrown more than 170 innings twice -- could give the Orioles a version of Cashner that's better at inducing weak contact, but also generates more strikeouts. That pitcher would be a much-welcomed addition to a team that needs all the pitching it can get.

Stats via FanGraphs and Brooks Baseball


Anonymous said...

I dunno. 5K's was good yesterday but 3HRs was not. I'd rather have 0Ks and 0HRs than 5Ks and 3HRs. Although, he could do anything but, unless the O's offense comes around, it won't matter much.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Roger, I think anyone would choose that. Hopefully the 3 HR thing doesn't become routine.

Pip said...

Re: Cashner game.
The Ump was not calling the low strikes. I saw several that were clearly in the Zone but Jason Castro got the call.
However Cashner actually didn't look bad.
I'm not really very high on him, but as pessimistic as I can be still leaves plenty of room for optimism. He did walk two guys, but he wasn't wild.
The concern should probably been far more focused on the offense and Chris Davis.
The defense doesn't seem to be very good either.