The book on Andrew Cashner always seems to be a simple one: he is rarely healthy, but when he is... watch out. A sub-chapter of that book is that Padres have been reluctant to commit to him as a permanent fixture in the starting rotation, but injuries to Tyson Ross and Clayton Richard have forced their hand. Long-term though, it's clear that the Pads want Cashner to succeed as a starter, unless they think trading potential franchise first basemen for relievers is a good idea.
Whatever the catalyst, it appears Cashner is here to stay (until the next injury), leading most attentive fantasy owners into cardiac arrest if they didn't get to him first. It is always a logical strategy, particularly in deep leagues, to scour the waiver wire for high-upside players, even if they are injury-prone. If they hit the DL, you just move on to the next flavor of the week. The cost is likely minimal.
And Cashner is oozing with upside. This year, his average fastball velocity at 95.0 mph is second only to Stephen Strasburg among starters, while in 2012 he pumped it up to 97.7 (largely as a reliever), behind only Kelvin Herrera and some tall lefty out of the ‘pen in Cincinnati. After holding the Marlins scoreless through 7 1/3 innings (the longest outing of his career), Cashner is likely long gone off the wire.
The problem is, he really didn't look that impressive on Monday.
Against one of the worst lineups you'll ever see, Cashner was hardly dominant. For the game, he threw just 55 strikes out of 98 pitches, including 30 strikes and 30 balls at one point. He threw a first-pitch strike to just half of the batters he faced, and his changeup was a non-factor, regularly missing his spots and floating it up and in to righties. He was constantly behind 2-0 and 3-1, with his mediocre fastball command being the biggest culprit. I would not call him "effectively wild" for the game- Marlin hitters simply got themselves out on hittable pitches in the zone after Cash was forced to find the plate. Tiny sample of course, but batters only swung at 22% of pitches out of the zone. He struck out just four, while walking three.
One of those Ks was a critical matchup against Justin Ruggiano with the bases loaded, and he swung through three tight sliders, the last of which was a 3-2 pitch running out of the zone. But that was only after Andrew could not locate his fastball (including within the Ruggiano at-bat), leading to a Hechavarria double (2-0 fastball at belt) and walks to Pierre and Polanco. For crying out loud, he walked Juan Pierre on four pitches.
Obviously the seven shutout innings are a great result, and Cashner may walk away confident from this outing, after making the Cubs look smart for trading him his last time out (5 runs in 4 innings, 4 BBs, 1 K). And maybe he just didn't have his best stuff those two times out.
But that leads me to wonder, when exactly have we seen Andrew Cashner's 'best stuff?' For his major league career (142 innings since 2010), he owns a 22.0% K rate, which would put him in line with Jonathan Sanchez and Felipe Paulino. Fitting, as Paulino can also reach triple digits with the heat, and Sanchez at his best was a strikeout artist. Still, just because that is what those current and former Royals are known for, doesn't mean it's an elite skill overall. It puts them in the late 30s of qualified starters. Good, but not great, and certainly not great considering 70% of those innings for Cashner were as a reliever. As a starter, his best career appearance was in July 2012, taking a no-hitter into the 7th inning against the Astros, striking out nine in 6 1/3. Excellent start, no doubt, but it's the Astros. Brian Bogusevic was batting cleanup that night.
On the flip side, he owns an 11% walk rate, which is higher than those of Ubaldo Jimenez or Francisco Liriano. Barely better than Daisuke. For his minor league career, which is essentially one full season as a full-time starter (205 innings), he walked 3.7 batters per 9.
This is not new.
Until Cashner either reins in the free passes or posts elite strikeout rates, I find it hard to declare him worthy of "must-add" alerts the minute he gets promoted from the bullpen or minors, or is activated off the DL. Further, he may cut down on that walk rate, but can he regularly throw quality strikes?
I do have Cashner on my fantasy squad, but he will be sitting quietly on my bench for his next start against the ever-patient Rays. He won't be facing the Giants, Cubs, and Stanton-less Marlins every time out, and until he can reasonably command his fastball, it's hard to see him getting his FIP or ERA under 4.0.
Put the injuries aside for a second- Andrew needs to be better when he's healthy.
All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs