Andrew Cashner might be considered a back-end starter on the San Diego Padres for now, but it may not take very long before he winds up atop the starting rotation as the team’s ace.
If it were based purely on talent level, he’d already be there. After all, there was a reason why the Friars targeted him in the trade that sent top power-hitting prospect Anthony Rizzo to the Chicago Cubs. Featuring a high 90s fastball that he can dial up to triple digits with relative ease, Cashner came to the San Diego as a power arm who could both excel in relief and be molded into a starter.
Though the former would likely preserve his arm more and give the team a knockout late-inning reliever with serious heat and strikeout ability, the team ultimately chose to go with the latter route simply because that’s the one that would provide San Diego with more value.
It has been rocky at times, but it seems thus far that the Padres have made the right choice.
That’s due to a simple circumstances, really — namely, ineptitude. The team’s starting rotation has been brutal, posting a 26th-ranked 4.98 ERA though 246 combined innings thus far. When you consider the fact that the figure includes Cashner’s 2.80 ERA through 35.1 IP as a starter, it really illustrates the impetus San Diego had in giving him a chance to start for the team.
And speaking of those numbers, it’s of little surprise that he’s easily been the team’s best starter thus far, having posted a 1.13 WHIP and .223 BAA to go along with that sparkling ERA.
But where have all the strikeouts gone?
While the counting numbers are all very nice, the biggest change for Cashner as a starter this year is that he’s not setting down nearly as many batters with strike three as you’d expect. With a 6.65 K/9 on the year thus far, the 26-year-old is simply not getting as many whiffs (8.6 percent swinging strikes, 11.6 percent in 2012) — but that too is part of his evolution as a starter.
Simply put, he’s been tweaking his repertoire and approach to become more efficient on the mound. Asides from dialing back his velocity (94.7 mph in 2013, 98 in 2012) for obvious reasons, Cashner has also relied on his fastball/slider combo less at 61.9 and 9.9 percent respectively, both career-lows.
Instead, he’s put more emphasis on his still-developing changeup (24.3 percent, 21.6 in 2012), and introduced a curveball to the mix, throwing it 3.9 percent of the time.
What that means, ultimately, is that he’s yielding more contact on his offerings out of the strike zone (68.2 percent, 57.4 in 2012), and generating more contact (78.3 percent vs. 73.2 in 2012) — of the weak kind, of course (16.4 percent line drive rate vs. 22.5 percent in 2012).
Combined with improved control (2..25 BB/9 over career as a starter vs. 5.16 BB/9 as a reliever), and you see that the diminished strikeouts are just a small cost to pay en route to his development as an impact starter.
Now, if he can just stay healthy enough to give the team enough innings …