Progress for Andrew Cashner in Start No. 2

It took 53 pitches for Andrew Cashner to get through two innings against the Diamondbacks on Monday Night, as early struggles for the Padres’ right hander (plus a costly error and some BABiP bad luck) led to a four-run second inning for Arizona. After that, however, Cashner settled down and ended up throwing six solid innings, allowing only the four runs the D’backs plated in the second. His final line:

6 inn., 7 hits, 4 runs, 0 ER, 1 walk, 9 strikeouts

If there’s a major knock against Cashner, other than his spotty health history, it’s the fact that he doesn’t strike out that many hitters, especially for someone consistently pumping in mid-to-upper 90s gas. Part of that is probably by design, as Cashner’s go-to two-seam fastball is used more to get ahead in the count and induce weak contact than it is as a put-away pitch, but it’s still a fair criticism. It’s hard to be a great pitcher without good strikeout numbers, and Cashner’s posted a lackluster 18.2 percent strikeout percentage in 2013 and 2014, putting him squarely between pitching luminaries Trevor Cahill and Charlie Morton.

What was encouraging about Monday night’s start, then, was not only Cashner’s ability to rack up nine strikeouts, but also his ability to get D’back hitters to swing and miss. The following table from Brooks Baseball shows Cashner’s whiff rates (swings/pitches) from 2014 and each of his first two starts this season:

Year/Start Whiff% 4-FB Whiff% 2-FB Whiff% SL Whiff% CH Whiff% CB
2014 8% 4% 18% 17% 7%
2015 Start No. 1 14% (2/14) 11% (6/57) 21% (3/14) 9% (1/11)
2015 Start No. 2 7% (5/69) 100% (2/2) 28% (5/18) 23% (3/13) 0% (0/3)

Don’t pay too much attention to the fastballs (PITCHf/x doesn’t code them correctly, so his most recent start is wrong) or the curve balls (he doesn’t throw them enough); check out the sliders and changeups, though. It’s a reeeealy small sample, of course, but batters swung and missed at nearly 26 percent of Cashner’s sliders and changeups on Monday night, up significantly from his 2014 numbers. If Cashner’s able to use both of those pitches as out pitches more frequently — he struck out four D’backs swinging at sliders — he won’t have to be so reliant on the randomness of balls in play.

For your viewing pleasure, here are three GIFs (yes, I finally made a GIF) from the fifth inning against Arizona, where Cashner used two nasty sliders to strike out Chris Owings and Paul Goldschmidt back-to-back and then, after a couple of singles, froze Jake Lamb with a two-seamer on the inside corner:

Owings:

owingsk

Goldschmidt:

goldschmidtk

Lamb:

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Andrew Cashner was far from perfect against the D’backs on Monday night. Like his start last week against the Dodgers, he missed his spots more than you’d like to see — only this time Adrian Gonzalez was nowhere to be found. Still, Cashner peppered the strike zone all night, and if you take away that untimely Yangervis Solarte error in the second, he might not have given up a run all night. More importantly, he showed an ability to put away hitters with his off-speed stuff, a sign he might be ready to make the jump into the realm of a true power pitcher.

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