The Brilliance of Andrew Cashner

On Friday night against the Detroit Tigers — one of the best offenses in the American League — Andrew Cashner delivered his second complete game one-hitter in five starts. After Cashner fittingly struck out Miguel Cabrera — the best hitter in all of baseball — to end things, just four Tigers had reached base all night. And, if you watched the game, you were probably left wondering … how in the world did four players actually reach base against Cashner?

Cashner used a devastating combination of power and pinpoint control to completely shut down the Tigers. His two-seam fastball, ranging in speeds from 90 to 96 miles per hour, was perfectly spotted all night on the edges of the strike zone, particularly on the outer half to right-handed hitters. When he needed a little something extra, Cashner’s four-seam heater — like the one that struck out Cabrera in the ninth — topped out at 99.6 mph, according to PITCHf/x. The slider, which also seemed destined to end up right where catcher Rene Rivera wanted it, was just icing on the cake.

The command that Cashner had on Friday night was so impressive that I decided to re-watch his start, this time tracking how many of his pitches went exactly where he (and Rivera) wanted them. (For some context, I also did this for Tigers starter Rick Porcello.). Consider these numbers rough estimates, as determining if a pitch hit its intended target is a somewhat subjective and more difficult task than you might imagine. It’s probably a job better suited for MLB’s new player/ball-tracking technology or a team of interns using frame-by-frame analysis. Instead, you’re stuck with me.

Here’s the inning-by-inning chart that shows how many of Cashner’s and Porcello’s pitches hit their catcher’s target:

CashnerPorcello

You may first notice first that, overall, Cashner narrowly beat out Porcello percentage-wise (54 percent to 51 percent), yet Porcello was roughed up for 10 hits and five runs over 6 1/3 innings. Remember, though, Porcello didn’t walk anybody and he threw a strike 73 percent of the time. Porcello’s issue wasn’t command; his stuff just wasn’t as good as Cashner’s and even when he hit his spots, like he did on a 2-2 pitch to Chase Headley in the sixth inning that ended up in the seats, he was hit hard. I would guess that both Porcello and Cashner hit their spots at a well above average clip, although we obviously don’t have any tangible numbers to compare their performance to.

For Cashner, I also broke down his command percentage (that’s what I’m calling it, anyway) by pitch type:

Cashnerpitchtype

As you can see from the first table, Cashner didn’t start off all that great, hitting his spot on just 34 percent of his pitches in the first two innings. The Tigers weren’t getting on base often or hitting the ball hard, but after two innings it didn’t look like Cashner was bound for another one-hitter. Then came the third inning.

Here’s an 0-2 two-seamer that would strike out Rajai Davis, the left image showing where Rivera wanted it and the right one where Cashner put it:

Cash1

The following batter, Ian Kinsler, received this two-seamer that painted the black and struck him out looking:

Cash2

In the seventh inning, Cashner threw two consecutive two-seamers near the outside corner to Austin Jackson. The first one was called a ball, but the second one got the job done.

The 2-2 pitch:

Cash4

The 3-2 pitch:

Cash5

Cashner often throws the same pitch to left-handed batters, only it ends up on the inner half of the plate rather than the outer. Here’s one to Andrew Romine in the eighth inning:

Cash3

Cashner’s pure stuff, by itself, is jaw-dropping. But when combined with the kind of command he showed from the second inning on against Detroit, it’s almost unhittable. Cashner’s two-seamer (or sinker) is a groundball machine, but he’s also able to use it to get ahead in counts and get strikeouts by putting it where batters can’t hit it. Cashner also seems two have a couple of different sliders, one that’s more used as a get-me-over pitch, which he can spot with precision, and one that’s more of a wipe-out, swing-and-miss put-away offering.

To further show how spot-on Cashner was against the Tigers, here are his strike zone plots courtesy of Brooks Baseball:

Cashstrikezoneplot1

There’s a lot of white space in the middle of those strike zones, particularly on the inside half of the plate. (Both charts are from the catcher’s/pitcher’s perspective.) Against lefties, Cashner used his two-seamer on both the inside and outside corners, while mixing in low sliders and changeups as swing-and-miss offerings. Against righties, he relentlessly pounded the outer half with two-seamers, rarely testing hitters on the inside part of the plate. He used his slider, as mentioned above, both in the zone for get-ahead strikes and low-and-away looking for whiffs.

Or, as Bud Black described Cashner’s performance after the game:

“He didn’t throw many change-ups,” Padres manager Bud Black said of Cashner’s best secondary pitch, “but enough to keep them honest. He mixed in some sliders, but I think tonight was about movement of the fastball and the change in speeds.

“That was as good as you’ll see.”

Here’s a breakdown of how Cashner mixed up the speed on the two-seamer, as classified by PITCHf/x, just for kicks:

Cashner2seam

Remember, he was also able to mix in the four-seamer for a different look with (generally) more velocity and less movement.

Plenty of people had their doubts about Cashner (*cough*like me*cough*) when the Padres traded Anthony Rizzo for him over two years ago. He was still a reliever then, and he carried with him plenty of injury baggage. He’s transitioned to the rotation now, remained healthy (barring the hunting accident), and pitched like a true No. 1 starter. Were Jedd Gyorko able to Stretch Armstrong a Rajai Davis liner in the sixth inning on Friday, Cashner would own the first no-hitter in Padres history.

Durability questions will likely linger until Cashner’s able to notch a couple of 200-plus inning seasons and contract extensions for starting pitchers don’t always end well, but those issues will sort themselves out in time. Cashner’s next scheduled start is Wednesday night against Colorado. I’ll be tuning in.

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  • Robby Deming

    Seems to me that we won that trade.