The Texas Rangers signed Andrew Cashner to a one-year deal for $10 million dollars on Friday. It’s tough for a one-year deal to be really bad, almost regardless of the cost because the commitment is so short, but I’m not seeing too much upside here for Cashner or the Rangers. The 30-year old righty showed promise after being installed into the Padres rotation full-time back in 2013, posting a 2.83 ERA and 1.11 WHIP in 298.3 innings (45 starts) over two seasons. But it all started to come unglued in 2015.
The optimistic view pointed to a league-high .330 BABIP and claimed some bad luck against Cashner, but a more realistic view saw declining stuff and an inability to generate as many swings and misses as mid-90s heat and a wipeout slider should. It only got worse in 2016. His command waned further, homers became a problem, and his already weak swinging strike rate dropped down to 7%. Petco Park has transformed into more of a neutral park over the last few years taking away a security blanket for Cashner. He posted sub-2.00 ERA totals at home in 2013 and 2014 to cover his pedestrian road work.
This past season he managed just a 3.63 ERA in Petco, but I’m not sure even a 1.63 would’ve effectively countered his 6.23 on the road. Dummies who refuse to quit Cashner (see also: Sporer, Paul) were slightly encouraged by a midseason trade to Miami for some reason.
“Ooh, he’ll be back in a pitcher’s park!”
“He’ll get to face Philly and Atlanta!”
“He won’t have to go to Coors regularly anymore!”
How’d all that work out?
He did post a 2.28 ERA at home with Miami, but two starts into his tenure with them he found himself back in Coors and it went as expected (5 IP/7 ER). He did get a four-start run of home-and-homes against Philadelphia and Atlanta in September and even though he opened the run with 5.3 scoreless against Philly, he still managed a horrific 6.06 ERA in the 16.3 innings of work. Who knew Atlanta would turn into the ’27 Yankees during the second half of the season?!
It’s hard to pluck anything good from Cashner’s 2016. He started behind in the count more often with a 56% first-pitch strike rate, his worst as a starter. Batters chased less often with a career-worst 27% O-Swing rate. Hell, they didn’t swing at all, relatively speaking, as his 43% swing rate was also the worst of his career.
He also lost nearly 1.5 MPH off of his fastball. Injuries returned, too. After a DL-free 2015, hamstring and neck issues cost him time when still in San Diego. His one plus pitch – the slider – was battered to the tune of a 1.078 OPS with San Diego, although he found it with Miami (.648) and just leaned on it (28% usage). There it is. There’s the one good thing about his season.
Cashner struggled to make it through lineups the second time around, let alone the third. His .695 OPS the third time through was his best (.801 first time, .969 second time), but even that feels like a mirage given the 1.4 K:BB ratio. The problem is that he often didn’t get to face the lineup a third time because of how awful the first two went. He faced an average of five batters a third time in 2016 compared to about eight in 2013-15.
Maybe it’s time to return to the bullpen for Cashner. Cut back to fastball-slider, add a couple ticks back on the fastball, badabing badaboom, he’s dominating again! OK, it’s probably not quite that simple. But relieving would also allow them to mitigate his exposure to lefties which have really become a problem for him. They are the primary source for his newfound home run issues, too. After allowing 13 homers to them in 2013-14, he’s allowed 25 the last two years.
I don’t have a great plan of action to make Cashner great again. Let’s be honest, he was never great, but he was pretty good. Personally, I projected strikeout growth based more on the raw stuff than anything the number suggested. You look at someone like Kevin Gausman who has yet to post that huge strikeout rate commensurate with his stuff, but there’s an 11% swinging strike rate the last two years to lean on.
Cashner enters his age-30 season joining the harder league with a litany of DL stints and two full seasons removed from his last good work. Whatever The Hell They’re Calling It Now Park in Arlington is no longer a super launching pad, but it sure is a helluva lot more difficult a place to pitch than either Petco Park or Marlins Stadium. Cashner is firmly in the “must prove something” bin now, meaning he’s not even worth a $1 flyer at the end of AL-Only auctions. Perhaps worst of all is that the first half of his last name rhymes with “Trash” rendering a built in nickname that is sure to stick after his last two seasons.