It’s no secret that the Baltimore Orioles needed help for their starting rotation. Effective pitchers would be the preferred route, but honestly, just warm bodies would be an improvement — after all, the only locks all winter have been Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman.
Baltimore finally found someone else to join this duo in Andrew Cashner, who agreed to a two-year, $16 million deal with the club on Thursday (with an option for a third year). On the surface, this looks like a solid signing. Cashner’s 1.9 fWAR in 166.2 innings pitched is a bit of a red flag, but he did manage a 3.40 ERA last year.
For a club that watched its rotation post 5.5 fWAR and a 5.70 ERA as a group in 2017, the above production from Cashner looks like a clear upgrade. However, there are plenty more red flags that make this signing rather risky.
We all know by now that wins, losses, and ERA don’t tell the whole story when it comes to pitcher performance. The journey to those numbers is just as important as the results, and it’s impossible to feel the warm and fuzzies when looking at some of Cashner’s peripherals.
Sure, his overall performance looks great when compared to what he did in 2015 and 2016, but his strikeout rate (K%), swinging-strike rate (SwStr%), walk rate (BB%), and SIERA have mostly gotten progressively worse during this period of time.
What’s even more concerning is how these statistics rank against his peers. Out of 58 qualified hurlers, Cashner’s strikeout rate was second-worst and his walk rate was sixth-worst, while his swinging-strike rate and SIERA both ranked dead last.
The concerns also spread to some of his plate-discipline numbers — the 25.7% chase rate he induced was the lowest of his career, while his 86.4% contact rate allowed was the highest it’s ever been.
It’s rather apparent that in many ways, Cashner was not very good in 2017. So how the heck did he end up being so successful? The veteran right-hander gave up more contact than ever before, but he also controlled the quality of that contact better than he has in quite some time.
What’s important to note is that even though opposing hitters put the ball in play at an incredibly high rate, their collective BABIP was just .266. That could be bound for some regression, but it’s worth noting that the opposition made contact on balls outside the strike zone 74.9% of the time, which was the highest mark of Cashner’s career.
That helped him limit hard contact to 28.4% of the time while inducing soft contact 18.5% of the time, both being new single-season personal bests. His 19.2% line-drive rate and 48.6% ground-ball rate are both also his best marks since he became a full-time starter in 2013.
Welcome to the AL East
Pitching in the AL West isn’t exactly a cakewalk, especially when your home games are at Globe Life Park in Arlington, which ESPN pegged as last year’s the second-best ballpark for offense. That’s the only AL West park that landed in the top half of the league with regard to overall run environment, though. The AL East, on the other hand, had three in the top 15 (Fenway Park, Camden Yards, and Yankee Stadium).
When we flip things around to see where the most homer-friendly venues were, Yankee Stadium and Camden Yards ranked second and third overall, with Globe Life checking in at ninth. So the margin of error is going to be a lot smaller. And that’s not even considering some of the opposing offenses Cashner will be facing.
There are a number of quality bats on the Orioles that he won’t have to face, but the Yankees might break the team home run record this year, and he’ll have to constantly face them in one of the three most homer-friendly places in the league. The Boston Red Sox had their offensive struggles in 2017, but there’s still time to make a significant signing, and the two things they were really good at are conveniently the things that Cashner has struggled with recently — not piling up a bunch of strikeouts while taking their fair share of walks.
The Toronto Blue Jays and Tampa Bay Rays may not pose the same kind of threat as Boston or New York, but there’s still enough talent in those lineups to give Cashner some trouble based off his statistics.
Baltimore did find an affordable option to start filling out the back end of their starting rotation. While every acquisition comes with an inherent amount of risk, a lot of things must continue going right for Cashner to remain productive with his new club.
About Matt Musico
Matt Musico currently manages Chin Music Baseball and contributes to The Sports Daily. His past work has been featured at numberFire, Yahoo! Sports and Bleacher Report. He’s also written a book about how to become a sports blogger. You can sign up for his email newsletter here.