2018 season recap: Andrew Cashner’s battle for consistency

If the rebuilding Orioles are going to take a turn for the better during the 2019 season, no doubt they’ll need solid starting pitching to do it. One pitcher who has room for improvement is right-handed starter Andrew Cashner.

His stats took a big fall from his 2017 season with Texas. On Feb. 15, Cashner signed a two-year free agent deal with Baltimore worth $16 million with an option for 2020.

The $10 million option for 2020 will vest if he reaches 340 combined innings for 2018 and 2019. After throwing 153 last year, Cashner would need 187 or more innings to hit that number. But his contract states if he is at 360 or more for those two seasons, the option becomes a player option. So if he can throw 207 or more innings next year, he could decline the option and become a free agent if he chose to.

But in looking back at his 2017 with Texas, Cashner went 11-11 and his 3.40 ERA was ninth among qualifying pitchers in the American League, just behind Justin Verlander. But this season he went 4-15 with a 5.29 ERA. Cashner had much more trouble in 2018, both in getting grounders and keeping the ball in the park. His groundball rate took a big drop from 48.6 to 40.4. His homers allowed per nine innings took a big jump from 0.8 to 1.5. In 2017, Cashner rated No. 2 in the AL in homer rate and No. 9 in groundball rate.

Another stat that was very different was his batting average allowed with runners in scoring position. He rated No. 1 in the majors at .170 in 2017 and this year that number was .320.

Cashner-Douses-Face-Water-Sidebar.jpgWhile Cashner struggled in 2017 at times when facing the order the third time through, that number got worse last year. In 2017, he allowed a .292 average and an OPS against of .831 on a batters’ third plate appearance against him. In 2018, those numbers were .340 and 1.027.

Cashner made two trips to the disabled list, once for a lower back strain in June and once for a neck strain in July. Cashner ended the year dealing with a left knee injury and made his last start for the Orioles on Sept. 12. The next day, he had a cortisone injection for what was diagnosed as patellar tendon bursitis. It bothered him starting at some point in August, he said. Perhaps that was one reason he went 1-6 with an ERA of 7.97 from Aug. 1 on. That raised his season ERA from 4.33 (league average was 4.27) to its final 5.29 mark. In June and July combined, Cashner’s ERA was 3.46.

Cashner’s won-loss record was also impacted by a lack of runs. He received three or fewer runs of support in 25 of his 28 starts. His 3.12 run support average was the second-lowest in all of baseball. Among pitchers who threw at least 150 innings, Cashner’s 53 total runs of support were the fewest in the majors.

On the plus side, somewhat lost in his mediocre season, were solid numbers within a division that featured a pair of 100-win teams. In 11 AL East starts, Cashner went 2-5 with a 3.84 ERA and seven quality starts. He did not face Boston, however. In his career, Cashner is 7-8 with a 3.21 ERA and 17 quality starts in 22 starts in the division.

Opponents hit much better off Cashner’s fastball in 2018, but the stats against his secondary pitches were similar to his 2017 season. However, the average off his four-seam fastball went from .209 to .288 and off his two-seamer from .268 to .330.

Maybe Cashner just needs to pitch on regular rest. During the 2018 season, he made 13 starts on four days’ rest and was 3-5 with a 3.97 ERA. He made 15 starts on five or more days of rest and in those games went 1-10 with a 6.63 ERA.

Cashner looked like he was a solid teammate. He was often seen encouraging teammates in the dugout and clubhouse and looked very ready to help younger pitchers.

If he can find his previous groundball rate or something close to it next year (and the O’s infield defense improves), we could see him return to a closer to his 2017 form. Cashner’s velocity dipped a bit late in the year as well. He was at 94.65 mph in June, 94.22 mph in July and mph 93.24 in August. Was that due to the knee issue?

With more health and more ground balls, Cashner should allow fewer homers and have a chance to be at least a league average pitcher for the 2019 Orioles. That could lead him to reaching an innings total to remain an Oriole in 2020 or pitching well enough to become a trade chip for a rebuilding club.

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