Game 54, Mariners at Padres
King Felix vs. Andrew Cashner, 12:40pm
Early game today as the M’s fly to the Twin Cities after this game.
Andrew Cashner could be a dominant starting pitcher. The odds are stacked against him, in that we’re talking about pitchers, and it’s something of a wonder every MLB hurler’s arm doesn’t dislocate monthly. But Cashner’s got plus-plus velocity that he can pair with average-ish control as well as a change-up and a slider. The tools are all there, but injuries have slowed his development. The Padres, who acquired him from the Cubs in the trade that sent Anthony Rizzo to Chicago, used him as a reliever for the first half of 2012, where his average – AVERAGE – fastball was 99.4mph, then moved him to the minors to prepare to start. He was up last year, but was shut down in September with pain in his shoulder.
As Matthew’s chart illustrates really well, Cashner’s fastball gets far more whiffs than the average heater; there are advantages to throwing 96mph as a starting pitcher. But the other thing that jumps out at you from his chart is the change-up. He’s able to keep it in the zone pretty much at will – he throws fewer balls with the change-up than he does with his fastball. But there’s a problem: it’s also his most hittable pitch. He gets fewer whiffs and fouls on the change-up than he does with the fastball as well, and while he gets ground balls with it, if he misses his spot, batters are able to time the pitch and punish it. As a result, his K% doesn’t really match the pure stuff. His slider’s effective, so he’s still extremely tough on right-handed batters, but lefties are a bit more trouble than they should be given that he’s pitcher who can throw 96-97mph and drop a change-up in whenever he wants.
You can see it in his pitch usage chart - he throws more change-ups than sliders to righties, and relies on it heavily when he’s behind in the count. That’s what he goes to when he falls behind. Against lefties, his results have been mixed. In his favor, they don’t hit for a lot of power on the change, but essentially no one’s fooled by it. You can chalk some of the poor results up to BABIP luck, but when he can’t get whiffs and everyone can put it in play, there’s only so far for that BABIP to fall. If his shoulder doesn’t act up, I think Cashner figures this out – if his command of the change improves (either by spotting it low and out of the zone some times or by improving his arm action to disguise it better), he’s going to be an elite pitcher. But he isn’t yet, and as the M’s have Felix on the mound, this is a big game for them, particularly after last night’s heartbreaker.
1: Chavez, RF
2: Seager, 3B
3: Ibanez, LF
4: Morales, 1B
5: Saunders, CF
6: Franklin, 2B
7: Sucre, C
8: Ryan, SS
That’s about as lefty-dominant as the M’s can get. Makes sense today.
Some of you have asked about the MLB draft – no worries, the annual draft preview article posts later today.
The Rainiers scored 25 runs in Colorado Springs, essentially mocking the recently-installed humidor. Abe Almonte went 6-6, and Dustin Ackley’s swing rehab looked great after a 5-6 night with a HR. Righty Andrew Carraway was effective in the windy-Colorado-Springsy conditions, continuing his fine run of form after a clunker or two in April, and keeping his ERA under 3, which is kind of miraculous for a fly-balling right-hander without much velocity.
Speaking of fly-balling righties, Cardinals prospect Michael Wacha makes his MLB debut today against the Royals. The tastefully-named Marc Hulet runs down the scouting report at Fangraphs here. That report matches what I saw almost perfectly. Wacha works up in the zone and his fastball seems to have a lot of vertical movement, leading to a flurry of fly balls and pop-ups, and also more whiffs than you might expect given his velocity. A lot’s been made about his lack of Ks in AAA, but that may have been due to the Cards instructing him to work on specific pitches; he certainly didn’t have trouble striking out many Rainiers. Still, it’s always interesting to see how a pitcher who’s made his living throwing up in the zone fares when he comes to a league that selects in part for the ability to send high fastballs far, far away. It’ll also be interesting to see if the deception in his delivery ‘works’ against MLB left-handers.