Introducing 2019’s second-most profitable pitcher – Mr. Andrew Cashner of the Baltimore Orioles. It does not seem correct, I know. How can a guy with a 4.25 ERA on a 13-24 team be wildly profitable? A reinvented approach and huge April upsets – that’s how.
The profitability for a starting pitcher is simply the money won or lost by bettors of his team on the days he starts. The Orioles are 5-3 when Cashner pitches this year – earning bettors $608.
Andrew Cashner – The Epitome of Mediocre
After pitching for the Cubs, Padres, and Rangers, Cashner landed in Baltimore before the 2018 season on a 2-year deal after posting good numbers in 2017 with Texas.
Here is a look at what Andrew Cashner has done each year of his career since he became a full-time starting pitcher.
|Year||Team Record||Pitching Record||ERA / WHIP||Profit|
|2019||13-24 (Orioles)||4-1||4.25 / 1.37||$608|
|2018||47-115 (Orioles)||4-15||5.29 / 1.58||-$849.60|
|2017||78-84 (Rangers)||11-11||3.40 / 1.32||$359.80|
|2016||2 Teams (SD and TEX)||5-11||5.25 / 1.53||-$260.10|
|2015||74-88 (Padres)||6-16||4.34 / 1.44||-$684.40|
|2014||77-85 (Padres)||5-7||2.55 / 1.13||$26.20|
|2013||76-86 (Padres)||10-9||3.09 / 1.13||$90.50|
|Total||—||45-70||4.01 / 1.36||-$709.60|
As you can see, Cashner is not a pitcher on which you want to be betting. With only one season in his career in which he profited over $100, there are a bevy of Andrew Cashner backers out there who wish they had chosen a different arm to get behind.
Cashner has posted better ERAs and WHIPs previously in his career but has never been this profitable. Why is that? Because the O’s have never been this undervalued.
In fact, since we began tracking betting data for the MLB, no team has been given longer average odds than the 2019 Baltimore Orioles.
The O’s average line through their first 37 games is +183.6. This is the highest mark since the Royals were averaging a +176.3 line in 2006.
The O’s average line when Cashner is starting this season is a whopping +193.5. The books obviously have very little faith in the 32-year-old.
This is appropriate for two reasons. One – Baltimore only won 47 games last year which means that any O’s pitcher is not very likely to win. Two – Cashner posted a 4-15 record last year and held a career-worst profit margin, losing bettors nearly $850.
A bad pitcher on a bad team … he’s bound to lose, right? Well, the books are currently giving you 193.5 to 100 that the O’s will come up short with Cashy on the bump. So far this season, the tall righty has proved them wrong.
The O’s have cooled off after their torrid start and have actually lost bettors $32 this season. Cashner has remained solid, however.
At 4-1, Cashner may be giving up a decent amount of runs but he is keeping his team in games. I think even I could keep my team in the game, though, with the 5.88 runs per start that the O’s offense is giving Cashner this year.
Getting the sixth-most support in the majors will help any pitcher become profitable.
Will Cashner Crash?
To answer this question, I will compare a few of Cashner’s 2019 measures to his career numbers. If nothing has changed, we can assume his numbers will regress back toward his career average.
Let’s start with velocity. Here are the average speeds (in MPH) of each of Cashner’s pitches from 2013 (when he began starting) to the present.
Cashner lost about 2 miles per hour on his heater from 2013 to 2018, but he has seemingly regain some life in his arm this season.
Losing fastball velocity is a telltale sign that a pitcher is on the decline, but Cashner seems to be warding off atrophy for the time being. At 32 years old, Cashner is still in the twilight of his prime years, which are generally considered to be ages 27-32.
His fastball is now right back where it was in 2017 – his second-best year in the big leagues. This is encouraging, but is it enough to label Cashner a “new pitcher”? No, but this next bit might be.
Andrew Cashner – An Old Dog Learning New Tricks
The largest difference in Cashner’s attack between this year and last is the increased use of his changeup. Take a look at these pitch type distributions over the past 3 seasons for Cashner.
|Year||Fastball %||Slider %||Curveball %||Changeup %|
Cashner has slowly weaned himself off the heater since his contract season in 2017 and has now hit an all-time low in FB%. To compensate, he has thrown his changeup nearly twice as often in 2019 as he did in 2018.
Why ditch the heater in favor of the change? The answer: analytics say so.
2018 was a season Andrew Cashner would love to forget. Career worsts in winning percentage, ERA, WHIP, and betting profit elicit that reaction. Why was Cashner so bad?
There are several reasons, but a major one is his fastball stinks. A new metric named “weighted pitch values” measures how many runs a pitcher surrenders because of a given pitch. This stat is averaged out and scaled so that pitches rated near 0 are neutral, positive numbers mean the pitch is effective, and negative numbers mean the pitch is very hittable.
Andrew Cashner’s fastball value of -1.20 was the third-worst of all major league starting pitchers in 2018.
His fastball was getting mashed and yet over 60% of the pitches that flew out of his right hand were fastballs. Cashner’s other pitches did not grade very well, either, expect for one – his changeup.
Somebody in the Orioles’ system must have had the bright idea this season that Cashner should throw more changeups (the pitch he is good at) and less fastballs (the pitch he is bad at). Revolutionary!
How are hitters reacting to the new changeup-heavy diet they are being fed from Chef Cashner? For starters, there have been more swings and misses.
Below are the O-Contact and Z-Contact rates for Cashner during both 2018 and this season. O-Contact is the contact rate on pitches outside of the zone while Z-Contact is the contact rate on pitches inside the strike zone.
5% more swings and misses is huge. Some may not be impressed with this increase, arguing that contact rates are down across all hitters, which says nothing about Cashner’s progression.
While it is true that contact rates are down across baseball, they are not down by much. Contact rates are only down 1% in 2019 compared to 2018. Cashner’s has dropped by nearly 5%. This is not merely a “changing of the times”. Cashner is becoming a better pitcher.
Is Harder Contact a Good Thing for Cashner?
So we just saw that Cashy is missing a lot more bats, but what tends to happen when hitters do make contact? Is it typically weak? Medium? Hard? Well, of course, Fangraphs has a stat for that.
Looking at the batted ball tendencies for Cashner in 2019, I immediately realized that he is allowing much more hard contact than he has in years past. Take a look.
Without any context, this table is scary. Cashner’s 41.4% hard hit ball rate is easily the highest of his career. His WHIP is very reasonable, though – right in line with his career numbers. What gives?
The key is not how hard batters are hitting the ball, but where they are hitting it. Check out Cashner’s line drive/ground ball/fly ball distribution.
What’s the difference between Andrew Cashner in 2018 and a Jugs machine that shoots line drives into the outfield? Nothing.
Cashner has corrected that issue this season. His 11.3% line drive rate bests his previous low by 7-and-a-half percentage points. Making a concerted effort to keep the ball lower in the zone and throw more offspeed has hitters constantly smashing the ball into the turf – with over 50% of batted balls off Cashner in 2019 on the ground.
It doesn’t matter how hard you hit ‘em. Ground balls are going to be outs more likely than not and will be singles at worst. Even though Cashner is giving up more “hard hits”, he is allowing far less good hits.
Notice how the veteran is keeping the ball lower in 2019.
This change is not drastic, but it makes for a completely new feel when combined with the increased changeup usage and higher swing-and-miss rates.
Despite the new philosophy on the mound for Andrew Cashner, his numbers are not great. His xFIP indicates that an ERA in the mid-4s is warranted, so we cannot claim he is getting unlucky.
At this point in his career, I project Cashner to be a break-even pitcher for the remainder of the season. He is not consistent enough to be trusted long-term.
The Orioles won a couple of times as +300 dogs which will inflate anyone’s numbers. Cashner looks different but is still accumulating the same numbers. He is very average.