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Fantasy Baseball Advice: Fringe Pitchers - "Cash"ner and Prizes


Andrew Cashner on April 8, 2012

Andrew Cashner

At home against the Giants last Friday night, Andrew Cashner put together a quality outing (6 IP, W, 5K, 1 ER and 1.00 WHIP), but fantasy owners shouldn't wait to see how his next two scheduled starts (extremely favorable @ Cubs and vs. Miami) go before picking him up.

Drafted 19th overall in 2008 by the Cubs, Cashner has pitched mainly out of relief since 2010. He was given a shot to start in 2012 before latissimus dorsi and elbow injuries derailed him, and then he suffered a hunting accident in December that required emergency surgery. Fortunately for fantasy owners in deeper mixed and NL-only leagues, this RP/SP eligible Paul Bunyan look-alike should be quite useful and is still about 70% available.

Between injuries and pitching out of relief, Cashner has only 130 major league IP since 2010, but from these numbers we can still draw a few important conclusions. First, he has always had “swing and miss” stuff as evidenced by a career K/9 of 8.89 (10.10 in 2012). Batters’ underlying plate discipline data supports this, too. Cashner's career swinging strike percentage of 10.6% is well above the league average of 8.3%. And while he doesn't get batters to chase outside the zone at a special rate, he’s able to keep them off balance even on pitches in the zone (81.4% in the zone contact % compared to a league average of 88.3%) with a nasty changeup that complements his mid-to-upper-90s fastball and tight slider. His velocity is down a couple of ticks to start the season, but this isn't uncommon early on for many pitchers and it's just something to keep an eye on.

Another positive note for Cashner is the rate at which he generates ground balls (GB% of 51.3); in combination with his strikeout rate, this is a recipe for success. His HR/FB rate of 15.2% is a little high but is partially offset by his 1.71 GB/FB ratio which is almost 32% lower than the league average! There isn't enough data to judge how moving the fences around at Petco will affect how the ballpark plays, but it’s likely to be no worse than a neutral park for pitchers.

The above praise doesn’t come without some cautionary tags.  Besides the aforementioned health troubles, Cashner's career BB/9 of 4.2 is about 40% higher than the league average. This creates two problems. Obviously more baserunners translates into a higher likelihood of giving up runs, but it is also a reason Cashner historically hasn't pitched very deeply into games. It’s not uncommon for high strikeout pitchers to register fewer innings over the course of a season compared to those who pitch to contact, but the combination of a high BB% and K% for someone who has never been fully stretched out from being a reliever could limit his win potential. Because he’s never been over 55 IP in a season, he may also be on an innings limit, but that’s a bridge you can cross when you come to it. No one is confusing the offensive prowess of the current Padres’ lineup with the ’27 Yankees either, so run support is certainly a question, but at least the Padres do have a respectable bullpen. And because wins can be flukey, the wiser move is to track good ratios, especially at this point in the season.

Unlike 2012, Cash's shift to the rotation has come much earlier this season and mindful fantasy owners need to take advantage and jump on the former Horned Frog now. If you happen to be in one of the 30% of the leagues where he is taken, point out his lower win probability and the BB% to discount what he did Friday night, then try to acquire him via trade for him and then enjoy the production.

The Prizes

While Cashner certainly deserves your attention, here are the “Prizes” which represent some other underappreciated options in San Diego:

Everth Cabrera – After swiping 44 bases in 2012, the cat is mostly out of the bag with ECab, as evidenced by his Yahoo ownership which is around 75%, but if you're short on speed, this is could be an attainable MI option who should be a lock for 40+ steals. Owning a career SB success rate above 80% and attempting a steal once every 11.5 ABs, Cabrera is hitting atop the order and should receive plenty of opportunities to get on base and run. It’s still a little early to tell, but it appears his plate discipline has changed slightly for the better which should help him maintain his improved BB% and K%. He’s always hit a ton of ground balls (career GB/FB ratio of 2.91) which is what you'd like to see out of a speedster. He’s already matched his season high of HR (2), but you own him for the speed and any power is a bonus. He probably wasn't expensive on draft day so if you're in a league where’s already owned, you still might be able to get him in a trade for a very reasonable price.

Carlos Quentin – If you're in the 0.1% of leagues where HBP is a category, then Quentin should have been a top round pick (since 2008, he leads MLB in HBP with 97). For the rest of us, Quentin still has some value as he’s averaged 20+ HR over the past 5 years and owns an impressive career .237 ISO. He’s off to a slow start in 2013 due partially to the 8 game suspension for the Zack Greinke brawl, but even with that and health question marks, he should be good for another 20 HR if he logs just 400 PAs for the season. Owned in less than 20% of leagues, he’s a nice 5th-OF option for managers who need some additional pop.

Will Venable – A prototypical platoon player, Venable is mess against lefties which puts him on the strong side of the platoon. Fortunately, this provides the solid asset of predictability that gives alert owners (particularly those in daily leagues) an opportunity. Having averaged 26 SB over the past 3 seasons, Venable is very efficient on the basepaths (82.8% SB success rate). Even if he only achieves 90% of his current PA pace (which would not be a stretch), he should still be an excellent source of speed and a little pop. Available, in 95+% of leagues, I'd take the over on 20.5 SB and 10.5 HR for the rest of the season. And if you can monitor his starts daily (or at least take note of weeks when the Padres are slated to face multiple southpaws), there’s an opportunity to supplement those numbers by swapping him out of your lineup when he sits against lefties.  Venable's real-life platoon-mate Chris Denorfia (vs. LHP .318/.382/.457) would be a fine pairing to get solid ABs and production out of your 5th OF spot.

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