Welcome to our 2019 Red Sox in Review series. This is, as you can probably guess, where we will be reviewing all of the players who made at least a modest impact on the Red Sox in 2019. Every week day (minus a week in October where I’ll be mostly off) we’ll deep diving into one player every day. For each edition we’ll describe the season in a sentence, look at the positives from the year as well as negatives, look back at our one big question from the season preview and look ahead to the 2020 season. We’ll be going in alphabetical order of the players on this list. You can look over that list, too, and drop a name in the comments if you think I left anyone out who should be mentioned here. Got it? Good. Today we focus on Andrew Cashner.
2019 in one sentence
Cashner was the team’s “big” midseason trade acquisition, and to say he didn’t get the job done would be a tremendous understatement.
It is not all that easy to find positives for Cashner’s short stint in Boston, since it was an undeniable disappointment. He was brought in to fill a specific role at the back of the rotation, and while he can’t be blamed for the rest of the starters failing to stay healthy and/or perform up to expectations, he was bad enough that he eventually was moved to a different role, which brings us to our first positive. As negative as it may be that he was moved to the bullpen in the first place, he did perform very well there once moved. In 23 1⁄3 innings as a reliever, all of which came over the final two months with the Red Sox, he pitched to a 3.86 ERA with batters hitting .210/.309/.358 off him for a .290 wOBA. For context, he pitched to an 8.01 ERA as a starter with the Red Sox while allowing a .426 wOBA. His strikeout rate jumped 32 percent as well. If you look a little bit deeper you might start to expect some regression — his batted ball profile got worse if anything, but he allowed homers at a far lower rate and his BABIP fell by 100 points — but in terms of what he actually did on the field, he was solid as a reliever.
Even before that, he did do one thing positively as a starter and that was give innings. That is, of course, the lowest of thresholds, but such was life for the Red Sox rotation in 2019. If you’ll recall, before the Cashner trade the Red Sox were regularly running out guys to go three innings per start in that rotation spot. That was done at the end of the year, too, but it’s a lot easier to do in September with 400 pitchers on the roster than to sustain from mid-June on. One of Cashner’s big tasks was to simply throw innings, and he did that decently enough. He never went really deep into an outing, but he did go at least five innings in five of his six starts with the team. Again, it’s an incredibly low bar, but it’s where we are.
Finally, he did have one pitch working very well for most of his time with the Red Sox in his slider. In his first two months with the team he allowed an expected wOBA of .096 and .194 when he threw the pitch, though it did regress pretty heavily in the final month of the year. It was also his biggest whiff-inducer among any of his pitches during his entire Boston tenure. As he likely shifts to a bullpen role moving forward wherever his next stop is, it wouldn’t be surprising to see this as a bigger part of his repertoire.
I mean, where do we even start? It’s fair to argue that there was probably an unfair amount of pressure put on Cashner, even in retrospect, given his performance in Baltimore along with the fact that he was the lone addition on a severely disappointing Red Sox team. That’s life, though. Cashner was just straight-up bad with Boston, even with the solid but unspectacular run in the bullpen after he failed as a starter. Including his time as a reliever the righty pitched to a 6.21 ERA while allowing a .372 wOBA, striking out just under 18 percent and walking just over 12 percent of his opponents. It was clear there was going to be some regression from his stretch in Baltimore in the first half, but the regression monster is often a little more subtle and a little less aggressive as it was here. The biggest negative here was *gestures at everything*.
If you really want to get more specific, I think you have to start with the control. This was the biggest different for Cashner between his time in Boston and his time in Baltimore, and if you wanted to talk yourself into him after the trade this was probably the place to start. The righty has never exactly been a control artist in his major-league career, but in the first half with the Orioles he got his walk rate down to a solid seven percent. That was his lowest rate since 2013 and 2014 with the Padres, which also happened to be the best stretch of his career. So, it was logical to think that if he could just keep his control we could see a small Cashner-ssance. Except, well, his walk rate ballooned up to 12.3 percent in one of the worst runs with control over his career. Not ideal! He is already a guy who allows a lot of balls in play given his lack of strikeout stuff, and in a year with a juiced ball a guy like that just can’t allow free passes. If they do, well, we saw what happens.
The changeup was also a reason to talk yourself into Cashner at the time of the trade, and that is something I did. Granted “talking myself into him” is a bit strong, but there was a clear difference in his changeup with the Orioles that seemed sustainable. It was a tremendous pitch for him in the first half that allowed him to pitch well against both righties and lefties and allow a whole lot of weak contact. The pitch immediately got worse in every way after getting to the Red Sox in an almost comical way. He did get a little better with it after shifting to the bullpen, but it was truly a disastrous offering when he first came over. It is a big reason why lefties put up a .384 wOBA against him with the Red Sox and a .435 wOBA against him when he was starting for the Red Sox.
The Big Question
There’s virtually no chance Cashner will be back next year as he is set to hit the free agent market this winter. I suspect he will get a chance somewhere, though, even if it’s just a minor-league deal. That said, his time as a full-time starter could very well be done, something he even acknowledged before the end of the year. Cashner had been thinking about entering free agency as a reliever even before converting to the role with the Red Sox, and showed enough that some team might give him a chance on a major-league deal. Boston does need relief help this winter, but something tells me they’ll take a different path.