The definition of a sleeper in baseball would read something like 'a player few people are talking about but one that has a chance to emerge as a fantasy force.' The problem is, and I make this point all the time, there really are no “sleepers” anymore. The reason is the player is identified as a “sleeper” and then everyone on twitter, in articles, and television an on the radio is talking about the guy. Presto, the guy is no longer a “sleeper.” What we should be doing is rephrasing the question. It shouldn't be “who are your sleepers this year?” How about we say “which guy is being undervalued in most peoples minds?” A month ago I would have answered Andrew Cashner. However, with the explosion of Cashner talk, something that will likely continue as we get closer to the start of the regular season, the odds of him being a bargain on draft day will likely shrink. Even if that occurs it doesn't mean that he won't be someone you would benefit from having on your pitching staff.
First off with Cashner let's talk about his luscious beard. OK, kidding. Got you there didn't I? It's alright to admit it.
How about we start out with the “stuff.” It's electric. An average heater from Cashner travels 95 mph. That's some giddy up and landed him in the top-5 last season among hurler who threw at least 162 innings in '13. His heater is more than just velocity. It also sinks like a pickup line thrown at a classy lady at a bar (I don't know why a classy lady would be at a bar. Maybe she had a long week?). That sinking motion does two things for Cashner. It allows him to thrown the fastball nearly 65 percent of the time. Second, it generates a lot of grounders (more on that in a moment). It's all hard stuff, his slider is 83 mph and his change up 84, but the 10 mph difference from his change to fastball is enough of a spread to be effective.
I noted the grounders, so let's go there next. In 2013 Cashner had a 1.83 GB/FB ratio, three hundredths above his career rate. Among ERA qualifiers last season that rate was the 10th best in baseball. Meanwhile his ground ball percentage of 52.5 percent was 6th in baseball.
If those were the only two things you knew about Cashner you would be intrigued. Let's see if we can continue to build the case to look at Cashner or if when we pull back the veil we're disappointed.
Cashner walked 2.42 batters per nine innings last season. While not an impressive number in it's own right it is when two other factors are considered. First, his career mark before last season was 4.28. Second, he showed that improvement while moving from the bullpen to starting (after six starts over 93 outings his first three campaigns he started 26 of 31 appearances in 2013). I love seeing the increased workload and the improved command.
So did Cashner deserve his 3.09 ERA and 1.13 WHIP, marks that were virtually identical to Felix Hernandez who finished the season at 3.04 and 1.13? Well, his LOB percentage was barely above the league average at 72.4 percent. His .269 BABIP was a bit low but not in the context of his efforts (career .275). His 18.8 line drive percentage was right on his career mark of 19 percent which is on the low end of the league average. His 8.1 percent HR/F ratio was three points below his career mark but it's well within the realm of reasonable given everything. Honestly, Cashner pitched pretty damn well, a fact that is reflected in his xFIP (3.62) and SIERA (3.80) from 2013.
There must be a negative right? Well it could be that beard if you aren't a fan of facial hair. If you want something more concrete, here are a few things.
Despite the heat, and the fact that he struck out 52 batters in 46.1 innings in 2012, Cashner only whiffed 6.58 batters per nine in 2013. Yes he did start an it's not uncommon in the least to see a guy lose some Ks moving from the bullpen to the rotation. It's also true that he slashed his walk rate to the point that his 2.72 K/BB ratio in 2013 was only two hundredths lower than his mark in 2012 when he was punching out more than 10 batters per nine. Cashner “pitched” better in 2013 but he lost the strikeouts and that's not going to help his fantasy value.
The other main issue is health/workload. Cashner has dealt with many a physical woe over the years. Let's track his innings pitched marks since 2008 (big league and minor league numbers combined).
2008: 20 IP
2009: 100.1 IP
2010: 111.1 IP
2011: 15.1 IP
2012: 69.8 IP
2013: 175 IP
That's right. He's only thrown 100 innings in back-to-back seasons once, and he's never thrown 105 innings in back-to-back campaigns. That has to concern you. If it doesn't you're a steely cold competitor.
Cashner pitches in the NL. He pitches in a pitcher's park. He throws cheese. His cheese sinks with great effect. He drastically cut his walks down last season. ll of that paints him as an arm to own. However, he did see his strikeout rate tumble in his move to the rotation, and his track record suggests he will have a hard time staying healthy for all of 2014. In mixed leagues if he's your 5th starter on the bump you should feel very good about your staff. If you have to reach to make him your 4th starter that's OK, but make sure you keep adding arms cause his record suggests a trip to the DL is highly likely.
By Ray Flowers