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Andrew Cashner could be a high-risk, high-reward option for the Mets

The righty may be able to give the Mets some depth for their rotation, but doesn’t come without red flags.

MLB: Texas Rangers at Seattle Mariners Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Andrew Cashner has had quite a roller coaster ride of a career and has long confounded those who spend their time analyzing pitchers. On the surface, he seems like a pitcher that would draw interest from a lot of teams. And he already has at least one suitor. He had a very respectable 3.40 ERA over 166.2 innings for the Rangers last season and seems exactly like the type of pitcher the Mets could use at the back end of their rotation in 2018.

However, for the first time in his career, Cashner’s FIP and xFIP were much higher than his ERA, at 4.61 and 5.30, respectively. There are many reasons why this could be the case, but one thing that is particularly striking is the precipitous drop in his strikeout rate; his K/9 was just 4.64 in 2017. In fact, he finished the 2017 season with the highest contact rate and lowest swinging strike rate for any qualified starting pitcher, which is usually not a formula for success.

So why was he still relatively successful? His .266 BABIP was among the lowest in baseball and RotoGraphs notes two important contributors: his high ground ball rate and his low hard contact rate on fly balls, which limited extra-base hits. It seems that these results were not simply dumb luck; Cashner made some changes in his approach.

2014 was a breakout season for Cashner and it looked like he had the makings of an ace. He featured the seventh hardest fastball in the major leagues, paired with a nasty slider and a new and improved two-seam changeup. But, Cashner struggled in 2015—still producing value, but not putting up the type of numbers he did the year before, despite striking more batters out than ever. Analysts noted that Cashner’s difficulties in 2015 were perhaps due to poor mechanics that were rendering his sinker and changeup flat and hittable.

The Rangers seemed to figure out the magic formula for Cashner. The usage of his sinker went up, while the usage of his fastball went down. He also introduced a cutter and abandoned his previously elite slider entirely. Simply put, he relied on his off-speed stuff more. He was no longer a strikeout pitcher, but a pitcher who was able to have success on balls put in play.

It remains to be seen whether this success can carry into 2018. Maintaining success despite a very low strikeout rate is tenuous. Cashner is an enigmatic pitcher—the type whose recent effectiveness cannot be accounted for by statistics like FIP, xFIP, or SIERA. His career has also been marred by injury; he has only pitched over 180 innings once in his career. All of these things make it hard to predict what sort of contract he will get. He got paid $10 million for his services in 2017 and MLB Trade Rumors predicts that he will get the same $10 million AAV for two years this offseason. He is only 31 years old and the tantalizing amount of success he has had in his career may indeed mean that his salary cracks $10 million per year, but the fading upside of his new profile and his propensity for injury may drop his price tag down to an amount the Mets could afford.