Andrew Cashner just signed a one-year deal with the Rangers, the kind of deal you might call a pillow contract, an opportunity for Cashner to bounce back and get on the market with better numbers behind him. That’s the benefit for Cashner. As for the Rangers, they’re happy to get a relatively cheap veteran with some upside for the back end of their rotation.

The only problem with this scenario is that Cashner has spent two years trying to bounce back, and has met with poor results, even on the back of high-velocity stuff that looks like it should do better. There’s got to be a way to get more from 94 and a mullet.

There are things we can’t change that rob effectiveness from his stuff. For one, Cashner doesn’t get much extension on his delivery, and so his perceived velocity is worse than his actual velocity. It’s worse for Cashner than most.

Biggest Gaps Between Perceived and Actual Velocity
Player Fastballs Perceived Minus Actual Velo
Marco Estrada 1064 -2.0
Tom Koehler 1244 -1.8
Bartolo Colon 744 -1.8
Drew Smyly 1609 -1.8
Drew Pomeranz 1085 -1.6
Andrew Cashner 1118 -1.5
Brad Brach 738 -1.4
Danny Salazar 1310 -1.4
Colby Lewis 806 -1.4
Chris Devenski 724 -1.3
SOURCE: Statcast
Perceived velocity is judged by looking at the where the pitcher actually releases the ball and what effect that might have on how long the batter has to see the ball. Minimum 700 fastballs thrown.

In 2015, the difference for Cashner was only 1.1 mph. That year, he released the ball 1.2 inches closer to the plate. Still, that isn’t much, and he still lost perceived velocity on his fastball in both years, making it more 93 than 94.

Still, 93 is a threshold above which only 18 qualified starters sat last year. But we’ve all heard about how hitters can hit a straight 93 once they time it. Turns out, Cash is lacking the wiggle, to some extent. Here are his 2016 movement values indexed to the average righty, where 100 equals average and less than 100 represents less ideal movement based on research into beneficial movement.

Andrew Cashner Movement, Indexed to Average Movement
Pitch Indexed Horizontal Movement Indexed Vertical Movement
Four-Seam 136 109
Two-Seam 108 75
Slider 104 240
Changeup 99 62
Curve 59 36
You can see average movement per pitch type here.

Cashner’s four-seam features decent side-to-side movement, but that’s not really the point of a four-seamer. You want more rise than anything — and, in that respect, Cashner is fairly close to average. His sinker is also pretty average in terms of movement. But, even if we give him the fastball and the slider (which got better by being firmer and retaining decent drop), you can see that the change and curve come up lacking in terms of movement. They don’t stand out in terms of velocity, either.

It’s possible that spin is a source of deception, too. The spin on Cashner’s fastball and curve don’t aid him in this regard, either, though. His fastball spin is 2% worse than the average spin relative to his effective velocity; his curveball is 6% worse than average.

After speaking to Trevor Bauer about manipulating spin on the fastball, and also finding out that there is no relationship between arm slot and spin rate (that I could determine at least), I don’t think Cashner can do much about his spin. Without a major revamp of his delivery, I doubt there’s much he can do about his extension and perceived velocity. The change and the curve haven’t had much more movement than they had this year in the past, so not sure he can change that much, either.

There are still two sources of optimism, as deep and dark as we’ve gotten here.

For one, his changeup had the same movement and velocity in 2012 as it did 2016. And yet, in 2012 he recorded a 16% whiff rate with it; this year, he posted only a 9% mark. What was different? He threw it three times as often, is what. It’s true that his fastball was bigger then — as were the gap between his fastball and changeup — but he also threw the changeup more often. If he’s going to be any better as a starter, he should probably throw that pitch, or the curve, more often than he currently does, just in an effort to turn the lineup over a third time.

One way Cashner can improve is just by throwing to his new catcher. He’ll be moving from the 64th-best framer in baseball (J.T. Realmuto) to the 32nd (Jonathan Lucroy) and that’s according to just the 2016 numbers. If Lucroy bounces back to his league-leading type form at all, Cashner may see many more favorable counts in this future.

This is a pitcher who has complained before of not being able to throw his front-door two-seamer to lefties because his catcher wasn’t good at framing them. So it’s good to see that Lucroy bests Realmuto when it comes to getting called strikes on pitches low and then inside.

realmutovslucroy

The last avenue for Cashner is one about which he probably has no interest in hearing… the bullpen. If he moved to short stints, he’d likely gain almost a tick of velo, meaning he could average 95 mph on the fastball. He wouldn’t have to throw his secondaries as much, and he could rely on a strong slider that has averaged 17-25% whiffs in the past.

If you group last year’s relievers by fastball and slider velocity, and then cut all the pitchers with superior spin, you get a mixed bag.

Relievers Similar to Fictional Cashner Reliever
Pitcher FB Velo SL velo FB Spin Indexed K-BB%
JC Ramirez 96.3 87.2 2178 80
Jumbo Diaz 96.0 85.8 2242 72
Hector Rondon 95.9 85.7 2116 182
Roberto Osuna 95.7 86.3 2218 172
Cashner Reliever 94.8 86.6 2218
Jake Barrett 94.8 86.7 2181 82
Jonathan Broxton 94.7 87.7 2195 93
Fictional Cashner Reliever got one mph added to his fastball and slider.
Indexed K-BB% is the pitchers’ strikeout minus walk percentage indexed to league average (100).

On a one-year deal, teams will take more risk. The risk here is that Cashner’s changeup isn’t going to come back, and that his low-spin, low-deception fastballs make it difficult for him even to serve as a lights-out reliever. But there’s reward here, too, in the form of a new catcher behind the plate, and perhaps more curves or changeups. And that reward would be substantial for a team like the Rangers, with two big-time starters up front and a need for quantity on the back end.