Friday, May 28, 2010

Are the Cubs Destroying Andrew Cashner?

There has been some consternation around the Cub blogosphere and Twitter about the Cubs switching Andrew Cashner into a relief role in the minor leagues, presumably to prepare him to be able to help out at the major league level in that capacity. 

Cashner is projected as a starter and has been performing well in that role at AAA Iowa, so messing around with the kid is understandably worrying, but is it something that is as horribly Cub-like as converting the major league team's longest tenured, highest paid, and multi-Opening Day starter into a set-up man in the bullpen?  It really wouldn't surprise me to learn that it was, but I also knew pitchers like Francisco Liriano, Johan Santana, and David Price had broken in with teams that needed help in the bullpen more than in the rotation, and they all seemed to be doing well. So, to get a bit more perspective, I took a look to see how other top level pitchers have been handled at the beginnings of their careers.

As a jumping off point, I went and checked the top ten active WAR leaders for pitching and eliminated Mario Rivera since he is a reliever (and as far as I know has always been projected as a reliever).  I then looked at the first year of each pitcher's significant contribution to their team, where I used about 15 games entered as a low-water mark.

As you can see, Roy Halladay, Andy Pettitte, Johan Santana, Roy Oswalt and Mark Buerhle all pitched out of the bullpen early in their careers.  Santana didn't finally get into the Twins regular rotation until his fourth year with the Twins.  What does it mean?  Well, probably not much, but most of those names were well-regarded pitching prospects, their respective teams didn't seem to have a problem using them in the bullpen and their careers turned out just fine.

Of course, conventional wisdom seems to lend some credibility the Cubs fans' angst.  I also looked at the top four pitchers taken in the 2004 and 2005 drafts who have made significant contributions to their teams and found that the group has only made five relief appearances at the major league level out of 167 appearances.

Apparently, when teams draft elite pitchers, they do their damndest to put them in roles where they will pitch the most innings and have the most value to their team.

This is an admittedly rudimentary investigation, but it seems the Cubs are going against convention. However, it may not automatically lead to disaster for young Mr. Cashner either.  Given the flameout rate of young pitchers anyway, I can't say I'm theoretically against using him in the bullpen.  And, since this is the Cubs we're talking about, I'm sure they'll find some way to mess him up no matter what role they put him in, so I say to them: Go for it if you think it will help.


Anonymous said...

Don't forget Adam Wainwright was in the Cards pen his first year... that obviously didn't hurt his future as a starter.

Cashner can pitch out of our pen, then start a few games in winter ball and still get his innings pitched up to where we'd like it.

He COULD really help the Cubs pen... he was a closer in college. Let's see how it works out. I don't think it will hurt his future.

Aisle 424 said...

Zambrano also started out working out of the bullpen as well, so it definitely happens.

But Melissa brought up a good point on Facebook:

"The other issue is that Cashner is still trying to develop his arm and needs innings if he's going to start in the future since he hasn't been a starter very long. It would probably be better for him to get at least 100 innings as a starter and then move to the pen. If they don't get him enough innings this year and put him in the rotation next year his arm may not be able to take a very heavy load. They could definitely screw his arm up and is it worth the risk?"

I agree that this needs to be handled correctly and the Cubs don't build a lot of confidence that they are capable of doing that. I'm closing my eyes and praying.

Mercurial Outfielder said...

An important distinction, Tim: the guys you mention all pitched out of the major league bullpen, whereas the Cubs have moved Cashner to the AAA bullpen. That's the cause of much of furor. I'm fine with Cashner getting into the Cubs bullpen this year, especially as a long man. But having him in the AAA bullpen is just f-n asinine.

wpbc said...

i don't really care what they do at this point. this club is in deep shit for a long time to come. sweating what they do with a pitcher that has never pitched an inning of big league ball doesn't seem worth it.

now back to the CHiPs marathon already in progress.

wpbc said...

just to be clear, i used to concern myself with shit like this. probably would have even a few short months ago. but, i've found peace with this club being shitty. it's beyond any of our control. i guess after 30 years of following the minutia of this team, i ask 'why?' i mean 'why put yourself through this?'

i'm not anymore. it's not even out of anger. it's just indifference.

here's some quick advice to tim and all of the season ticket holders that come by this site. fellas, i dropped my season tickets before the season. tickets i've had since 1998. you wanna know something, i thought i would miss it i really did. instead i have spent the spring doing mnany of the things that i always said i wanted to do, but usually couldn't because of my cubs ticket addiction. i've enjoyed it greatly. less time at clark and addison has given me some clarity on the low level of importance the cubs should have.

sometime next winter you will have a choice to make. i'm here to tell you that the choice that you always said you would never make is not that bad of a choice. it takes a little getting used to. but once you do i think it's a healthy change.

all the best,


MGb said...

May I suggest geocaching as an alternate hobby? :D

Unknown said...

Tim, a quick correction regarding "The Sandman", courtesy of Wikipedia.

"[Mariano] Rivera made his Major League debut against the California Angels on May 23, 1995 as a starting pitcher in place of an injured Jimmy Key, but he pitched poorly in a 10–0 loss. He experienced mixed success as a Major League starter and as a result, he split time between the Yankees and their Columbus minor league affiliate. As a 25-year-old rookie with prior major arm surgery, Rivera's role on the team was not guaranteed. Yankees management once considered trading him to the Detroit Tigers for David Wells, but Yankees general manager Gene Michael quickly called off negotiations when he learned that Rivera had begun to throw at 95–96 MPH in one of his starts, six MPH faster than his previous average velocity. Rivera attributes his inexplicable improvement to God. He also participated in a two-hit shutout of the Chicago White Sox on July 4, when he recorded a career-high 11 strikeouts.[19] Overall, he finished his first season in the Major Leagues with a 5–3 record and a 5.51 ERA.[23] His improvement during the year and his success in the 1995 American League Division Series, in which he pitched 5+1⁄3 scoreless innings of relief,[24] convinced Yankees management to keep him and move him into the bullpen the following season as a full-time relief pitcher."

However, Rivera is such an oddity that I believe you are correct to leave him out of your considerations.

Aisle 424 said...


I guess if we aren't concerned with damaging his arm by pitching him out of the bullpen, I don't know why it would matter if it was AAA or at the major league level.

I have been out of the loop, but maybe they are trying to get past the point where he would be eligible for arbitration early before calling him up? If so, they can re-acclimate him to the bullpen in AAA for a bit and then send Stevens or Howry out when they call him up after June 1st. (Is that the magic date?)

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