Could We Have Predicted Andrew Cashner’s Injury?


In case you haven’t heard, Andrew Cashner is going back to the disabled list with right shoulder soreness, his second trip this year because of an arm issue. With 2014 being the year of Tommy John, it’s amazing in a way that Cashner has lasted this long without it.

But as every organization, fan base and analyst want to find out, is there any way to predict pitcher injuries? There has been tons of work on the subject, including the almost infamous Injury Zone article written by Josh Kalk. The article established Kalk as a pioneer of PITCHf/x data, and only took a few weeks for the analytics-savvy front office of the Tampa Bay Rays to scoop him up. In short, finding injuries before they happen is a pretty big deal. So, could the Padres’ have done so with Cashner?

There’s still so much we don’t know about pitcher injuries, but there is some information we do. Injured pitchers tend to lose velocity, throw less strikes (especially first-pitch strikes), throw lots of sliders and curveballs, and have inconsistent release points later in the game.

Cashner’s first injury, coming after his May 13th start against the Cincinnati Reds, showed little to no in game signs of injury. He threw a few more sliders than his season average, 26.3% compared to 14.6%, but otherwise, held his velocity well, and kept a good release point throughout. Not only did he appear fine during the game, but his season stats look healthy as well. His zone percentage was virtually the same as last year’s, and had even increased his first-strike percentage and velocity.

Cashner’s first injury looked like it was a fluky thing, perhaps just from getting a little slider happy. Even Cashner himself wasn’t worried about it, excited to get back on the mound. But then he gets put on the shelf again, and it’s hard not to see a pattern develop. And this time, the signs are more troubling.

Despite having a good Zone% this season, 53.1% pre-injury, he’s lost considerable control and seen it drop to 42.2% in his three starts since. His velocity held strong, but he also started seeing changes in his release point later in the game. Looking at his last start, where he went seven innings against the Seattle Mariners, you can almost pinpoint where his re-injury happened:

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Right around pitch number 80, he threw what was classified as a slider at almost 60 mph, and never saw himself regain his velocity. There’s a precedent for this type of drop-off, as Jose Fernandez experienced almost the exact same thing in his last start before going under the knife this season. To compound that point, Cashner’s release point cluster chart resembled a Jackson Pollock rather than his usual tight grouping.

Despite feeling fine enough to pitch, and being cleared to throw by the medical staff, there were still clearly injuries with Cashner. Release point issues, and control problems are never good for a pitcher, and are the type of things that the front office has to pick up on. The also decided to let him skip any rehab starts and throw a simulated game instead, which made it harder to see the injury coming.

We can credit the now former GM Josh Byrnes with putting together a good farm system, but when it comes to analyzing his own players, he dropped the ball more than once. The smart choice would have been to let Andrew Cashner wait longer before being activated, or be more conservative with his starts following the injury, and we didn’t see either of those things happen. Unfortunately for the team, fans, and Cashner himself, this injury stint doesn’t look to be as quick and clean as his last. It’s time the front office learns to pick up on this before someone else goes down with a preventable injury.

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