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December 2011

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Andrew Cashner Should Not Be the Cubs' Closer in 2012

Written by , Posted in General

Among the potential routes Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer might take the Cubs headed into 2012 is moving into complete fire sale mode.  I must say that I could not argue with that plan, if that is the choice of the men in charge.  Even if the Cubs go with a more modest plan, though, it appears that Carlos Marmol could very well be traded for prospects before spring training begins.  If that happens, the Cubs will have an opening at closer.

If Marmol is gone, a fair number of Cub fans would like the team to move 2008 first round pick Andrew Cashner to the closer’s role.  In many ways this makes sense.ABC  Cashner was a very successful closer at TCU and looked quite good in relief action upon returning from the disabled list.  He definitely has the stuff to be a very good closer, with a mid to high 90s fastball, a strong slider and an improving change up.  There are also legitimate concerns about his ability to handle a starter’s workload after spending most of last year rehabbing from a shoulder injury suffered in his first and only start of 2011.

But the Cubs should avoid this inclination for 2012.  The fact that Cashner has three good pitches also gives him the stuff to be a very successful starter if he can stay healthy.  If Cashner can stay healthy, he has the stuff to be a true ace in the Major Leagues.

But Cashner does not have to be an ace to be more valuable in the rotation than he would be as a closer.  According to FanGraphs, the 105th best starting pitcher in baseball last season was Jeremy Hellickson, who was worth 1.4 fWAR.  Presumably the 105th best starter would be the most average number 4 starter in baseball.  There were only 24 relief pitchers in all of baseball who were worth more than 1.4 fWAR.  And FanGraphs’ most valuable  reliever in baseball last season, Craig Kimbrel, only equaled the fWAR of the 42nd most valuable starting pitcher.

Closers should be pitchers who cannot start, either because they are not good enough to start or because they cannot handle a starter’s workload.  Cashner should be good enough, and might yet be able to show he can handle a starter’s workload.

With that said, Cashner should not be starting in 2012.  After throwing just 10.2 innings last season, he needs to work towards being able to handle the innings load a starter requires.  The closer’s role, however, is not the ideal place to do that.  It would be preferable to see Cashner moving into appearances of more than an inning as the season goes along.  I also have significant concerns about a team being willing to move a successful closer into the starting rotation.   In the recent past, the only team I can think of that has done that is the Texas Rangers, who have now done it twice with C.J. Wilson and Neftali Feliz.

The Cubs also are not likely to be in a situation in 2012 where it will really matter if they have an elite closer or not.  The odds of the Cubs being a good team next season are quite slim, so whomever their closer probably will not have all that many leads to close out.  A great closer is not going to turn the Cubs into a good team next year.

In short, Andrew Cashner’s 2012 should be devoted to seeing if Andrew Cashner can move back into the starting rotation for 2013.  If it does not look like Cashner will be able to handle the workload, the Cubs can always move him to closer at that point.  But a good starter is nearly always more valuable than even a great closer.  And Cashner has the stuff to be a very, very good starter.  The Cubs should give him every reasonable chance to move into the rotation long term.

  • Norm

    Completely agree…

  • Doug S.

    Marmol gone. That has a nice ring to it.

  • Dusty Baylor

    Spot on…agree absolutely.

  • Steve

    Noah- precisely right. Hopefully we’ll carry this mindset throughout the organization.

  • Randy

    Don’t forget the Cub’s moving Dempster from closer to starter. That worked out well, he wasn’t amazing as a closer, but successful would be a good word for it.
    I want to see Cashner start, he has great movement on his fastball and if he can square away his off speed stuff he is good enough to be a number two starter anywhere outside of Philly. When all is said and done I’d rather see Wood close and Marmol/Marshall setup. Carlos always seemed more comfortable cleaning up a mess rather than being asked to save a game. I think he can again be the dreaded pitcher that turns good hitters into strike out machines, he just needs to pitch in his comfort role.

  • Doc Raker

    I thought Smarja made great strides this past season and is a candidate for closer.

  • Dusty Baylor

    I think Spellcheck did well..in low leverage situations. He still walks way too many batters in my opinion.

  • Buddy

    I’m not too worried about who closes in 2012. Those 70-ish innings are only a tiny piece of the pitching puzzle.

  • Doc Raker

    This is true Buddy, the Cubs have many problems to fix before the bottom of the ninth matters much but the discussion was posed so we comment. Do you agree Seymour? Jswasnon?

  • Buddy

    Very true Doc. I wasn’t trying to be critical of the post. Just giving my two cents.

  • I fully agree with that Raker. So, 125%.

  • Doug Bagley

    It’s a shame we didn’t get to see how cash could do as a starter…I think marmol stays on & is closer with Cashner as a set up guy and Jeff will get a shot to start again…I think that randy wells should not be just penciled in as a starter

  • Buddy

    I’d like to see Cashner and Shark in the pen, with Marshall getting another chance to start.

  • Jedi

    Samardzija should not start, his numbers by appearance based on pitch count bear that out. He’s useless after 20-25 pitches. He does NOT have the MLB quality pitches requisite for a starter.

  • Doc Raker

    I agree with Jedi which makes him that much smarter.

  • Buddy

    If Doc Costanza thinks the Shark should be in the pen, that almost assures his place in the starting rotation.

  • BLPCB

    Randy, Dempster was an all-star starter with the Marlins before blowing out his elbow. I think Cashner should start 2012 as a reliever, and work his way up into getting back into the rotation for 2013.