But what about when your top pitching prospect gets moved to the Major League pen? Well, as it turns out, this is not so uncommon and it's certainly not the mark of an upside-down season. However, that doesn't make it smart, either.
Andrew Cashner, the 23 year-old right hander, is not only our most prized pitching possession, but also a bucket of fun trivia. For instance, he was drafted four times by MLB teams from 2005 to 2008 (the Cubs drafted him twice), and he was born on the most auspicious date of September 11th.
Another fun fact:
His 2010 xFIP is an impressive 3.82, to go along with a godly 1.62 tERA. In short, these stats simply tell us what we already expected: Andrew Cashner is really good. In over 10 innings thus far, Cashner has only surrendered 1 measly run, striking out 7 and walking only 2. (Granted, his LOB% is ridiculously high, but I think he'll still do well when that stabilizes.)
However, controversy surrounds the young pitcher because, until earlier this season, Cashner was starting, not relieving. But with the Cubs rotation performing so well (it has been one of the lone pleasantries of an otherwise abysmal season), Cashner could only fit into the ML roster via the bullpen. Many prognosticators ask: "Um, why does he need to fit into the ML roster?"
Well, he was certainly pitching well in Iowa -- earning a shiny FIP to the tune of 3.29. That tends to be a good reason to bring up your top young guy: when the competition no longer matches the skill set. Joe Pawlikowski of Fangraphs actually took a look at this matter of moving future stars to the pen today, with respect to Aroldis Chapman. As he notes:
There are two advantages of using young pitchers in the bullpen. First is the obvious, that they gain experience facing major league hitters. Many young pitchers are just too good for the minors and need to test their mettle against elite hitters. Why not, then, put them in the major league rotation? That brings us to the second point. By pitching in the bullpen they receive constant feedback. Relievers pitch in games more often than starters, which means more opportunities to gain feedback on their performances.However, Joe also notes:
The one place where I get hung up on this issue relates to innings. Young pitchers need to build up their innings from year to year, just like runners must ramp up their distances when training for a marathon. No one goes from the couch to a 26.2 mile run, just like no one goes from high school to 200 innings.Which brings us to our greatest and most damning concern: Innings.
As mb21 of Another Cubs Blog is wont to note, Cashner was not a starter in college and has yet to build the endurance to pitch 200 innings in a single season. By moving him to the pen and thereby limiting his total innings, the Cubs are effectively delaying Andrew Cashner's greatest value, possibly eschewing his best peak years in favor of shoring up a bullpen on a team that can't score runs.
In other words, the Cubs would be quite wise to put Cashner back where he belongs: starting in the minors. Then, we can fill his vacancy with Joe Schmoe right-hander -- because this season is all but lost anyway. This way, Cashner will be able to start for us by 2012 at the latest, not 2015, when his best years are already in progress and fading fast. Anything otherwise would be, let's just say, upside-down.