After a rough 2015 with Augusta, Jake McCasland has been utterly dominant no matter when he has pitched for the GreenJackets in 2016. After starting the year out of the bullpen, making 14 appearances and collecting three saves in three opportunities, the 24-year-old New Mexico native has made the transition to the rotation after starting only one game in his previous three seasons as a professional. That one start came in his final outing of 2015 against the Savannah Sand Gnats, and the right-hander went five innings, giving up six hits and two earned while striking out two and walking one.
McCasland has seemed to be using that one start as a benchmark for every other start that he has made in 2016, as he has never allowed more than three runs, which he has done just twice in ten outings. Eight of his outings have been quality (six innings, three earned runs or less), and the two outliers are due to a lack of innings, going five in each start, while allowing a combined three runs between them.
On Friday night, McCasland extended the GreenJacket's season-high win streak to six with six shutout innings in which he allowed just two hits, a walk, and struck out nine. This was McCasland's fifth win in six starts, with one no-decision thrown in on July 31. Over that span, he has tossed a total of 37 innings and allowed just five runs for an ERA of 1.22 dating back to July 10. The streak started with a pair of shutout performances and the past two starts have been shutouts as well, with a two-run and three-run outing in the middle.
As good as he has been as a starter, going 5-3 with a 1.65 ERA, he was even better as a reliever to begin the year, producing an ERA of 1.48 over 30.1 innings.
In looking into his stats on FanGraphs, you can see a few reasons for his run of success this season as opposed to previous years. The first being that he has cut down on his walk rate which now sits just above two per nine, allowing one and a half fewer free passes this season over last, while his home run rate is also extremely low at 0.32 compared to 0.90 in 2015. Another reason is that his BABIP is just .266, far and away the lowest showing of his career after producing .405, .362 and .357 BABIPs in his first three seasons.
The one cause for (slight) concern is that his FIP (Fielding independent pitching) is a full run above his ERA this season at 2.80 compared to his 1.59 ERA. All this means is that the defense behind him has helped him out of some tough jams with some stellar play.
As for the game itself, Augusta ended up winning handily, 7-0. Third baseman Dillon Dobson ripped his 13th homer of the season en route to a three RBI night that helped the GreenJackets improve their second half record to 30-17. With that record, Augusta sits 3.5 games up on the Rome Braves in the division. Rome has also been hot, winners of their last four contests.
The GreenJackets will continue with game three of their series against Lexington in the hopes of trimming down their magic number (20) by another game or two by day's end.