The Brewers’ Quiet Upside Play

There’s a lot to talk about with any five-player trade. And with the trade that sent Jean Segura from the Brewers to the Diamondbacks, there are plenty of noteworthy angles. There’s the matter of Segura’s offensive upside vs. Segura’s offensive reality. There’s the matter of the Diamondbacks clutching onto their highest remaining draft pick, and there’s the matter of the successful if partial Aaron Hill salary dump, and there’s the matter of Isan Diaz being an awful interesting prospect. There’s something else the Brewers received, though, and while Chase Anderson doesn’t have Diaz’s breakout potential, you can think of him as the quieter upside play. Anderson is going into the rotation, and he could remain there for years.

Anderson’s whole presence to this point has been quiet. He’s been an unremarkable pitcher on an unremarkable team, and though he’s made just 48 big-league starts, he’s already 28 years old. He doesn’t have a top-prospect background, nor does he have a top prospect’s velocity — Anderson’s specialty has been an outstanding changeup. The numbers last year backslid, and Anderson wound up on the outside of the picture, looking in. Yet the Brewers still saw something they liked.

The changeup might be enough on its own. The last two years, Anderson’s changeup has the 11th-highest run value among starting pitchers, and that’s in fewer than 300 innings. The fastball, granted, has been beaten up, but the changeup has still worked, giving Anderson a useful foundation. Changeups work against opposite-handed hitters, and all that, and a changeup specialist can often fly under the prospect radar.

There’s more to this profile, though. As a rookie in 2014, Anderson offered a fastball that averaged about 91 miles per hour. Through the All-Star break in 2015, he offered a fastball that averaged about 91 miles per hour. Early in the second half, Anderson passed a spell on the disabled list. When he came back, he offered a fastball that averaged north of 92 miles per hour. The gain was of 1.3 ticks.

That’s a fairly substantial hike. Last year, 168 starting pitchers threw at least 10 innings on both sides of the break. Only Nathan Eovaldi gained more on his average fastball than Anderson did. The average pitcher in the sample gained 0.1 miles, and that was also the median. To put it a different way, first-half Anderson ranked in the 45th percentile in terms of fastball speed. Second-half Anderson ranked in the 66th percentile.

The stuff played up, basically. Few people noticed, and it’s not like Anderson turned into an ace, but his fastball gained more than a tick, and his curveball gained almost two ticks, and his changeup also gained almost two ticks. Usually, when you’re splitting numbers into smaller samples, you worry about the increasing effect of randomness, but a pitcher can’t really fake higher velocity. You either throw harder or you don’t, and Anderson threw harder, and he sustained it. It’s not like he moved into the bullpen.

There was observable improvement elsewhere. Again, I want to make it clear that Anderson didn’t blossom into a superstar. Even after coming off the DL, there were inconsistencies and some lousy outings. But first-half Anderson had a 111 FIP-. Second-half Anderson dropped to 97. He picked up more strikeouts, because he reduced his contact rate from 85% to 78%. Now, there were 132 starters who threw at least 25 innings on both sides of the break. Anderson’s contact-rate improvement ranked fourth. For the sake of comparison, his contact rate improved more than Justin Verlander‘s did. So on the one hand, you can look at Anderson and see that he lost strikeouts in 2015, compared to his rookie season. But actually, the strikeouts came back. Such that, down the stretch, Anderson was looking more and more like a No. 3 starter.

It all serves to make Anderson interesting, as he’s not old and he’ll be cheap for a while. We’ve all seen how the market has been for starting pitching of late, and Anderson has the ability to turn himself into something greatly valuable. The only thing he isn’t is “proven,” and that’s a nebulous term. He’s not lacking for big-league experience, not anymore. He just hasn’t pitched enough with what might be his new, stronger repertoire.

I don’t know what might’ve caused Anderson to pick up velocity, but what can’t be argued is that he did, and he wouldn’t have been the only Diamondback to do so — Robbie Ray gained two miles on his 2014 fastball. Anderson would probably be the first to tell you velocity isn’t his game, and even down the stretch it’s not like he was another Yordano Ventura, but improved velocity improves everything. It just gives a greater margin of error, even if it’s slight, because hitters have less time to stand there and wait, and that works to the pitcher’s advantage. Anderson’s changeup worked well when he was around 90-91. There’s no reason it shouldn’t work better if he’s around 92-94. He just needs to keep that strength up.

When people think about upside, they usually think about potential superstars. It comes from how we want to evaluate players by their ceilings. Potential superstars are alluring, and Chase Anderson doesn’t belong in that category. Not if we’re being realistic. But he might be another, I don’t know, Mike Fiers. Or maybe he’s just a little more experience from looking as good as Ian Kennedy. No one would begin a fantasy draft by taking Ian Kennedy, but those pitchers help teams win, and the Brewers want to win before too much time passes. Directly or indirectly, Anderson could help. There’s more to like than just the changeup.



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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


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Dooduh
Member
Dooduh
3 months 30 days ago

Don’t know much about what this piece purports to say, but I do have to say that the Brewers have turned their system around in what might just be record time. They went from having a bottom ten system probably a year ago to having one prob already easily in the top ten now. Their future looks very bright and they will most likely add to the stockpile with a few deals they’ll make this season.

Seamaholic
Member
Seamaholic
3 months 30 days ago

Umm … are you sure you’re thinking of the Brewers? There’s no way they have anything close to a Top 10 system, and they haven’t done all that much in the way of acquiring prospects. Just the Gomez trade and this one, and the kid they got here is in short-season ball.

Seamaholic
Member
Seamaholic
3 months 30 days ago

… and they also gave up a decent prospect in this deal.

SecondHandStore
Member
SecondHandStore
3 months 30 days ago

I like Ty Wagner, but he’s likely just a 4/5 starter. That’s what Chase Anderson is right now, without any improvements. So the Brewers get maybe some upside and definitely some safety with a pitcher that’s shown he can survive in the majors, while just giving up a year of control–Ty Wagner’s 6 to Anderson’s 5.

HankScooter
Member
HankScooter
3 months 30 days ago

They also acquired Rhymer Liriano and Zack Davies. Arcia has shot up the prospect lists. I’m not saying top ten, but they’re in a much much better place now.

SecondHandStore
Member
SecondHandStore
3 months 30 days ago

I’m going to assume you haven’t paid close attention to the Brewers’ farm system. Not only have they gotten big value in that Gomez/Fiers deal, they had one of the best drafts in 2015. They also got a solid prospect in this trade, and some interesting prospects in other trades. Then add in the improvements from prospects already in the system–Orlando Arcia, Jorge Lopez, Michael Reed, and a few others–and they certainly have a significantly improved system. It has some high caliber prospects and depth now. If it’s not in the back-end of top 10 lists, it’s probably in the 11-13 range.

oh Hal
Member
oh Hal
3 months 30 days ago

No way? I’d guess Sickels and MLB put them there. Wouldn’t be surprised if BA does. BP maybe not.

And a great way to acquire prospects – draft them.

PMOinNYC
Member
PMOinNYC
3 months 29 days ago

Brewers have 5 players on the Top 100 prospect list. I’d saw top 10 is very realistic.

Neils-Henning Orsted Joc Pederson
Member
Neils-Henning Orsted Joc Pederson
3 months 28 days ago

Definitely top 10 system.

Only five are distinctly superior (Dodgers, Twins, Red Sox, Rangers, and Pirates) and just three more that *might* be better — Braves, Rays, and A’s.

Dooduh
Member
Dooduh
3 months 29 days ago

Arcia
Lopez
Hader
Phillips
Hader
Clark
Coulter
Harrison
Medeiros
Davies
Demi
Reed
Taylor
Gatewood
Pena
Magnifico
Bradley

All very interesting prospects. And they’ve still got a few sell trades to make this year which will result in more talent coming into the system AND they have the 5th pick in the next draft. They’re in a really good position right now… plus a solid competitive owner.

Chaco Chicken
Member
Chaco Chicken
3 months 30 days ago

If I didn’t know better I’d think you guys were trolling the heck out of that Dave Stewart glove-love sock account.

Only glove, no love
Member
Only glove, no love
3 months 30 days ago

Heh. Someone might want to write the other side as Wagner the ultimate Dave Duncan groundballer turnaround project though. Maybe a ziegler redux.

I am not even an AZ or Stewart fan. Cameron does irritate me though. And I will try and control myself in the future.

bartelsjason
Member
bartelsjason
3 months 29 days ago

Doubt any of these dudes are too relevant in three years.

cnote66
Member
cnote66
3 months 29 days ago

Does no good for Jorge Lopez and Zach Davies.

tz
Member
tz
3 months 29 days ago

Sounds like a good guy to sell high if his performance kicks up a notch. Maybe the Dbacks would offer David Peralta and two of their top prospects to get him back.

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