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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