Pitcher Spotlight: Chase Anderson’s 2017 Transformation

Chase Anderson wasn’t supposed to be a must-own pitcher this season. His first three years in the majors all rendered ERAs north of 4.00 and WHIPs above 1.30, with his strikeout rate falling under 20% in 2015 and 2016. It didn’t look to be much different at the start of this season, with Anderson holding a lackluster 4.25 ERA, 7.58 K/9, and 3.51 BB/9 through his first nine games of the season. However, he’s turned on the jets since, with a sparkling 1.99 ERA, 9.13 K/9, and 2.51 BB/9 over his last twelve starts and he’s making us question where to draft him in 2018.

There are a few apparent changes to Anderson with a tick of velocity added to his Fastball (turning it from a -1.5 pVal to 8.4) and an extra 1.5 inches of drop to his Cutter (pVal increase from -3.4 to 2.4) and I could call it a day by showing off those pitches.

But there’s more to the story than those two changes and I want to expose it. In short, Anderson has become a pitcher.

Don’t hate me, I know how that phrase is thrown around and often used as an escape term that doesn’t tell you much of anything. But if there were a case that it would apply, this would be it. The more complete is that Anderson has developed the ability to throw all four of his pitches – Fastball, Cutter, Curveball, Changeup – in any count, excelling at his ability to locate while setting up hitters to generate outs.

Another fun blanket of buzzwords and phrases, so let me get more specific. What I want to do here is look at four at-bats across Anderson’s last three games that make me a believer.

Tommy Pham – Flyout

This first one is relatively simple and sets the tone for the other three. I want to emphasize Anderson’s ability to nibble the zone with his Fastball and Cutter, while working both sides of the plate to keep hitters off-balance and this battle with Tommy Pham does just that. First off is a Cutter that gets a free strike:

It’s not the best pitch, but it’s movement and location on on the outer third was enough, especially paired with Pham’s struggle to keep his weight back long enough shows he was going after a heater. And that’s important. Often we see pitchers needing to throw Fastballs early in counts because they can’t throw strikes with their secondary pitches and Anderson has no problem getting a Cutter in there for strike one.

Now establishing his Cutter away, Anderson zeroed in on the inside corner with his Fastball:

This is the kind of stuff we’d see from Kyle Hendricks and Dallas Keuchelworking the edge of the plate with heaters until they get the call. It’s just so blantant in this GIF and I adore it. Anderson missed with the first heater just a little too far inside, so he came back with another heater – still off the plate but a tinge closer than the first one – and he gets the call. He deserved that strike, and it properly sets up the fourth offering in this at-bat:

It doesn’t have the glory of a strikeout, but it deserves your love. Anderson located it just off the outside corner, with this pitch appearing as a heater on the middle-to-outer third of the plate before cutting off the edge, creating contact off the end of Pham’s bat. After the previous two Fastballs in, Pham had to adjust his zone inside and was accustomed to the timing of 91-92 instead of the outside location with movement tailing away at 88. That’s how you get outs.

Dexter Fowler – Strikeout

To start the Pham at-bat, Anderson got ahead with a Cutter. To start the Dexter Fowler at-bat, Anderson got ahead with…a Cutter:

Alright, two Cutters, with neither one looking all too pretty. I’m not going to praise this outside of liking his tenacity to stick with the pitch and to not be afraid of throwing it well inside the zone for a strike. Let’s move on.

So 1-1 Fowler is waiting for the Fastball to drive. He thought the 1-0 pitch was the heater he’d been eyeing and just missed it as it dove into his bat at a slightly slower velocity. Anderson took advantage of this and tossed a tight breaking ball inside the zone that was going to earn a second strike whether Fowler wanted to offer at it or not.

The second Curveball at 1-2 didn’t get the chase Anderson wanted, but I love it. It started inside the zone and tested to see how far Fowler would go. He just offered at one a few inches higher, why not see if he’d fish for one just under the plate? This wasn’t a pitch that Anderson missed, it’s exactly where he wanted it and Fowler didn’t offer. So it goes.

Okay, now 2-2 Fowler is thinking that he hasn’t seen a Fastball yet. Anderson won’t turn to his Curveball after two in a row and he already featured a pair of Cutters to lead off the at-bat. It has to be a Fastball, right?

That’s a beautiful pitch. It’s a bit higher than Anderson wanted it, but it’s along the outside corner and looks just like his Fastball save for a 11 mph difference and a bit of fade at the end. This doesn’t work without executing both his Curveballs prior and by getting ahead without featuring a Fastball once during the at-bat. This also doesn’t work if you can’t execute a Changeup after not throwing it for 16 pitches.

And down goes Fowler.

Eugenio Suarez – Flyout

Now in his next start against Cincinnati, we take a look at a rather unremarkable at-bat against Eugenio SuarezTo lead off the at-bat, once again, Anderson leads with a Cutter – I know I know – but remark its location:

This is a perfect 0-0 pitch. Suarez made poor contact with the down-and-away Cutter, and could have even result in a quick out, but instead Anderson is now facing 0-1. I think he’ll take it.

Like we saw with the Pham at-bat, Anderson now elected to go inside with his Fastball in what appears to be an identical pitch to the 0-1 offering we saw previously. Don’t treat this like a throwaway 0-1 pitch as it establishes that Anderson will feature his Fastball and is not afraid to go inside. It makes both of the next pitches even more effective as Suarez needs to keep this in his mind.

This is the pitch that made me want to feature this at-bat. Anderson could have gone back inside with his Fastball, headed back outside with a Cutter, or even placed a Changeup down and away and they all would have probably worked. But instead he throws a 1-1 Curveball right over the plate and it earned him a pitcher’s count. Heck, it even made Suarez flinch in the box. That’s the kind of repertoire we’re dealing with from Anderson, one where he can whip out any of his weapons at any point to keep attacking batters.

Alright, so now 1-2 Anderson has plenty of options to get Suarez out and elected to go with a Cutter away:

It’s just like the Pham at-bat where he spotted the pitch off the edge resulting in a fly-out off the end of the bat (I will admit, I’m surprised it traveled this far to right-field). Anderson may have been able to turn to another pitch for a strikeout, say a Fastball up-and-in, for example, but he went Cutter, executed it, and got the out. The man is locked in.

Javier Baez – Strikeout

Last one is a bit more complex as he faced Javier Baez in Wrigley field. Let’s dive right into it with his first two pitches:

Finally Anderson isn’t getting ahead with a first pitch Cutter. Instead, he hits the outside half with a bit of life at 93mph, then comes back with a Curveball along the edge for a quick 0-2 count. Baez might have been looking for a breaking ball on the first pitch, but after passing by heat near the center of the plate, he sure wasn’t hoping to face a 73mph hook that he’d have to lean out and push to right-field.

Ahead 0-2, Anderson can turn to anything he wants. Here are the next four pitches that didn’t quite seal the deal:

Let’s go through this pitch by pitch. First was a Changeup that he missed inside, but Baez was well out in front, forcing a weak foul ball. With 83mph fresh in Baez’s memory, Anderson tried to spot the same location with heat and it sails well out of the zone. Whoops. Instead of shying away from it, he sticks with it again, makes the adjustment and paints the glove, only for Baez to foul it off. It’s time for more velocity play, feeding a 95mph Fastball with a slow Curveball, but he made it too hittable, allowing Baez, who was well out on his front foot, to smack it a long way foul, instead of leaning over and whiff it off the plate.

This sequence has Baez on the defensive the entire time, and it seems inevitable that Anderson will find the pitch that will seal the deal. After the slow hook in the middle of the plate, Baez may have expected a Fastball inside but instead faced a Cutter away that did the trick:

This isn’t the most impressive at-bat. Anderson could have put Baez away here in three pitches, but it took seven. What I wanted to highlight is Anderson’s confidence to try each offering in his repertoire to find the one that would send Baez to the dugout, which ultimately was a well placed Cutter off the plate. Anderson had Baez dead-to-rights and his arsenal featured enough bag of tricks to get the desired result. Don’t overlook that flexibility.

Conclusion

Chase Anderson is in a great place right now. He’s increased his velocity and improved his Cutter’s depth, but more importantly, he has faith in each of his pitches. His ability to command both sides of the plate while mixing in each offering effectively is churning outs in a way that can get lost in the sea of stats. It’s possible his feel for his repertoire fades away, but with his arsenal and this command, he makes a strong case as a Top 40 starter for 2018.



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Nick Pollack is the founder of PitcherList.com and has written for Washington Post, Fantasy Pros, and CBS Sports. He can be found making an excessive amount of GIFs on twitter at @PitcherList.

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This series is so awesome it deserves it’s own walk-up music.