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Chase Anderson Hasn’t Been What the Brewers Hoped For

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It’s been a tough year for the starting rotation overall.

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at Milwaukee Brewers Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

When the Milwaukee Brewers aqcuired Chase Anderson over the winter as a part of the Jean Segura/Tyler Wagner deal, it appeared as though they were getting a ready-made fifth starter for their major league rotation. The right hander had made 48 starts for Arizona during the previous two seasons, posting a cumulative 4.18 ERA and nearly matching 4.17 FIP across 267.0 innings pitched, along with a 216:80 K/BB rate. Anderson dealt with a minor injury last season but after he returned, he had gained a couple ticks on his average fastball up to 93 MPH and saw a subsequent jump in his strikeout rate (22% from August through the end of the season) leading to some whispers that he might even be potential breakout candidate coming into 2016.

Unfortunately, if you have paid attention to the big league Brewers at all this year you would know that things haven’t worked out quite as hoped. Anderson has been one of the worst starting pitchers in the league this season. Chase is averaging just five innings per start this year, and in 86.0 innings he’s posted a 5.44 ERA and 5.63 FIP. Those rank as the seventh and third-worst marks in the MLB this year (min. 80 IP). Only two National League pitchers have allowed more home runs than Anderson’s 18 so far this year. Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference both grade Anderson’s work as below replacement level, while Baseball Prospectus has him only slightly better than a replacement pitcher to this point in the season.

Anderson’s K rate has taken a step back from where he finished last season, but at 17.8% he’s still near his career norm. However, he’s hitting the zone less frequently than ever (46.6% of the time) and is getting significantly fewer swings at pitches out of the zone (22.8%) than he did during his first two seasons in The Show. As a result, his walk rate has jumped more than two points up to 8.8%, or more than one extra free pass per nine innings.

Anderson has not only been unable to maintain the gains he showed with his fastball velocity late last season, his heater is actually averaging a career-low 90.8 MPH this season. Chase has had a bat habit of leaving his fastball down the middle of the zone this year, and as a result batters are teeing off against the pitch.

Chase Anderson 2016 fastball heat map.

According to Brooks Baseball, opposing hitters are batting .274 off Chase’s four-seamer, a five point increase over 2015. The big difference, however, is that batters are slugging .593 against the fastball, more than 140 points higher than they did in 2015. Nine of the 18 home runs that Chase has given up have been against his fastball.

Anderson is experiencing similar difficulties with his changeup, which had been his signature weapon up until this year. Last year, batters hit .211 with a rather minuscule .311 slugging percentage against the change of pace. This season, the batting average against has jumped to .228 while the slugging has ballooned to .467, with five long balls given up against the pitch. Where Chase’s cambio had been graded at 14.9 runs above average during his first two seasons in the big leagues, this year his wCH (weighted changeup runs above average) according to Pitch F/X is -4.9, the third-worst total in the league (min 80 IP).

Unfortunately, there isn’t really any indication that things are going to improve for Chase in the second half of the season. He’s giving up hard contact 37.4% of the time, one of the highest rates in the majors, and even then his BABIP of .278 is 21 points below his career norm. Anderson’s cFIP of 122 projects him to be 22% worse than league average going forward, with only three starters projected to less effective.

The Brewers looked to be getting an inexpensive and steady innings-eater from Arizona back in January, but thus far Anderson has been a major liability in the starting rotation. Anderson is falling behind hitters and as a result is getting hit hard when he’s been in the strike zone. The rebuilding nature of the club has allowed him to keep his place in the starting rotation for now, but with several other options (Hader, Lopez, Suter, Wilkerson) in AAA Colorado Springs, Chase may be in danger of losing his turn if he can’t improve his performance in the second half.

Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs, Baseball Prospectus, and Brooks Baseball