Way back in July, I wrote about how Chase Anderson had failed to live up to expectations during the first half of his first season donning a Brewers’ uniform. At that time Anderson was sporting a 5.44 ERA through 86.0 innings, ranking him as one of the ten least effective starters in the big leagues. I surmised that unless Anderson’s results started to improve in the season’s second half, his role toeing the slab every five days could be in jeopardy.
Add Chase to the list of folks who must read Brew Crew Ball, because he has certainly heeded my warning and answered the call over his past few months worth of starts. Since July 25th, Anderson has made 12 appearances (11 starts) while working to a 2.54 ERA in 56.2 innings pitched. Thanks to his hot stretch, the 28 year old’s season-long ERA now stands at 4.36 and his ERA- of 102 paints him as essentially a league-average cog in terms of earned run average.
The biggest difference is that beginning with that start on July 25th against the Diamondbacks, his former employer, Anderson has essentially abandoned his cut fastball. Chase didn’t have a cutter in his arsenal during his first season in the big leagues in 2014 and only threw one very rarely last year, but by the beginning of 2016 he had started offering it regularly to batters. Over his first 18 starts of the year, Anderson threw 136 cutters (per Brooks Baseball) to opposing batters, selecting it between 8-9% of the time overall but generally favoring it to right-handed batters. Anderson has a reverse platoon split to this point in his young career (.310 wOBA vs. lefties, .358 wOBA against righties), so the idea of adding the cut fastball was supposed to help better neutralize right handed hitters.
Ultimately though, the pitch offered hitters little trouble. During those aforementioned 18 starts, opponents hit an unfathomable .435 with a .565 slugging percentage against the pitch. So Chase simply stopped throwing it.
Across his last eleven starts, Anderson has only thrown 11 cutters total, or roughly 1% of the time. He’s basically replaced all those missing cutters with four seam fastballs, which has seen it’s usage increase from 32% prior to July 25th to 42% since then.
Chase has also gone away from the low-and-away approach with his four-seamer and has varied his fastball location more throughout the zone, which has helped mitigate some of the extra base problems he had with the pitch earlier in the season (.322 ISO pre-July 25, .090 ISO since then).
Since dropping the cutter and changing up how he’s used his fastball, Anderson has seen his wOBA against right handers drop significantly from .429 to .322. He was already holding lefties to a .289 wOBA on the season, so the big improvements against righties has been the main driver of Anderson’s strong second half.
Though he is sporting that sparkling ERA, Anderson’s FIP since July 25th is still at 4.31, so we shouldn’t suddenly expect him to continue performing like an ace going forward (that’s Junior Guerra’s job). But Chase is making good on the back-end starter expectations that he carried into this season and after ditching the cutter, that type of production seems like a reasonable conjecture for his future performance. It’s not a sexy profile, but a league-average innings eater is a valuable commodity to be in control of these days. The Brewers are now seemingly flush with arms at or near the MLB level, and they will have to choose whether to hang on to the soon to be 29 year old this winter, or to move him in a deal to make room for a younger, cheaper, and potentially higher-upside arm in the starting rotation while adding prospects or addressing another organizational need.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs