The success of the Brewers’ rotation this year -- at least until/if Jimmy Nelson is able to come back halfway through the season -- largely rests on the arm of Chase Anderson.
The righty had a breakout season in 2017 that was due in part to an increase in velocity and a different pitching approach that saw him throwing more curveballs. A midseason oblique injury robbed him of an All-Star appearance and consideration in the Cy Young award race, but he finished the year with a 2.74 ERA in 25 starts and put up career-best strikeout rates.
The Brewers believe that breakout is for real, and they pretty much need it to be if they’re going to be a playoff contender. That’s why it was so concerning to see his velocity dip to what looked like pre-breakout levels in his first couple starts. Was he hurt? Was the velocity spike last year a one-year fluke?
Well, it turns out that perceived velo drop wasn’t as large as it was perceived to be, and in Anderson’s most recent start on Sunday -- the best of his three so far this year -- his fastball was back to where it was before the lull in his second start.
Yes, Anderson was topping out at 95 mph at times last year and he ended the year averaging about 93 mph, but looking at what he was throwing early last year, it took him some time to build up to that point. Here’s his average and max fastball velocities from his first three starts of last year, compared to what he’s logged so far in 2018, courtesy of Brooks Baseball:
Chase Anderson Velocity
It’s worth noting that data from Anderson’s first start in 2017 was compiled using the Automatic MLBAM Gameday Algorithm, as opposed to PITCH INFO, which Brooks used in all of the other starts. It’s hard to tell if any differences in the measurements could lead to the systems spitting out different numbers varying by a few ticks, but the numbers at least look to be in line with eachother.
Putting the velo averages from the first few starts of last year next to the first few from this year, yes, it looks to be down a couple of tenths, but not the drastic difference it felt like it was when the velocity was a talking point before his most recent start.
Anderson’s velocity did dip in his second start, but if we look past the numbers and remember he may have knocked himself out with his awkward slide in the middle of his first start, it’s a little more understandable. Considering Anderson said he might have momentarily blacked out after hitting his head on home plate in San Diego, it wouldn’t be surprising if he was still not feeling his best he took the mound again five days later. For what it’s worth, the Brewers have never indicated Anderson had a concussion, even if he had some of the symptoms.
Anderson was also extremely sick in the days leading up to his Opening Day start, to the point where he wasn’t sure he’d be able to make the start as the team boarded the plane to San Diego.
Three starts is admittedly a tiny sample -- we probably shouldn’t draw any longterm conclusions based on 10% of the starts he’ll hopefully make this year -- seeing he’s basically in line with his velocity numbers at this time last year should calm some of the worries about him losing some zip on his fastball, at least for now. It’s still early in the year and plenty of pitchers take time to hit their peak velocities. It looks like Anderson is at least on his way there.
Statistics and data courtesy of Baseball-Reference and Brooks Baseball