The otherworldly (or, at least, other-side-of-the-worldly) power of Eric Thames has stolen the headlines in Milwaukee and across the nation in the early going this season. But there’s been another surprising start in Brew Town, and Chase Anderson’s April might be even more shocking.
Anderson entered the final day of March ticketed for a long relief job in the Brewers bullpen. An injury to Matt Garza was a blessing in disguise (not a very strong disguise, I admit) for the Brewers however, as Anderson found himself pressed into service in the rotation. Four weeks later, Milwaukee’s sixth man is the National League ERA leader (1.13).
While the sample size for 2017 is very small, Anderson has been hot for the better part of a year now. His 2.51 ERA since the 2016 All-Star Break is fifth in baseball, just behind Noah Syndergaard and ahead of Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and Chris Sale (min. 80 IP).
He’s taken another leap forward this season, however. Anderson has added velocity across the board, adding about 1.5 MPH to each of his pitches over last season’s averages (below). He reportedly added about 10 pounds over the offseason, and the additional muscle mass has allowed him to pound balls in with a little more gas regularly.
In addition to tacking on mass, the 29-year-old has also made some mechanical adjustments. He has a new arm slot, dropping his arm by nearly a foot (below). The new release point has given his breaking pitches new life and seemingly baffled hitters:
Finally, Anderson has made an adjustment in his approach, and it’s suddenly made him a force against right handed hitters. The 27-year-old has long had reverse splits, being more successful against lefties to such an extent that many folks who ought to know better often forget that he’s not left-handed himself. Entering the season, righties were tuning up Anderson with a .293/.345/.501 slash line, far better than the .228/.305/.403 line from southpaws. This season, he’s maintained his relative success against lefties (.281/.303/.375) while obliterating RHH, holding them to a .175/.267/.315 line.
Part of this new success is explained by pitch location. Prior to this season, Anderson worked righties down and away (left, below). This season, in an admittedly limited sample, Anderson appears to be cutting off the hands of righties, attacking the inner half of the plate(right):
The change is limiting RHH power, since hitters from that side can no longer get long and extend through pitches. This is especially important for Anderson, who is one of the league’s most extreme fly ball pitchers (over 41% with Milwaukee) and is susceptible to the long ball (tied with league-leading Ian Kennedy with a 1.66 HR/9 last season). He’s also generating a ton more soft contact, almost entirely at the expense of hard contact:
What does this mean? It means that if Anderson’s new approach vs. RHH is a small sample size accident, then he should accidentally keep it up. It means that there appear to be real changes: physical, mechanical and in approach, behind Anderson’s success this season. It means that the Brewers might have a veteran breakout pitching star for the second straight year. And if all that’s the case, it means the Brewers rebuild is a lot closer to completion than anyone thought.
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Travis Sarandos is a contributor at Beyond the Box Score, a Taylor Swift enthusiast and a very nice person. You can follow him on Twitter at @travis_mke, but you shouldn't.