Though the 2017 Brewers didn’t make the playoffs, they proved that they were ready to contend ahead of schedule. One of the reasons for Milwaukee exceeding expectations was a breakout year from veteran right-hander, Chase Anderson.
Anderson, who until that point had pitched to a 4.25 ERA and 4.26 FIP, ended 2017 with a 2.74 ERA and 3.58 FIP. Anderson altered his release point, added a tick of velocity, and changed how he approached right-handed hitters. All these adjustments led to a much-improved pitcher. He struck out a career high 23.4 percent of batters he faced, and he cut down on walks.
He appeared to be the emergent staff ace that would carry the team until Corbin Burnes and/or Freddy Peralta were ready to take the helm. The Brewers rewarded Anderson with a two-year contract extension with two additional option years for 2020 and 2021.
Admittedly, he got a bit lucky in 2017. His HR/FB percentage was an unsustainably low 8.6, and xFIP and DRA had him at 4.33 and 4.13 respectively. Regardless, the adjustments he made certainly helped to engineer some of this luck. The DRA might have been nearly a run and a half higher than the ERA, but it was still the best mark of his career.
He should have been able to carry those changes over into 2018. (Narrator voice: He didn’t).
He kept his ERA under 4.00, which was a reasonable expectation considering his peripherals in 2017. However, Anderson’s FIP and DRA were 5.18 and 5.52, both career highs. He walked more batters than ever, and he gave up enough home runs to make up for the ones he didn’t allow the year before.
Anderson not only fell from his “staff ace” status, he fell from the rotation as well. The Brewers left their Opening Day starter off the postseason roster.
Pitching in Miller Park didn’t help his dinger issues. At home, Anderson had a whopping 20.8 HR/FB compared to a 9.0 on the road. In general, Anderson pitched much worse in Milwaukee (4.18 FIP on the road, 6.12 FIP at home). His slipping back wasn’t just because of his hitter-friendly home though.
Anderson’s release point fell back to where it was before 2017.
Not only that, he lost the tick of velocity he had gained.
The two are likely related. The extra extension he gained in 2017 must have contributed to his increased velocity. It also appears that it helped with his command. In 2017, Anderson hit the strike zone with more regularity. When his release point came back in, his zone percentage dropped.
At the beginning of 2017, Anderson appeared to solve his issues against right-handed hitters by pitching them inside. April and May of 2017 were two of his best months against righties, and it’s because he was able to put the fastball on their hands.
In 2018, Anderson didn’t go in on the hands as often, and righties went back to clobbering him.
It’d be easy to dismiss Anderson’s 2017 as a blip, but he made some subtle, important changes. If he can regain his 2017 release point and get back to pitching on both sides of the plate, he may not have a sub-3.00 again, but he should be a serviceable mid-rotation starter.
Kenny Kelly is a writer for Beyond the Box Score and McCovey Chronicles.