Has Chase Anderson figured it out?

As of April 25, Milwaukee Brewers starting pitcher Chase Anderson owns the lowest ERA among qualified pitchers in the National League. I don’t know what part of that is more strange; the fact that a Brewers’ pitcher has been that dominant or that it’s Chase Anderson — a 3.8 WAR player over 442.2 innings. And we can’t forget that Anderson was on the outside looking in in terms of the starting rotation during spring training, and he himself believes he wouldn’t be among the five if Matt Garza hadn’t gotten hurt.

But Garza, unsurprisingly, opened the season on the disabled list, and Anderson has made the most of it, and will almost definitely keep his spot when Junior Guerra comes back. So now that we’ve established that Chase Anderson will win this year’s Cy Young Award, it’s time to figure out how and why. Has he finally figured it out?

In this new era of sabermetrics, we talk a lot about exit velocity, and how limiting hard-hit balls is usually a good thing for pitchers. With that being said, let’s take a gander over to the exit velocity leaderboards according to Statcast. Below is a chart. On that chart is a list of starting pitchers who have allowed the lowest exit velocities in MLB this year. Maybe you’ll see someone familiar down there.

Rank Player Avg. Exit Veloity
1 Michael Wacha 81.9 MPH
2 Jon Gray 82.0 MPH
3 Jake Arrieta 83.0 MPH
4 Ervin Santana 83.2 MPH
5 Chase Anderson 83.5 MPH

Well, darn it all, if it isn’t Chase Anderson! No wonder he’s been so good!

It’s well known that strikeout pitchers usually generate more weak contact than a non-strikeout pitcher, and Anderson has indeed raised his K rate from 18.6% in 2016 to 22.9% in 2017. Yes, the sample size is small — just 24.0 innings — but there’s reason to believe these strike outs are for real. For starters, Anderson has increased the vertical movement on almost all of his pitches, particularly his cutter — which he’s throwing at the highest rate of his career (15%). And, as you probably know, more movement = harder to hit.

Below is a chart of Anderson’s vertical movement in terms of inches (courtesy of Brooks Baseball).

His pitches have more vertical movement than ever before, but instead of moving down in the zone, Anderson’s pitches seem to be rising. His cutter has risen by over 2.6 inches, while his sinker — which you would think a pitcher would typically want to drop away into the lower half of the zone — has risen by almost by half an inch as well. His fourseamer has seen some mediocre rise, as well has his changeup. Now, his curveball has lost some drop, and that’s probably not a good thing, especially moving forward. But if nothing else, this is an interesting development, so let’s see how well batters are faring against these pitches to get a better understanding if his increase in vertical movement is helping.

Clearly, the vertical movement is helping Anderson, especially when throwing his hard stuff. His two offspeed pitches — curveball and changeup– are the only two that have seen a negative effect over a decrease in drop, but can we really complain about a .214 average? No. No, we can’t.

But despite all of this, it’s Anderson’s new-found belief in his cutter that has him leading the Cy Young race (not really, but you know what I mean). He’s increased his cutter usage from 5% to over 15% and the vertical movement probably has a lot to do with that. Now, I’m not saying Anderson will continue this dominance, because he surely won’t, but the signs so far are encouraging. His FIP and xFIP back up his ERA, and his walks — which have never really been an issue — have decreased by over a walk per inning.

I’m hesitant to say it, but maybe, just maybe, Chase Anderson is good?

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