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Are You For Real? Surprising SP Starts from Week 16


Welcome back to "Are You For Real?" Each week, we look at lower-owned starting pitchers who have performed unexpectedly well in their last outing(s).

It's Anderson week this week, as we take a deep dive on two Andersons that have been putting up good numbers as of late. Chase Anderson has been doing some interesting things in Milwaukee, while Brett Anderson has defied conventional logic going on two months now.

Ownership is based on Yahoo leagues and is accurate as of 07/15/2019. The goal of this article is to look at pitchers widely available that could be useful in fantasy, whether they have been recently added by a ton of teams or are still sitting on waivers.

Editor's Note: Get any full-season MLB Premium Pass for 50% off, with exclusive access to our season-long articles, 15 in-season lineup tools and over 200 days of expert DFS research/tools. Sign Up Now!

 

Chase Anderson, Milwaukee Brewers

15% Owned

2019 Stats (prior to this start): 66.2 IP, 4.32 ERA, 4.36 FIP, 15.2% K-BB%

07/12 vs. SF: 5 IP, 3 H, 2 ER, 0 BB, 5 K

Anderson started the season in the bullpen, but won his rotation spot back in late April and has been a mainstay for Milwaukee every fifth day. While never the most exciting pitcher, Anderson had a big time break out in 2017, only to follow it up with a complete break down in 2018. We knew Anderson wouldn’t maintain his 2.74 ERA from 2017, but there were legitimate signs of improvement back then that made his breakout believable. The two main things for him were increased fastball velocity (he upped the heat to 93.1 MPH after tossing 91 every year prior) and a more complete repertoire (Anderson threw five different pitches more than 10% of the time in 2017). Those improvements reverted in 2018, but if Anderson could recapture those skills it’s feasible to see him transitioning back into fantasy relevance.

The first one is easy, and that’s fastball velocity. Anderson has indeed seen velocity gains this season, averaging 93.3 MPH with his four-seamer this year. No, his ten innings in the bullpen didn’t juice that number either, as Anderson has a 93.6 MPH average fastball velocity since rejoining the rotation on April 20. His velocity increase two years ago was so crucial to his success because it made Anderson’s changeup more deceptive and effective. The changeup was always Anderson’s money pitch, and the velocity increase made it thrive. Therefore, as his fastball velocity bounces back, so does his performance, right? The answer to that is a bit tricky. Anderson currently has the best swinging strike rate of his career at 11.8%, and while his changeup has a robust 17.7% SwStr, it’s actually his fastball that’s made up a large part of that spike.

Anderson is following the same hip millennial trend many pitchers are following these days, which is the high fastball. Here is a comparison between his 2017 fastball heatmap (left, brooksbaseball.net) and his 2019 fastball heatmap (right).

 

Owners should get excited about seeing all that maroon and red up in the zone for Anderson, as high fastball tend to induce more whiffs than low or mid fastballs. The proof is in the pudding too. Anderson has a 13.5% SwStr rate with his four-seam fastball this season, which is more than 5% above his career average and more than 3% higher than his fastball swinging strike rate in 2017. Anderson’s current 23.5% strikeout rate is a career high, and it seems sustainable based on the improvements he made with his fastball, along with the strong results he’s getting from his changeup. That being said, Anderson still has his share of flaws owners should take into consideration before hopping aboard this train.

First, and this one is quite frustrating, is Anderson’s habitual short leash. He’s averaging 4.69 innings per start this season, a pathetic number, even by modern standards. Brewers manager Craig Counsell seems to lack trust in Anderson. The hook comes at the first sign of trouble. He has one (one!) quality start all season. Even David Hess has somehow managed two quality starts this season. The other major concern one should have with Anderson is his home run rate. A 41% flyball rate and 39.4% hard hit rate mix together like water and oil, and the problem is exacerbated by Anderson’s home ballpark. His currently home run rate is perfectly league average, but his HR/FB rate is slightly below average, and that 4.63 xFIP may foretell the future for Anderson. He’s fine in a one off start against a team like San Francisco, but Anderson won’t win you your league. He probably won’t even win you your week.

Verdict:

The fastball velocity is back, and Anderson is mixing high heat along with his killer changeup. A lack of longevity and home run issues cap his usefulness to matchup streamer, but one could do worse than throwing Anderson out there and hoping for the best. The Brewers are doing it, after all. Use Anderson in soft matchups, but don’t expect much long term run out of him.

 

Brett Anderson, Oakland Athletics

28% Owned

2019 Stats (prior to this start): 102.2 IP, 3.86 ERA, 4.54 FIP, 4.4% K-BB%

07/14 vs. CWS: 6.2 IP, 7 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 3 K

There are many things on this planet that baffle me. Quantum physics, microbiology, Instagram, why my check engine keeps coming on no matter how many sensors I replace, but nothing causes this writer more confusion, or catalyzes an existential crisis quite like sustained success from Brett Anderson. Because it’s not just this start against the White Sox that has my eye on him, it’s the past two months. Anderson has allowed three or fewer runs in nine of his last ten starts. Yes, he got toasted by the Rays for seven earned in the one start where he failed to meet the three run or fewer threshold, but Anderson still has a 3.28 ERA since May 20. If we gave him a free pass on that Rays start (which we aren’t doing), his ERA over that stretch is around 2.37. With two months of sustained results, it’s time to deep dive into Brett Anderson and find out once and for all, if he’s for real.

Perhaps that opening salvo felt a little strong, maybe even biased against Anderson. That would be a fair criticism, but I’d like to counter that hypothetical critique with Anderson’s 4.6% K-BB%. Many car loans have a higher rate than that. His 11.9% K rate isn’t just the lowest among qualified starters, it’s the lowest by more than 3%. His 5.34 SIERA is tied for third-worst among qualified starters, while his .280 xBA is seventh-worst. There just isn’t much to like in this profile, unfortunately. There is one thing Anderson does well, and has always done well, and that’s induce groundballs.

Anderson has upped his sinker usage to 41% this season, a career high. He still has a 53% groundball rate, which is seventh-best in the majors, but below Anderson’s career average. Anderson has built a career on inducing grounders, and at his best would maintain a groundball rate above 60%. With increased sinker usage, one would expect Anderson’s groundball rate to be around that 60% mark, instead of down in the low 50% range. The problem is that Anderson’s sinker is losing effectiveness. The pitch has lost 1.5 MPH and two inches off drop off it’s peak, and as a result Anderson has just a 57.7% groundball rate with the pitch compared to a 66.4% career average. A 57.7% groundball rate on a sinker would be passable for a pitcher that brings something else to the table, but there’s nothing for Anderson to fall back on. Lots of veteran pitchers extend their careers by de-emphasizing their diminished fastball and heavily incorporating a breaking ball into their pitch mix. What’s Brett Anderson supposed to do? Since 2016 batters are hitting .250 against his slider, and .431 against his curveball. Brett Anderson has walked a tightrope for most of his career, but now the line is starting to fray.

Verdict:

No strikeouts, no effective pitches, and poor peripherals. There is zero reason to believe Anderson can sustain this success from start to start, much less over a long period of time. He’s already done it with this two-month hot streak, but this isn’t a dice I’m will to roll unless it was a desperation stream. There isn’t enough upside here to chance it on a pitcher with a 5.34 SIERA.

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