When the Dodgers signed Brett Anderson to a one-year, $10 million dollar deal this offseason there was a tinge excitement because a well thought of arm was headed to a well thought of organization and maybe we hoped Andrew Friedman and Co. could somehow keep Anderson healthy. He was also getting away from Coors Field. For what it’s worth, his groundball-heavy approach found some success with the Rockies, but obviously from the fantasy perspective, he is far more interesting in Los Angeles.
Anderson has carried the same approach throughout his injury-riddled career with the amplification of groundballs being the only real change in base skills (K, BB, GB rates). From jump street, he has carried a modest strikeout rate (average at best, often well below), an excellent walk rate (it ballooned once, but lives in the 5-7% range), and the aforementioned groundballs. He started at 51% and rose yearly until 2014 when he went from 63% to 61%, but he has been quick to get back on the improvement path with a 68% mark so far this season.
Let’s get the health piece out of the way as it looms over anything else we will discuss today. It’s wretched. He has a truly awful health profile with seven DL stints ranging from Tommy John to back surgery as well as busted bones in his hand and foot. As such, he saw a career-high for innings all the way back in his 2009 rookie season when he logged 175.3 innings.
He was on a yearly decline to 112.3 to 83.3 to 35 before finally jumping up in a season in 2013, but only to 44.7. Another 43.3 with Colorado last year leads us to now when his 49.3 innings marks a four-year high. So that’s where it’s at right now. He still can’t be relied upon to stay upright and we just have to understand that the risk was built into his price so just stick with him while he’s still pitching if you think the skills are worth it.
Let’s talk a bit more about those skills.
He has pretty consistently been a five-pitch pitcher throughout his career with the four-seamer, two-seamer, slider, changeup, and curveball. All five are thrown at least 10% of the time per Brooks. The curve has seen a small spike at 12% usage (up from 10%) while the changeup is being used a career-high 10% (up from 6%) of the time. That shift is at the expense of the slider which is down from 34% to 28% this year.
The changes haven’t really impacted his bottom line that much, though comparing it to just 43.3 innings from last year is tough. On the one hand, comparing it to anything he’s done feels tough because of the small samples and the fact that we don’t know how many of them were pitched under duress or while experiencing early stages of his injuries. On the other hand, his skills have been rather firm throughout so maybe this is just who he is with the increased groundball tendencies only helping his cause.
The groundball percentage is on the secondary axis (right side) of this chart:
We’re seeing similar production out of Anderson this year as it relates to his history, right down to his reverse platoon splits despite altering the pitch mix by hand more dramatically than his overall mix. He has a .773 OPS against lefties compared to just a .676 against right-handers. That marries with a .748/.678 split for his career.
Lefties are getting double the four-seamers (42%) they got last year, primarily at the expense of sliders which have dropped from 42% to 28%. The damage from lefties against Anderson has been mostly empty this year with a .348 AVG and .379 SLG. Maybe he deserves better results from his altered approach against lefties?
He’s inducing a 75% groundball rate against them, but a .397 BABIP has yielded that gaudy batting average. Groundball guys are going to have larger BABIPs in general, but this seems egregious, especially in light of how elite that GB rate is against left-handers. However, we saw a similar situation last year as he allowed a .326 AVG, .370 SLG, and .375 BABIP to lefties despite a 70% GB rate. In fact, he’s induced GBs at a 66% clip for his career against lefties and still has a .350 BABIP.
When GB rates start getting into the stratosphere, you just don’t see those kinds of BABIP totals. While we have seen this throughout his career, it has always been over short samples and not quite with this good of a groundball rate, thus I think it’s realistic to project at least some improvement against lefties if he maintains health and continues to pitch and we could feasibly see a dramatic improvement in that area. Cutting those hits to lefties will do a lot toward bringing down his ugly 1.36 WHIP. Without a strikeout presence, he needs a quality WHIP to be much more than a streamer as ERA alone won’t do it.
The strikeout and walk rates are essentially locked in. I’d be surprised if either vacillated much from their current level. The groundball rate may drop some, but it’s going to remain elite. This should help him continue to maintain quality home suppression. Because of his small samples each year, he has a couple of lofty HR rates, one of which was due to an 18% HR/FB rate, but with these skills the 0.55 HR/9 from this year feel right with his career 0.73 HR/9 mark being the downside.
At the high end, he can be a premium ERA asset (sub-3.00) with WHIP upside (1.15-1.25). His most likely outcome is to remain a quality ERA asset (mid-3.00s) with WHIP downside (1.30+). At the low end, he erases all the good of his 3.47 ERA with one super-dud outing that is the precursor to a season-ending injury in two weeks.