Chase Anderson and the Value of One Elite Pitch

Only seven starters had changeups with better whiff rates than Chase Anderson in 2014. That’s enough to put him on my radar in the coming year. But how excited we should actually be about him depends on more than just that one fact.

It is a nice changeup. He actually has two of them — one for strikes and one for strikeouts. The one for strikeouts gets more fade and more drop and looks nasty. With six inches more fade and three more inches of drop than his four-seamer, the Chase Change has the movement it needs. And the ten mph difference you like, too.


The next stop on the believability express is the rest of the arsenal. The pitcher himself was a big fan of his curveball, and for good reason. It’s got seven inches of drop and a 13% whiff rate. It’s a good one. Now we’ve got Anderson on the Roark Plan — two good pitches that break in different directions.

So how about the fastball then. At 91 mph, it’s not quite average for a right-hander, but it’s close enough. And the results are fine. By Brooks Baseball, he gets an above-average amount of whiffs on his four-seamer (7%). His sinker only gets 43% ground-balls, which is below even the ‘good’ threshold we created, but it also gets 4.8% whiffs, and that’s good enough. So let’s call his fastballs average.

There might be one worry from his release point data. It looks like his changes get released from about three inches further away from his body than his four-seam fastballs:

chart (45)

I think there will be some more research on how important this clustering is for walk rates and deception — probably in FanGraphs+ — but it could lead to ‘tipping’ his pitches. If the hitter can spot changeup, he has a better shot at hitting it at least.

In terms of arsenal, Anderson has what he needs to succeed. There’s some hope that even if he’s tipping his pitches with his release point, he could adjust to that a bit with some effort. With nearly a strikeout per inning, good command, and a .313 BABIP, there’s not much evidence that batters have already identified this issue.

But what if Anderson only had that changeup? What then?

I asked Steve Staudemeyer to run a regression on the different pitch type swinging strike rates and each pitcher’s overall swinging strike rate. The idea was to find out how important each pitch was. Here are the results for the main pitches, alongside their general prevalence in the game:

Pitch Correlation (r ) r^2 Prevalence
FF 0.678 0.460 57.7%
SL 0.495 0.245 13.7%
CH 0.484 0.234 10.4%
CU 0.301 0.091 9.9%

So fastball swinging strike rates still have the biggest correlation with overall swinging strike rate. A pitchers’ fastball swSTR% will describe a little less than half of the variance in his overall swinging strike rate, so it’s the most valuable single piece of information.

But! The slider’s swinging strike rate alone describes about a quarter of the variance in overall swinging strike rate. This, despite being thrown four times less than the fastball. In other words, the slider is about twice as important to your swinging strike rate as you’d expect if you just went by pure volume. I could be wrong in saying this, but it does look to me like your non-fastball pitches are just a little more important than they ‘should’ be, given volume.

This isn’t over. Obviously there’s more work to do. But — with your help vetting this research and coming up with more ideas — we could maybe find a way to weight individual excellence in each pitch type peripheral. Maybe we could come up with an expected swinging strike rate even. We would at least know more about how much we should care about the fastball versus the rest of the pitches.

Turns out, it looks like Chase Anderson’s changeup already put him on the path to success. Along with the curve, and an average fastball, he’s pretty much set. But he also helped us learn a bit more along the way.

With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.

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Bobby Ayala

This is great, thanks!