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In baseball, we’re often obsessed with player comps. I’ve long thought that relying on comps is a conceptual crutch, something that tends to do more harm than good, something that prevents one from treating a player as an individual talent. I do, though, believe player comps can be useful in fantasy baseball. It allows a fantasy owner to identify players who have similar production profiles, which ultimately aids in valuation. That is, if Player X is an established major-leaguer who has consistently been a top-10 performer at his position, it stands to reason that if Player Y has a similar statistical breakdown, he should be valued accordingly.

I think this exercise is beneficial when evaluating recently promoted prospects. Additionally, grouping similar statistical profiles can be useful when dealing with unexpected breakouts. Who are the players with analogous profiles and, thus, could be candidates for a comparable breakout?

Dallas Keuchel has emerged as one of the most-surprising breakouts of the 2015 season. Prior to the season, ESPN ranked him as the 173rd-best player—below guys like Jake McGee and Jose Quintana. As the All-Star break quickly approaches, Keuchel owns a 2.03 ERA with a 1.95 DRA and is the eighth-overall fantasy player. This comes on the heels of a 2.93 ERA in 200 innings one year ago. The lefty is compiling a résumé that puts him firmly in the “ace” discussion. Not bad for a guy who never cracked a top-prospects list in the minors.

Many fantasy owners may have missed the boat on Keuchel, but it’s perhaps useful to identify statistical comparables—those who come somewhat close to the southpaw’s extreme statistical profile—in an effort to isolate a possible breakout candidate.

*****

Over the past half-decade, Brett Anderson has been the fantasy version of a rosebush: attractive and enticing, yet dangerous and painful to the touch. He owns a career 3.62 ERA with stretches of extreme success. However, he’d failed to eclipse the 100-inning plateau in every season since 2010. The lefty hadn’t even thrown 50 big-league innings since 2011. Fantasy owners who have been drawn in by his potential have been consistently punished with chronic DL stints.

This fragility on the mound is represented in his ownership rate, as Brett Anderson is only owned in 27.5 percent of ESPN leagues. Fantasy owners simply feel that they cannot trust him to remain healthy. What Anderson is showing this year, though, will perhaps make him too valuable to avoid much longer.

Place the two lefties, Keuchel and Anderson, side-by-side:

Player

ERA

K%

BB%

GB%

FB%

Dallas Keuchel

2.03

21.3%

6.5%

64.5%

60.8%

Brett Anderson

3.00

17.8%

6.7%

68.4%

51.1%

Although Keuchel clearly holds an advantage in ERA and strikeout rate—which is partially indicative of why he has performed better than Anderson—the two have exceedingly similar profiles. They’re lefties who own extreme ground-ball rates and avoid walks. They generate grounders in a different way than guys like Derek Lowe, who almost exclusively threw fastballs. Both southpaws have four-pitch mixes that make them even more difficult to square up.

Anderson has a 3.00 ERA. That is 24th-best in the majors among qualified starters, better than Felix Hernandez, Clayton Kershaw, and Matt Harvey. He may not have a sexy strikeout rate, but the overall profile has proven effective and valuable in fantasy leagues. And that’s not to mention that he’s on the Dodgers, one of the best teams in baseball, which should provide him with ample opportunities to pad his win totals.

All of this sounds spectacular, but two important pieces have to be addressed. The first concerns his extensive history on the disabled list. Secondly, his current cFIP is 109, which strongly suggests he’ll be below average throughout the remainder of the year.

If Brett Anderson could somehow redeem his trips to the disabled list for travel miles, he’d be a member of Delta’s Medallion Club. Over the past five seasons, he’s landed on the DL with a bulging disk in his back, a broken finger, a stress fracture in his foot, an oblique strain, and Tommy John surgery. Those range from worrisome nagging injuries (his back) to significant arm troubles (TJ surgery). As mentioned earlier, all of these injuries have prevented him from spending much time on the big-league mound—not more than 100 innings in each year since 2010.

Then there’s the 109 cFIP, which projects him to be nine percent worse than the league average down the stretch. This stems from numerous reasons, but perhaps one of the most overlooked aspects of Anderson’s strong start is his 1.29 WHIP. That’s dually important, as it’s a standard fantasy category and it signifies that he’s been giving up a lot of baserunners.

The latter portion isolates another stark difference between Keuchel and Anderson. Keuchel induces far more weak contact than Anderson, despite similar ground-ball rates. Via Baseball Savant, the Astros’ starter has the seventh-lowest percentage of his balls in play hit over 100 mph. Anderson is 97th-lowest. This could be a major reason why Keuchel has a .238 BABIP, while Anderson has a .320 BABIP—though I’d still suggest that the former’s is unsustainably low and the latter’s is too high.

Still, this isn’t to argue that Brett Anderson is currently as good as Dallas Keuchel. That’s clearly not the case. What this does wish to point out is that Anderson has similar building blocks in place for a Keuchel-like breakout. He’s an extreme ground-ball pitcher with low walk rates and underrated stuff. He owns a better-than-average ERA and DRA. Certain aspects of his game have kept him from the limelight, but that could change if his BABIP declines.

Anderson, of course, comes with a massive injury history that will be difficult to overcome. That understandably could prevent many fantasy owners from targeting him on the trade market. However, Anderson is only owned in 27.5 percent of leagues, which makes me believe that he’s available on many waiver wires.

BUYER’S ADVICE: BUY (on waivers)

I don’t normally qualify my buy/sell recommendations like this, but I do think it’s valuable to make the distinction between buying on waivers and the trade market. It’s unwise to invest assets in a pitcher who has not thrown more than 100 innings in five seasons. No matter his potential production, that pill is too hard to swallow. On the waiver wire, though, fantasy owners should absolutely pick Anderson up and hope for a second-half breakout. He represents one of the few widely available arms who could be lights out from now until the end of the season, even if the likelihood of him remaining healthy is doubtful.

Thank you for reading

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kalimantan
7/06
I traded away Chase Utley for him at the start of last season, and that trade went downhill fast. But I had the patience to hang on to him, because 'We still believe!' was his 2014 fantasy projectionhere on BP, and its advice I've held on to ever since!!
ErikBFlom
7/06
So, where do you rate him as opposed to other pitchers? Say, Rubby De La Rosa or Mat Latos? (The particular choices I have to make.) In a keeper, I love ceiling.
jimmyb1799
7/06
This is a difficult question, as it depends on the context of your team. If you need the best production in 2015, I'd prefer Anderson. If you're punting this season and mostly need future production, I'd prefer Mat Latos. Rubby De La Rosa sits in the middle for me. I have a tough time determining if the light will go on for him.
aaronbailey52
7/06
Hmm, I don't follow the GB and FB numbers.
jfranco77
7/06
I think in this case, FB is fastball.

I wish the BABIP would improve, but I don't think Kike Hernandez or Corey Seager replacing Rollins at SS will help. Nor am I that optimistic about Olivera replacing Turner at 3B.
aaronbailey52
7/09
That possibility never crossed my mind. Thanks

They've got plenty of time to figure out the infield.