The Buyer’s Guide is a weekly column designed to help fantasy owners assess a player who sees an increased level of interest on a given week. This column focuses on players who generally have lower than 40 percent ownership rates across various leagues.
Since making his major-league debut in 2014, Chase Anderson has been a slightly below-average starting pitcher. So why is he the subject of this week’s “Buyer’s Guide?” Because Anderson is off to a surprisingly good start, and fantasy owners are beginning to take notice. Anderson saw the 10th-highest jump in ownership rate in ESPN leagues this week (from 5.6 percent to 35.3 percent). The increase was even greater in CBS leagues, which saw him go from 24 percent owned to 51 percent. In Yahoo’s latest “Transaction Trends,” Anderson was the ninth-most added pitcher to rosters.
It’s not too difficult to understand the potential appeal. In four starts for the Brewers, he’s 2-0 with a 1.13 ERA. Anderson also has experienced a slight bump in his strikeout rate and a decline in his walk rate. In just about every conceivable way, Anderson has been a better starting pitcher so far than at any point in his career.
Just about every fantasy roster could use another productive starting pitcher. Has Anderson’s recent success put him in a category where you should consider rostering him, or does his track record suggest that this recent run will end sooner rather than later? Let’s try and answer those questions in this week’s “Buyer’s Guide.”
There are some positive changes worth noting for Anderson. The past two seasons, Anderson’s strikeout rate has finished below 20 percent, but early in 2017 it’s up to 22.9 percent. Other than this being a small sample, are there any obvious changes to Anderson’s approach that could explain these results?
According to Brooks Baseball, Anderson is relying on his four-seam fastball less than he has at any other point of his career. This decrease has coincided with an increase in Anderson’s use of his cutter. In at least one start, Anderson credited his success with his ability to command this pitch. His cutter currently is getting the highest whiff percentage of any pitch in his arsenal (17.7 percent).
There are several other factors that could support this change. Anderson has lowered his contact rate on pitches outside of the zone by about 10 percent this season (72.1 percent to 61.8 percent). He’s throwing more first-pitch strikes than he ever has before, and he has seen a slight decrease in his overall contact rate. None of these changes are the obvious reason for his success, but taken together they give some clue as to what has been different.
The other obvious positive for Anderson is that he’s kept the ball in the ballpark. He allowed one home run in his first start, but he’s made three straight starts without giving up a homer. That’s a pretty big difference for a pitcher who gave up 28 last season and landed inside of the top 20 for home runs allowed. Anderson’s HR/9 has dropped from 1.66 to 0.38, while his HR/FB percentage is down from 14.9 percent to 3.8 percent. That’s a dramatic change—and it’s almost certain those numbers will not stay at their current levels.
As expected, there are plenty of people who are skeptical that Anderson has turned a corner in any real sense. Yes, his ERA looks great (1.13), but his DRA suggests he hasn’t been nearly that good (4.14). Anderson’s FIP is a much more respectable 2.47, but neither metric believes Anderson is as good as his current stats suggest.
The other obvious reason that some are skeptical of Anderson is his track record. As we mentioned above, before this season he’s largely been a below-average starter who was prone to giving up a lot of home runs. If you dig a little deeper into Anderson’s stats you’ll see that there aren’t many drastic changes to suggest he won’t become that again. His fly-ball rate is almost identical to where it was a season ago; his overall contact rate is down only a little; and he has benefited from a career-low BABIP (although it’s not ridiculously low).
It’s possible that the changes mentioned above can explain his newfound success. However, there are plenty of other numbers to suggest that Anderson’s fortunes could change quickly.
Buyer’s Guide: Sell (after Friday)
If you want to ride out this hot streak with Anderson, that’s understandable. Still, you know he’s not going to be this good for the entire season, and he provides three seasons worth of data to suggest that he might hurt you in the long run. Even with the increase to his strikeout rate and decrease to his walk rate, his ceiling probably isn’t anything more than league-average production in either of those categories.
Sooner rather than later teams are going to start hitting Anderson again. He’s not a bad choice right now in deeper leagues or as a streaming option. However, you need to be ready for his results to change quickly. When they do, immediately look elsewhere for starting pitching.