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Chase What Matters, Mr. Anderson

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Continuing our occasional series covering good things about the 2014 Diamondbacks, we turn to the rotation, where pitcher Chase Anderson, has come out of nowhere to put up the best ERA of any starter for Arizona this year.

Dustin Bradford

"Never give up when tragic things happen in your life. Always work hard, no matter what. You can't teach hard work, so when there's people out there with more talent than you, you can still work as hard, if not harder, than them."
-- Chase Anderson

The long way round

It took Chase Anderson almost five years to make it to the major-leagues, from signing with the Diamondbacks in June 2009, until making his debut on May 11, 2014. That's slower than some: we took Anderson in the 9th round of the 2009 draft - that's less than an hour after we selected Paul Goldschmidt, who made it to the big show just a little quicker! I thought it'd be interesting to take a look at some of what our minor-league gurus, Dan and John, have written about Anderson over the years, as his stock has risen and fallen.

December 2009. Ranked #38. "[Used] mostly as a reliever, probably to keep his innings down after a college season at Oklahoma, especially given his scarily-small 6'1'' frame that rares back and throws 93 MPH.  If he can stay intact, he has some serious potential, most likely in the bullpen to save his arm and keep his velocity up.  The metrics all check out so far, although admittedly we're only dealing with a small sample size of innings."

December 2010. Ranked #9. "After utterly destroying the Midwest League, he didn’t miss a beat, subjecting the Cal League to the devastation of his disgusting plus change-up... Anderson compliments his fastball/change-up combo with an average curveball, giving him the repertoire of a starter.  Just ask Ian Kennedy, a decent comp for Anderson, how successful a pitcher can be in the rotation with a plus change-up and average offerings to go with it. From what I've gathered, the biggest concern is whether or not Anderson can set up his change-up properly with only a mediocre fastball."

November 2011. Ranked #21. "Posting a ridiculous 20:1 K:BB ratio in his first few outings for the Rawhide in 2011, Anderson was shut down with an elbow issue that cost him the rest of the season. Even with a fastball that teeters on the edge of the upper-80's and low-90's in long outings, the wicked dive and fading action on his change-up gives Anderson an out pitch, and his ability to change speeds allows his velocity to play up a little, giving him two pitches worth of a starter's arsenal.  If he can develop his curveball into an average big-league offering and build up innings counts, Anderson can make a quality big-league starting pitcher."

January 2013. "There's no denying Anderson's talent. The bigger issue has always been his health and being able to put together a season's worth of innings... He was extremely productive for Mobile posting a solid ERA and a K/BB of just under 4.0, but he is 24 and his time is now. He'll likely be headed to Reno and is probably 2nd or 3rd in line for a Major League starting gig if the team has a rash of injuries. What we'll be looking for is his ability to go deeper into games and handle the professional hitters in the PCL in some of those hitting environments. His path is currently blocked and there are other prospects who are more highly regarded, but he'll get his chance."

April 2013.  Ranked #19. "Anderson had a very good year for Mobile in 2012 after missing most of 2011 with an elbow injury. He gets the jump to AAA and he ranks near the top of the second tier of Dbacks pitching prospects. Good ERA, K/BB and BAA last year. If he can do more of the same in tough hitting league of the PCL he'll get some notice. He needs to increase his innings this year as he threw just 104 last year."

Anderson's stock dropped over the course of 2013, and coming into this season neither of the Johns (Baragona and Sickels) had Anderson among their top 20 prospects for the team., As John B noted, Anderson went "back to AA after a less than stellar season in Reno where he pitched as both a starter and a reliever. Should begin the year in the rotation with an eye toward recapturing some of the prospect status he had going into last year."  He did more than that, putting (for now) to rest any further doubts about whether he'd be better off in the bullpen, with a 0.69 ERA and 38:6 K:BB ratio over 39 Double-A innings, and a 21 innings scoreless streak at the time of his call-up.

Getting the call
"Just trusting my ability. Trusting my stuff. Throwing my curveball for strikes when I need. That is probably the biggest thing this year," - Chase Anderson

Anderson was promoted from Mobile on May 5, replacing Mike Bolsinger, though at the time, it was still uncertain whether Chase would start. Said Kirk Gibson, "As far as a starter to take Bolsinger's place, we really don't need to decide that... We're considering our options there. A lot depends on what happens the next couple of days. I don't have any other names for you right now. Some of the guys in Triple-A we would consider... We had no length in the bullpen. We're in day-to-day mode right now." But when the decision was made, Anderson got the call, and he faced a formidable White Sox lineup in Chicago on May 11.

It went about as well as imaginable: he faced the minimum until giving up a home-run with one out in the sixth, and his Game Score of 65 was the highest in a major-league debut by a Diamondback since Micah Owings (68) in April 2007.  He said afterward, "It's definitely everything you could have expected. I wish I could have gone through six scoreless, but I couldn't ask for much more than that. "I was definitely nervous, butterflies in my stomach before the game. But it was a good day. After the first pitch I could calm down and say, 'OK, it's the same game,' and go from there. You have eight All-Stars behind you. You just let them play defense."

And things got better from there, as Anderson won his opening five games in the major-leagues, the first pitcher to do that since Jered Weaver in 2006. While good run-support was part of the run, Arizona scoring a total of 45 runs in those five games, Anderson played his part, with a 3.14 ERA. Of course, this was immediately followed by a four-game losing streak for Chase, over which the D-backs scored just six times. But he has rebounded from that, with arguably an even better performance over the last five games. Though he has only won twice, Anderson is unbeaten and has had a 1.74 ERA, with a K:BB of 30:9 in 31 innings.

Here's where he currently stands among debuting Diamondbacks pitchers by ERA, over their first 14 appearances (min. 50 IP).

Rk Player W L ERA IP H ER HR BB SO WHIP
1 Josh Collmenter 4 2 1.86 53.1 36 11 4 10 34 0.86
2 Brandon Webb 6 2 2.18 91.0 69 22 6 24 73 1.02
3 Chase Anderson 7 4 3.06 79.1 74 27 12 26 69 1.26
4 Barry Enright 6 4 3.39 82.1 81 31 15 23 42 1.26
5 Patrick Corbin 5 4 3.60 65.0 59 26 6 19 54 1.20
6 Wade Miley 7 2 3.63 67.0 65 27 7 27 44 1.37
7 Micah Owings 5 2 3.79 71.1 74 30 5 25 47 1.39
8 Andrew Good 4 2 4.48 64.1 68 32 14 14 40 1.27
9 Robert Ellis 5 2 4.90 60.2 68 33 5 21 20 1.47
10 Enrique Gonzalez 3 4 4.98 77.2 75 43 9 26 52 1.30
11 John Patterson 3 4 5.00 68.1 70 38 11 29 59 1.45
12 Geraldo Guzman 5 4 5.20 62.1 68 36 8 22 52 1.44
13 Tyler Skaggs 3 6 5.43 68.0 68 41 13 28 57 1.41
14 Mike Bolsinger 1 6 5.50 52.1 66 32 7 17 48 1.59
15 Casey Daigle 2 3 6.75 54.2 68 41 9 29 21 1.77

Here's Anderson's best start of the season to date, from July 28 in Cincinnati, when he held the Reds to three hits over seven innings, striking out eight batters.

Strengths and weaknesses

The scouting reports all the way through the minor-leagues concurred that Anderson's best pitch is certainly his change-up. Bullpen coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr., who was familiar with Anderson in the farm system, said "It's definitely the best in our system. Hitters obviously don't recognize his change-up and they see fastball. He has such good hand speed and arm speed and deception on the pitch." It's an offering which gets a swing and a miss almost 25% of the time he throws it. He also mixes up his pitches, throwing a fastball, sinker, curve and change: even the least-common of these, the curve, is used about 18% of the time.

Kirk Gibson said, "He is pretty good when he gets in behind counts, because he has multiple pitches to throw. That's one of the advantages of having three solid pitches." That variety is wise, because his fastball is distinctly underwhelming, averaging 91.7 mph, without great life. Opponents this year are averaging .349 off it, compared to .247 against the sinker, .227 for the curve and - more proof of its effectiveness - a mere .122 against Anderson's lethal change-up. There has been some suggestion Anderson would be better served by throwing more sinkers - though I'm inclined to think, the major benefit of that could simply be fewer of those mediocre fastballs

The peripherals suggest he has been pretty lucky to date. His strike-out rate of 7.8 per nine innings isn't anything special, and he walks more people than the average starter. FIP, a fielding independent metric, suggests his ERA should be 4.42; xFIP, another one which gives Anderson credit for a bit of McCarthyesque "bad luck" with home-runs, has him at 3.78, both figures significantly in excess of his current ERA. So we may be looking at some regression down the road. However, the caveat with young pitchers is, as always, the continuing see-saw battle as hitters adjust and pitchers adjust back. Where that ends up, will decide Anderson's long-term fate.

Anderson's future

The Diamondbacks rotation is now a very different beast from the one imagined when spring training started, less than six months ago. No Patrick Corbin. No Bronson Arroyo, No Brandon McCarthy. It's wise to bear that in mind when trying to predict what the rotation might be for next year, but Anderson's spot seems safe - at least, until he hits whatever innings limit the team decided is reached. We already saw Anderson skip a scheduled start just before the All-Star break, and Gibson suggested the team would continue looking for ways to help manage the workload. "We'll continue to observe him. If we skip him, we may skip. Either that or we could just add a sixth starter."

The situation for next year is murkier. Right now, he probably sits fourth in the rotation, behind Trevor Cahill, Josh Collmenter and Wade Miley (even if Anderson is three months older than Cahill!). But, next year, we will hopefully have Patrick Corbin back, and there's a good chance Archie Bradley may well figure into the team's plans before long as well. That could leave Anderson on the outside, without a spot. However, as we've certainly seen this season, the baseball gods have a way of interfering with plans, and even if he's not on the roster for Opening Day, odds are that Anderson will still have a significant part to play on the 2015 Diamondbacks.

Things to know
  • Anderson does a pull-up in the dugout between innings as part of his routine, an idea he picked up from Tim Lincecum. "I saw him do it, and said 'Hmm, I'm going to try that.' Had a shutdown inning the next inning and just kept doing it. It keeps your scap(ula) and the back of your shoulder loose."
  • Before every start, Anderson writes RDA, AFHA and LW in the dirt behind the rubber with his finger. Those are the initials of his late father, Robert Dale Anderson, and his two grandmothers, also deceased
  • Chase's number, #57, is also a tribute to his father, being the number of full years his dad lived. He said, "My whole life, he's pretty much been my Number 1 fan and my biggest supporter, so I'm pretty much dedicating this season to him, 'cause it's been my dream since I was 5 years old."