Yesterday, the Toronto Blue Jays added former Milwaukee Brewers starting pitcher Chase Anderson to their pitching rotation in exchange for first base prospect Chad Spanberger. Anderson, who had an $8.5 million dollar club option for 2020, was not a compelling choice for the Brewers given how steeply his performance dropped off after his standout 2017 campaign.
The Blue Jays get a middle-to-back of the rotation pitcher who started at least 25 games and pitched more than 141 innings through four seasons in Milwaukee, and struck out at least 105 batters in each of his six seasons in the majors. Despite not being able to replicate his performance from two seasons ago, Anderson was able to triple his pedestrian 0.3 WAR in 2018, posting 1.2 WAR in 2019 with an ERA and FIP in the fours. While the National League Central is no slouch, the American League East will produce a much stiffer level of competition for Anderson, who will need one of his best pitches from 2019 if he wishes to improve in 2020.
Last season, Anderson used his cutter more than he had in his previous five, throwing it harder than he ever had. It was his most improved pitch in 2019 and a very handy one at that. He cut his wOBA on the cutter by 100 points while drawing more swings out of the zone. Anderson also saw an increase in his cutter swinging-strike rate, and his contact in the zone went down:
Anderson’s cutter is more of a complementary pitch, meaning it’s not an out pitch and he doesn’t necessarily throw it when he needs strikes. He mixes it well with his four-seam fastball to left-handed hitters in almost every count, with two-strike counts the exception, while to righties, Anderson typically goes four-seamer heavy (at least 50% across all counts) with his cutter usage is divvied up with the changeup and curve.
Of pitchers who threw a cutter at least 14% of the time (minimum 110 IP), Anderson’s was rated second-best in 2019:
Pitch Info valued the pitch at -1.1 in 2018 and he was able to increase its effectiveness to a 1.7 last season.
Here’s a glance at Anderson’s cutter metrics and pitch action:
So what’s behind the significant improvement this year? Anderson made no adjustments to the cutter’s spin axis, his grip, or arm slot. The extra velocity with a slightly elevated spin rate, from 2340 in 2018 to 2382 in 2019, helped add an additional two inches of ‘rise’ to the pitch.
The two pitches Anderson paired with his cutter the most were the changeup to left-handed hitters and his four-seamer to righties. The changeup to cutter sequence creates a pretty decent tunnel, as seen in the GIF below.
Given that the velocity spread between the four-seamer and cutter was only around 4 mph, it wasn’t an ideal combination and likely didn’t do much to boost the cutter’s effectiveness.
Anderson’s cutter isn’t dominant but it’s a valuable asset in his arsenal. It helps pick up the slack on his changeup and curveball, and can create a nice pitch-shape change when subbed in for his fastball. Anderson is moving to a division that hit the cutter with essentially the same success (.313 wOBA) as the NL Central (.319 wOBA) did in 2019, so it’s reasonable to think the pitch can still be effective so long as he uses it the same way next season as he did in Milwaukee.
Pitching strategist. Driveline Baseball pitch design-certified. Systems Administrator for a high school by day, I also provide ESPN with pitching visuals and am the site manager for SB Nation's Bucs Dugout.
It would be nice to see the 4 seamer and cutter layering GIF. He seems pretty over-the-top, so maybe his 4 seamer doesn’t get much run.
His tunneling data is pretty tight on those two pitches and there isn’t much post-commit point separation, or enough to make a big difference. Not only that, there is only a 4 mph difference between the two pitches and its not the greatest sequence to use on a regular basis.