It technically happened two days ago — but also sort of happened just today for those among us who celebrate the New Year’s holiday (and its Eve) with sufficient piety. It, in this case, represents the official signing by the Dodgers of left-hander Brett Anderson to a one-year, $10 million contract upon which the two parties agreed in principle about two weeks ago (and which could pay even more to Anderson, if he meets certain incentives).
Anderson is intriguing, naturally, for what he’s been able to accomplish on the field. Among the 223 pitchers who’ve thrown 250-plus innings in a starting capacity since 2009, Anderson has recorded the 15th-best park-adjusted xFIP (tied with several others). Very positive, that. One is compelled to note almost immediately, however, that remaining on the field has been difficult. He’s averaged, by way of example, just 40 innings each of the last three seasons. Less positive, that.
New Dodgers GM Farhan Zaidi is less concerned about Anderson’s health than one might suppose given the latter’s history, characterizing Anderson’s injury-plagued seasons as “a run of bad luck.” Zaidi et al, being very smart and having a decidedly vested interest in the matter, are more qualified to speak on the issue than the present author. So I’ll stop doing it immediately.
Another uncertainty regarding Anderson, however — perhaps related to his injuries and perhaps not — concerns his fastball velocity. For, simultaneous to recording the worst park-adjusted xFIP (96 xFIP-) of his career in 2014, Anderson also recorded his lowest ever average fastball velocity (89.8 mph). There’s a distinct relationship between velocity and success, nor does Anderson appear to be immune from it.
Here, for example, is a graph of xFIP- versus average fastball velocity for all of Anderson’s seasons in which he’s faced at least 150 batters:
There’s been a remarkably strong relationship, one finds, between Anderson’s ability to throw the ball hard and to prevent runs (or, at least, do the things that lead to run prevention). Relative to previous years, he didn’t excel at the former in 2014 — and, though he produced an excellent ERA (68 ERA-) in 2014, both the indicators and his track record (which reveals no tendency to outperform his fielding-independent numbers) suggest that ERA was untenably low. As such, it really does appear as though throwing at least, say, 90 mph is of some importance to Anderson — and that dropping below that figure would challenge his ability to prevent runs at a league-average rate. Given the Dodgers’ aspirations at the moment, league-average innings are the sort they’d obviously prefer.
Carson Cistulli has published a book of aphorisms called Spirited Ejaculations of a New Enthusiast.