Indians

Optimizing Cody Anderson

Just a year ago, the Cody Anderson hype was coming from all avenues such as the Fangraphs comparison to Matt Harvey and the widely-discussed velocity spike. The hype quickly vanished when he struggled as a starter but components of his arsenal still give hope for more from Anderson.

A big part of Anderson’s struggles in 2016 were improper use of a competent array of pitches. Many forget that Anderson is somewhat new to pitching. Anderson was drafted as a shortstop and immediately converted to the mound. Last year, the velocity uptick created an evolution in his arsenal, and he struggled to adapt. His 6.68 ERA and 4.84 FIP tell much of that story. If the velocity changes are here to stay, then a couple of location and usage adjustments could have Anderson become a productive big league pitcher again.

Here is the velocity jump which sustained itself throughout the season.

Courtesy of Brooks Baseball

Courtesy of Brooks Baseball

It is worth noting that Anderson had a clean-up elbow procedure in November. Still, he was pitching through soreness and the velocity sustained the two mile per hour gain. The fastball in terms of its specs is a nice offering- including a slightly above average spin rate with the average for the four-seamer sitting around 2300 RPM.

Courtesy of Baseball Savant

Courtesy of Baseball Savant

While the pitch had a high wRC+ against, a significant portion of the issue appears to be pitch usage and pitch location. Anderson and the Indians game callers were not leveraging the velocity enough at the top of the zone. Anderson’s four-seam fastball had significantly more success creating swing and miss at the top of the strike zone in 2016 compared to the slower version in 2015, which makes sense.

Courtesy of Brooks Baseball

Courtesy of Brooks Baseball

Courtesy of Brooks Baseball

Courtesy of Brooks Baseball

Note: The top chart displays 2016 data and the bottom 2015.

The reality is that Anderson’s increased velocity has allowed him to induce more swing and miss at the top of the zone and should spend more time changing eye level. The key for the four-seam is optimizing location and usage volume. Indeed, Anderson throws it too often for strikes and has been punished at the bottom of the strike zone.

Courtesy of Brooks Baseball

Courtesy of Brooks Baseball

The small sample cannot be weighed too heavily, but one key issue for Anderson is that his zone% is four percent above league average. Anderson pounding the bottom of the strike zone and not enough time mixing and matching his offerings/locations is a correctable issue. The need to use the four-seam fastball up becomes even more pressing when considering that Anderson has workable secondary offerings. Using those secondary pitches to change the eye-level at the bottom of the zone could work wonders.

Anderson’s changeup and curveball both graded out positively using wRC+ in his two big league seasons with significant improvement in his curveball. Anderson’s improved strength or arm speed added spin and, in turn, increased both x-axis and y-axis movement on the curveball. A potentially brutal pitch when buried.

Courtesy of Brooks Baseball

Courtesy of Brooks Baseball

A big problem for Anderson is not using his secondary offerings enough. That is, until the second half of 2016 when he pitched out of the bullpen. Anderson posted a mid-3 FIP and xFIP to pair with a high K% (Repeat this with me: all in a small sample size). The swing-and-miss spike also occurred in AAA posting career highs in swing and miss. Something changed. It appears that usage is the key.

Courtesy of Brooks Baseball

Courtesy of Brooks Baseball

As Anderson becomes less fastball reliant and mixes his changeup and curveball more, his overall results will improve. Anderson’s four-seam fastball will become an asset again. He can then leverage his added fastball velocity at the top of the strike zone. The culmination of these adjustments could see Anderson make a legitimate leap. Anderson has the pitches of a good bullpen arm or a backend starter. It is now just up to him and the Indians to alter the approach to his arsenal in 2017.

  • mgbode

    Really good stuff here just like Cody Anderson. He and Clevinger are going to be needed heavily in 2017. If they both prove up to the task, then the Indians will be as dominant a force as many expect them to be.

  • Hopwin

    Am I reading RPM correctly in that there is no correlation between speed and spin for Cody? Like his top fastball has the same spin as his slowest cutter?

  • mgbode

    You have just hit on one of the more perplexing topics going in baseball right now. Driveline, Alan Nathan, and many others are trying to determine exactly what affects RPM and why there doesn’t seem to be a correlation with velocity. Kudos.

  • Hopwin
  • Hopwin

    Or if shopping is out of the question, how about the magnus effect?

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magnus_effect

    High velocity pitches may be travelling “straight” over a short distance but if it was thrown from the outfield with the same velocity and spin it’d break a helluva lot more by the time it reached homeplate:

    http://www2.tbb.t-com.ne.jp/komasan/X_A002_2.png

    Fun video example:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QtP_bh2lMXc

  • mgbode

    Love that example!

  • Chris

    I’m told that it’s impossible for a human to throw a baseball with enough speed and backspin to cause an upward acceleration… however I know damn well that 90mph is more than fast enough to do so with enough backspin. Any idea how much backspin would be required at 90mph?

  • Jupandaway

    Pitch up in the zone !!!! What blasphemy

  • Hopwin

    Ultralight planes can take off at 25 MPH so forward speed is probably less a factor than rotation. That said I have no idea what rpm would be needed for backspin to create a big enough turbulence bubble to generate lift.

  • mgbode
  • woofersus

    This is why I sure hope they have him starting still this spring. (in AAA, most likely) He’s still figuring it out, but he’s got good enough stuff to be a quality pitcher. If we don’t immediately have injuries, it will be an interesting year for starting pitching in Columbus – Anderson, Clevinger, Merrit, Plutko, and Morimando.