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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.