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2021 player preview: Chase Anderson

The Phillies are hoping Anderson provides adequacy at the back of their rotation

Toronto Blue Jays v New York Yankees
Chase Anderson has been adequate for most of his career
Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

2020 statistics

10 games, 7 starts, 1-2 W-L, 7.22 ERA, 2.7 BB/9, 10.2 K/9

The backstory

For the first six years of his career, Chase Anderson was an competent back-of-the-rotation starter. He could be counted on for at least 25 starts a season, with an ERA that ranged from a low of 2.74 in 2017 to a high 4.39 in 2016. He averaged 1.6 bWAR per season, which is something you can certainly live with from a fourth or fifth starter.

The Blue Jays traded for him prior to the 2020 season hoping he’d provide some stability to their rotation. But his season got off to a delayed start due to an oblique injury, and just as he appeared to be rounding into form, he had a pair of poor starts that got him demoted to the bullpen.

That’s when things really went bad. In his first two appearances as a long reliever, he gave up 10 runs over 5.1 combined innings. The nadir came at Yankee Stadium when he allowed five home runs in a single inning.

Despite poor overall numbers, Anderson’s strikeout and walk rates improved from his career marks. Thanks in part to the introduction of a cut fastball to his pitch repertoire, he averaged 10.2 strikeouts (up from 8.0 in 2019) and 2.7 (down from 3.2 in 2019) walks per nine innings. Unfortunately, his rate of surrendering home runs also jumped, as he allowed 2.9/9 innings.

What could go right in 2021

Oblique injuries have a habit of lingering, and there’s the possibility that Anderson never felt right all season. He was actually pitching pretty well - if not particularly deep into games - after his first five starts, and its possible in a normal year, his two bad starts would have been viewed as an unfortunate blip in a long season. Unfortunately, in the COVID-shortened 2020, the Blue Jays couldn’t afford to be patient.

A mid-season move to the bullpen can be a tough adjustment, and Anderson certainly didn’t handle it well. Those two awful relief appearances served to skew his numbers.

Based on his career record, it seems reasonable to expect Anderson to once again be a steady presence in the back of the rotation. If he’s able to maintain that improved strikeout/walk ratio while cutting down on home runs allowed, its even possible he could get closer to his 2017 form when he was worth 4.3 wins above replacement.

What could go wrong

At age 32, 2020 could have been the beginning of Anderson’s decline phase. When a pitcher is just about an average performer in his prime years, he could easily be something less than that as he ages.

With plenty of competition for the last two spots in the Phillies’ rotation, if Anderson doesn’t impress in Spring Training, he might be relegated to a long relief role. If 2020 was any indication, that’s not a role he excels in. At the very least, it seems clear that Anderson would do better with a pre-determined role, and not be asked to switch mid-season.

Regardless of whether he’s a starter or reliever, Anderson gives up a lot of fly balls - and a lot of home runs. He allowed a league leading 30 in 2018, so even though he might not allow them at the same rate he did in 2020, its still a concern having him pitch half of his games at Citizens Bank Park.

What to expect

There is concern about the large jump in innings pitchers will face coming off of the shortened 2020 season. Pitchers who can pitch a lot of innings - even if they’re not always spectacular innings - may prove more useful than usual this year. If their top three starters and lineup perform up to expectations, the Phillies would be satisfied getting mere adequacy out of the fourth spot in their rotation.

Anderson seems capable of delivering such adequacy. Between the oblique injury, the switch to the American League, and general short-season wackiness, there are plenty of reasons to think 2020 was just a down year for him. I’d be concerned if his poor season was accompanied by troubling peripheral numbers, but the opposite was true.

In addition, Anderson is a firm believer in analytics, and is constantly searching for ways to improve his performance, which should go a long way towards countering any age-related decline he might encounter.