Starting pitching has been the Phillies’ biggest strength this season. In fact, it’s pretty much been their only strength. According to FanGraphs WAR, the Phillies starters rank 6th in the NL, while the offense, defense, and bullpen all rank in the bottom half of the majors.
The top three starters in the rotation have done most of the heavy lifting. Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, and Zach Eflin have combined for a 3.11 ERA in 13 starts. Meanwhile, number four starter Matt Moore has been an unmitigated disaster, posting a 9.82 ERA and -0.3 fWAR in just 11 innings pitched.
Then, there’s Chase Anderson.
The main reason I decided to write this piece is because I’ve noticed Chase Anderson frequently being lumped in with Matt Moore in conversations about the Phillies rotation. Specifically, I’ve heard a lot of complaints about the “back-end of the Phillies rotation” and I’ve heard a lot of people claim that the Phillies have a “4th and 5th starter problem.” (Even I myself made this claim not so long ago.)
On a superficial level, it makes sense to lump Anderson and Moore together. They’re two pitchers in their early thirties who signed very similar contracts ($3M for Moore, $4M for Anderson) at almost the exact same time (Feb. 3rd for Moore, Feb. 8th for Anderson). Both of them have struggled in recent years, but there was a time when they were both above-average starting pitchers. The Phillies chose to take a gamble on these two instead of signing more dependable, and more expensive, starters.
But that’s where the similarities end. While Chase Anderson hasn’t won the Phillies any ball games, he hasn’t been a liability like Matt Moore either. Or at least he hasn’t been one yet.
So here’s what I want to know: does Chase Anderson look like a good enough pitcher to make 25+ more starts for a team with playoff aspirations? He's not going to be an All-Star, but can he be a competent number five starter?
Let’s see what we can glean from his first three starts with the Phillies.
The Traditional Stats
Here are the numbers from each of his starts this season:
- April 6 vs. NYM: 5 IP, 2 ER, 3 K, 2 BB, 1 HR
- April 13 vs. NYM: 4 IP, 2 ER, 3 K, 3 BB, 1 HR
- April 19 vs. SFG: 4 IP, 2 ER, 5 K, 0 BB, 1 HR
None of these starts were disastrous, but none of them were particularly impressive either. He managed to keep the Phillies in the game every time, allowing only 2 runs in each start, but he also gave up a home run in all three outings, which is a worrying trend. His KK/B ratio is unspectacular but acceptable, and it looks much better following his 5 K performance against the Giants last Monday.
The only real problem so far has been his inability to pitch deep into games. He has averaged just 4.1 IP per start, and after he left those games, the bullpen went on to give up 8 runs in 12.1 innings of work. Unsurprisingly, the Phillies have gone on to lose all three of Anderson’s starts.
In Chase Anderson’s defense, he has yet to rack up a high pitch count or get into any serious trouble. If he had needed to, Anderson certainly could have pitched further into the game in each of his appearances.
Chase Anderson’s Pitch Count
However, Joe Girardi decided to pinch-hit for Anderson in all three games. Here’s what was happening in the game each time that Anderson was removed for a pinch-hitter:
- April 6 vs. NYM: Bottom of the 5th, 1 out, no one on, Phillies down 2-1
- April 13 vs. NYM: Top of the 5th, 1 out, runner on first, Phillies down 2-1
- April 19 vs. SFG: Bottom of the 4th, 2 out, runners on 2nd and 3rd, Phillies down 2-0
The only one of those situations that could be considered high-leverage is the one against the Giants. Even then, the Phillies still had five more innings to take the lead, and they were only down by two runs.
I feel confident in presuming that Joe Girardi would not have pinch-hit for Nola, Wheeler, or Eflin in any of those spots. Thus, I don’t think that Girardi pinch-hit for Anderson just because he needed the offensive boost. Rather, it seems like he doesn’t trust Anderson to face the opposing team for a third time through the order.
Here’s who Anderson was due to face the following inning had he stayed in the game:
- April 6 vs. NYM: Michael Conforto (3rd in the order)
- April 13 vs. NYM: Brandon Nimmo (1st in the order)
- April 19 vs. SFG: Tommy LaStella (1st in the order)
Each time, Chase Anderson would've been due to face the best hitters on the opposing team for the third time, and so Girardi took him out. Therefore, while it isn’t directly Anderson’s fault that he hasn’t pitched deep into games, it reflects poorly on him nonetheless. It’s not a great sign that his manager has shown very little faith in him.
The Advanced Metrics
Chase Anderson has 4.15 ERA this season, which is more than satisfactory for a no. 5 starter. ERA, however, doesn’t paint a complete picture, especially this early in the season.
Anderson’s ERA estimators should give us a better sense of how well he’s pitched this year. But the thing is...
- 3.37 DRA
- 4.56 SIERA
- 4.87 xFIP
- 6.01 FIP
- 6.02 xERA
...they’re all over the map. His FIP and xERA are cause for alarm. His SIERA and xFIP aren’t great, but they’re acceptable for a no. 5 starter. And his DRA is excellent, ranking second on the team behind only Aaron Nola.
The underlying numbers don’t make things much clearer. His .200 BABIP and 85.9% LOB% suggest he’s gotten some good luck when it comes to balls in play and stranding runners, but his 21.4% HR/FB suggests he’s had really bad luck on fly balls.
Here are his Statcast sliders:
His HardHit% is 39%, which is just about average, but his Average Exit Velocity of 84.6 MPH ranks in the top 9% of the league. His Barrel% is dreadful, coming in at just the 19th percentile, but his weak contact rate of 18.4% is the best in baseball (min. 50 PA). In other words, Anderson is allowing batters to make a lot of really good contact off of him, but he’s inducing a lot of really weak contact as well. He’s also done a good job of preventing contact altogether. His 27.3% whiff rate is around league average, and better than both Zack Wheeler’s and Zach Eflin’s.
All in all, the data just doesn’t seem to provide a clear answer quite yet.
If you trust the tangible results, Anderson has been respectable so far. If you trust my theory that he isn’t allowed to face the opposing team for a third time through the order, he seems a little less reliable. And if you put a lot of faith in the Statcast expected numbers, then he’s been really bad this season.
But if you give credence to all the available data, it’s very difficult to make a judgement just yet. It seems like we need to give Chase Anderson more time before we lump him in with Matt Moore as a “problem.”
Then again, maybe he’ll give up five home runs at Coors Field this afternoon and we’ll all be calling for his resignation before the sun goes down. (Or hey, maybe he’ll pitch a no-hitter! Just wanted to put that out into the universe too.)