Brett Anderson’s $10M Slider

brett anderson

If you’re searching for a barometer of baseball’s current player-friendly market, look no further than new Dodgers starting pitcher Brett Anderson. With Francisco Liriano staying in Pittsburgh, Anderson was virtually the only promising lefty with a pulse remaining in free agency. The low, low supply of southpaw starters and Anderson’s brief stretches of brilliance in between DL stints earned him a $10 million deal from L.A., with $4 million in possible incentives if he tosses 200 innings in 2015.

Of course, there’s a better chance of the Dodgers moving back to Brooklyn than Anderson topping 200 innings pitched. The former Athletic and Rockie has thrown a mere 206.1 frames over the past four years combined while enduring Tommy John surgery, a pulled oblique, a stress fracture in his foot, a broken finger, and a bulging disc in his back. But when Anderson is healthy enough to take the mound, his sinister slider and extreme ground ball style inflict plenty of pain on opposing hitters.

Over the past three seasons, no starting pitcher logging at least 100 innings has generated a higher ground ball rate than Anderson (61.4%). His expected fielding independent ERA (a measure of pitcher skill based on strikeouts, walks, and homers per fly ball allowed) over that time frame is 3.30, far below the 3.91 overall average for starters. A club like the Dodgers — and most any club, really — can afford a short-term gamble on a talent like Anderson. It beats signing someone like Bruce Chen or Joe Saunders, knowing the absolute best you’ll get is fifth starter mediocrity.

The main source of Anderson’s success, and his scorched Earth policy, is his slider. He has thrown that low-80s breaking pitch more than a third of the time (33.5%) since 2012, the third-highest rate for a lefty starter behind Madison Bumgarner (35.9%) and Liriano (33.4%). How good is Anderson’s slider? Consider:

  • Anderson generated ground balls 62% of the time with his slider from 2012-14, trailing only Felix Hernandez (66.3%) among starters throwing the pitch at least 500 times. Looking at his pitch location, it’s easy to see why. Anderson frequently spots his slider low in the zone, to his glove side:

Anderson’s pitch location with his slider, 2012-14

andersonsliderloc

  • Anderson’s low, biting slider has also baited opponents into chasing the pitch of the strike zone 41.5% of the time, comfortably above the 34-35% MLB average. When opponents chase Anderson’s slider, they hit like, well, pitchers. They’re a combined 7-for-67 (.104) since 2012, with 48 Ks.
  • Anderson has thrown his slider for a strike 68.9% of the time since 2012, blowing away the 64.7% MLB average. Among lefty starters snapping off 500+ sliders, just Bumgarner and Bruce Chen have a higher strike rate.

Considering his extreme ground ball tendencies, Anderson must love that the Dodgers just markedly boosted the quality of their middle infield defense. Jimmy Rollins (+4 runs saved compared to an average defensive shortstop in 2014, according to the Fielding Bible) replaces Hanley Ramirez (-9 runs) at shortstop, while Howie Kendrick (+7) takes over for Dee Gordon (-5) at the keystone. Anderson was hurt by infield defense in recent years (he had a .244 opponent average on ground balls, compared to the .238 big league average), but that shouldn’t be the case in L.A. If he can finally, mercifully avoid getting hurt otherwise, the Dodgers’ $10 million investment won’t look so crazy.