We are officially kicking off our Let’s Go Tribe MVP Countdown with Cody Anderson: a player who I did not think would get playing time in 2015, let alone be part of the discussion for best player on the team. The 6’4" starter, known as "Big Country" for obvious reasons, came out of nowhere to shore up the back-end of the Cleveland Indians rotation in 2015.
Maybe he did not come completely out of nowhere, as Anderson was the organization’s minor league pitcher of the year in 2013, but he struggled mightily in 2014 and was not near the top of many prospect lists. At the very least, I doubt anyone thought he would one of the best pitchers on the Indians. Anderson spent the entirety of 2014 in Double-A, starting 25 games and finishing the year with a 5.44 ERA and 4.99 FIP. Maybe he was just a guy that would top out as a minor leaguer? Either way, his future did not look great.
That changed in 2015 when he Anderson started the season in Double-A again playing for the Akron Rubber Ducks. Riding an improved fastball, Anderson dominated the Eastern League this time around, allowing only 10 runs, two home runs, and 44 hits in 52.0 innings of work. His 1.73 ERA after his 10 starts was the best mark of his career at any level, and it quickly earned him a promotion to Triple-A. However, Anderson only got a small taste of the Columbus Clippers (3 GS, 19.1 IP, 5 ER, 5 BB) before it was time to make his big league debut.
On June 18, the Indians designated starter Shaun Marcum for assignment and rode with a larger bullpen. Due to Marcum’s poor final outing draining the bullpen (and resulting in Ryan Raburn pitching…), the Indians were left with only four true starters on the 25-man roster when they had to call up Jeff Manship and Kyle Crockett to fill in. The next day it was revealed that Anderson would be getting the call to start against the Tampa Bay Rays later in the week.
Once he got the call, Anderson hit the ground running. And running. And running. And running.
He was incredible over his first four starters, posting a 0.89 ERA while allowing 17 hits in 30.1 innings of work. He was the perfect cure for the ailing bullpen, throwing 7.2 innings, 8.0 innings, 8.0 innings, and 6.2 innings in those starts. The sky looked like the limit for Anderson. However, when you do not strike a lot of batters out, you leave 98% of runners on base, you have a .165 BABIP, and two of your starts come against the awful Tampa Bay Rays offense, your performance is probably not sustainable.
Regression hit Anderson hard and fast, and he looked awful over his next four starts. Over only 17.2 innings, he allowed 20 runs, 29 hits, four home runs and struck out only nine batters. Luckily, it looked like his struggles were more than him just not being a good pitcher, but instead the culprit was a strained left oblique. On August 9, the Indians took advantage of some convenient off-days and put Anderson on the disabled list without needing to call up a replacement starter right away.
When Anderson returned for an August 26 start against the Milwaukee Brewers, he went right back to being the confusingly good starter. He would post a 1.66 ERA over his final seven starters, but his FIP remains at a worryingly high 4.03. Again, just like those first four starts, he was an innings eater, lasting six or more innings in all but two of his starts.
Anderson finished the year with a 3.05 ERA and 4.58 xFIP, meaning he could be due for some regression in 2016. Steamer predictably sees him being considerably worse, but who knows. Maybe he can be one of those pitchers that defies all logic and keeps being effective while striking out less than five batters per game.