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How Cleveland Indians pitcher Cody Anderson can make "the leap"

Cody Anderson has shown some bits and pieces of being a good major league pitcher. He's got a shot to leap from "just another guy" to "one of the guys".

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

When it comes to Cleveland Indians pitching, not many people get psyched for Cody Anderson Day. He and Josh Tomlin are the ones we deal with until the Cleveland Cerberus comes back around. But there’s something to Anderson that I like, it could be that tricky thing called "potential" that dazzles the eyes and tricks the mind, but I think he is on the verge, with the right steps, of making a leap from "that other guy" to the fourth horseman of baseball’s apocalypse.

Anderson experienced a bump in velocity coming into the spring, flashing 96 on his fastball at times. Even last year after coming up he showed more than the middling speed we were told to expect. Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs even wrote a piece in the spring that showed how closely Anderson’s fastball profiles with Matt Harvey’s. The results aren’t there -- Anderson has struck out 11.7 percent of hitters in his career to Harvey’s 26.1 percent -- but there’s a bit of bite and it’s a piece to what could become great. His location could use some work, but that will come as he spends more time throwing the ball. He can throw strikes, it’s that pinpoint that he needs. Perhaps a secondary fastball is in order. His four-seam has nice movement, almost like a sinker, but throwing a two-seamer or cutter could maintain the velocity, or near enough and also keep the hitter guessing a bit more and making less barreled up contact.

In part what Anderson needs to do is grow with his secondary offerings. He’s already shown flashes that could become more consistent, if he trusts them. For his change up, he’s shown some trust. On Friday night against the Mets, MIchael Conforto homered off Anderson. His next time up after getting ahead in the count, all Conforto saw was a series of off-speed stuff. The first two were outside, but Anderson stuck with it and caused one of the ugliest swings in the game. It was perfect location though, and Conforto was stuck in between.

Anderson Change vs. Conforto

A batter later, he did it again with Yoenis Cespedes. This swing was to go 1-1 after a fastball outside.

Anderson Change vs. Cespedes

The soft stuff kept coming, the swings consistently ugly, until he got the out eventually. The Mets had been leaping on his fastball early in counts and often, obviously seeing it well and expecting it. Anderson realised that and trusted the change to throw the batters off. Against Cespedes there, he'd shown a lot of fastballs and got this one to work by outthinking the slugger.

He’s got that change, he’s also got a hammer of a curve. He can throw it for strikes too, and when he uses it right, he can do amazing things. It’s a Kershaw-esque 12-6, though by movement it’s more Kershaw circa 2013 or 2014:

Velocity Vertical Horizontal
Anderson 80.67 mph -7.28 in. 2.31 in.
Kershaw (2014) 74.62 mph -8.88 in. 2.30

Those were years Kershaw was worth a combined 14.8 fWAR and the curve was an important part of that. Kershaw's bit harder but came in a bit slower. What this tells me is, while it's not the Best Pitch in Baseball, Anderson has a real weapon of a curveball. IF he uses it correctly. He did here, he set it up with a high fastball one pitch prior, then got White Sox slugger Todd Frazier to swing like a silly boy.

Anderson Curve

The tools are there, but that can be said for a lot of pitchers. The problem with Anderson comes down simply to consistency of delivery and, more importantly, sequencing of pitches. There are constant at-bats where he just pitches the wrong way. Whether it’s throwing a changeup inside then a fastball outside, or not setting up the curveball with something upstairs with velocity, he's just not thinking his way through at-bats. It’s about learning to pitch at the major league level. That comes with understanding from his pitching coach, working with Yan Gomes off the field, and understanding of what the opposing hitter wants. That swing and miss against Frazier was perfectly set up while the changeup K's he got on Friday were because they were expecting fastball and got the offspeed. He needs to play with batters' expectations more, not let them get ahead of him mentally.

He’s on the right team for this. Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer, despite being in very different points in their career and on the depth chart, utilize very similar technique in their pitching. It’s called Effective Velocity, a theory developed by Perry Husband. It’s detailed here, but the essence of it is using the perceived velocity of pitches in the zone in relation to the batter to force more poorly hit balls and swinging strikes. Bauer does it on purpose, Husband said in an interview last year that Kluber may just do it because he's good at pitching. The way he pitches now, Anderson has a tendency to throw fastballs and changeups that, to the batter, look nearly identical in velocity. The offspeed inside looks very similar to the fastball outside to a hitter, and that's a problem. It’s how he does things like what happened Friday night, suddenly giving up a heap of homers. His counterpart that night, Bartolo Colon, does exactly what Anderson should be doing. He could learn a thing or two.

Anderson might peak as the best  version of Rick Porcello, before Porcello fell apart again. If he could start striking out 19% of batters and keeps throwing strikes like he does, he’s a real weapon especially where he is in the rotation. That peaking can come if he harnesses not just the raw stuff he already has proved to have, but also the understanding of what to throw where, and when. It’s a simple thing in theory and very hard to master, it's what a lot of young pitchers never seem to understand. I don’t want to see his talents go to waste.