The version of Cody Anderson we saw on Monday night was the one everyone hoped for when the season began. Instead, the one that showed up was a pile of old tires and refuse, whose only skill was heaving meatballs and losing games. But when a guy comes out and gives you seven innings of one-run ball with nine strikeouts and only one walk, you get hopeful that something changed from what happened before. Growth like this is why we root for young pitchers.
It would be easy to brush under the rug because Anderson faced the White Sox in this dominating performance of his. They currently rank 26th in all of baseball in wRC+, so it’s not like he was killing the ‘27 Yankees out there. His second best start of the season was his first, also against the Sox, allowing two runs in six innings. Plus, players don’t just suddenly turn into aces when they’ve been struggling to even get through three or four innings at the major league level for several starts previous. But he does have a track record, last year he was excellent in the 15 starts he was given. He never flashed the strikeout ability like this though. One could say his leaping from striking out 12.1% of batters last year in his major league stint to 17.1% this year is in line with his minors numbers though, and that could lead to outbursts like this.
What really changed, though, was his use of a third pitch. Last season, and even earlier this year, Anderson was essentially a two-pitch pitcher. He made a point to get a handle on the curve ball, but all through April he never used it more than 11 percent of the time when he threw 10 of them against the White Sox earlier this year. On Monday, he threw 22, and they were hammers. I wrote earlier in the year about what he had to do to become more than just a fifth starter/swing man, and this was part of it. He needed the ability to keep people off balance, and the curve ball was that pitch Monday night. It looked so good, it could be great for Anderson for games to come.
But it was more than that too. In his earlier starts, there was no real thought process to any of his sequences against batters. Even early in Monday’s game I got worried because he was already throwing curveballs to Tyler Saladino in the first inning. That’s not typically when you want to start mixing in the third pitch. Usually, a smart pitcher works with the fastball and occasional offspeed stuff to get through the order and the tertiary stuff to do it again.
But there was a real strategy in these at-bats too. He worked them inside, went outside with the change then smoked Adam Eaton with this fastball above the zone. He used the curveball the way it should be -- off the fastball and after busting a guy up and in. In short, it was a well thought out,well-executed game plan. Anderson pitched, he didn’t just throw.
He did also happen to be locating brilliantly. Check out these two maps. The first is from his first six starts and that one relief appearance in Houston, the second from Monday.
What do you see? He was able to work the ball more on the corners, inside to righties and outside to lefties. That’s the fastball running and biting, and the changeup doing its thing as well. He was avoiding the middle of the zone and getting three dimensions on the four-seamer rather than the needle-straight pitches he’s been throwing in the past. That’s what kept getting him -- straight fastballs and changeups, up and in the middle of the zone. He avoided that juicy middle-in area that hitters, especially lefties, love to unload on. According to Brooks Baseball his release point seems to have stopped waivering all over the place as well. If he's normalizing that, settling in and getting consistency in his release, he could be dangerous.
Two other, less quantifiable things worked for Anderson too. His pitching coach, Mickey Calloway, mentioned that Anderson just needed to gain confidence in himself. This is something we cannot quantify, locate or figure actually happened, but if results are to be believed, Anderson truly had faith in himself. Which is good.
More obviously and visibly, he was both lucky and blessed with some amazing defense. His first at-bat of the night ended in a brilliant running catch by Lonnie Chisenhall. The second inning ended when Michael Martinez leapt and grabbed a looping liner off the bat of Austin Jackson. In fact, Martinez made a handful of plays while filling in for Jason Kipnis defensively that the surehanded yet range-limited Kipnis might not have been able to get to. The defense showed up for Anderson, and he logged the lowest BABIP-against of the season at .227. The lowest was that relief appearance in Houston, and he gave up a home run there. Great defense makes a pitcher’s day a bit easier, and I’m willing to bet that first out by Chisenhall really lifted the spirits of the young pitcher, and buoyed him to later success. Or the ball just found the glove more often than not, and that's good enough for anyone.
Who knows where it will all lead. If he sticks in the rotation, Anderson would likely face a homer-happy Orioles team or the first-place Rangers next. Either game would be in Cleveland so at least he wouldn’t have to deal with those two launching pads, but they’re both a tougher go than the White Sox offense. All we know is he looked really good for seven innings, none of which looked untenable. Seeing a young pitcher grow is exciting though.