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Chase Anderson: back to the Estradian future?

There’s more than a few parallels to former Blue Jay Marco Estrada

MLB: Houston Astros at Toronto Blue Jays Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

The first thing that popped into me head when the news broke a few hours ago that the Blue Jays had acquired Chase Anderson was that the last time they got a starting pitcher from Milwaukee in whom they didn’t see value it worked out pretty well. That of course is about the most superficial level of analysis possible. Even more co-incidently (h/t zstam), in both cases left-handed first basemen with similar swings were going back the other way.

This is of course little more than a curiosity as opposed to real analysis or a serious player comp. But poking a little deeper, the parallels between the two acquisitions became more striking as opposed to superficial.

Famously, Marco Estrada was an extreme fly ball pitcher in Toronto whose bread and butter was generating popups (and weak or routine contact in the air more broadly). He wasn’t quite at that point when traded, but from 2012 to 2014 he ranked second along MLB starters with a 47% fly ball rate. Anderson isn’t at the Estrada level, but he’s definitely cut in the fly ball mould at 44% over the last three years, ranking 9th among starters in baseball (and with an attendant high pop out rate).

Anderson doesn’t have quite the same strikeout and walk pedigree as Estrada did coming in, as he does both right around the league average. This was actually the most intriguing thing about Estrada for me at the time, as his strikeout rate was above average and strikeout rate well below average. But interestingly, Estrada regressed to essentially league average on both dimensions — where Anderson is now —from 2015-17 while he became a much better pitcher.

And both of course have some long ball problems, as is bound to happen to pitchers who live in the air. In 2014, Estrada led the league with 29 long balls yielded; in 2018, Anderson did so with 30. But Anderson does a decent job keeping the ball in the park given all the fly balls he gives up, with a slightly below average HR/FB rate despite his home park being good for long balls. This is typical of fly ball pitchers, and the key to Estrada’s 2015-17 success was that his HR/FB ratio was about 20% lower than league average.

The comparisons run even deeper than statistical profiles. Estrada’s arsenal was a four seam fastball with fringy velo (~50%) that worked because of his wicked changeup (~30%), and then he mixed in his curve and cutter about 10% each. With Milwaukee his mix was a little different, relying more on the curve (23%), almost as much as his changeup (25%). Of note, a right handed pitcher whose best pitch is a changeup is being something of an anomaly.

Anderson has a similar mix. Over his career, he uses his fastball about 55%, with his main secondary also a changeup (~20%) while mixing up a curve (~15%) and cutter (under 10%). For what it’s worth, FanGraphs pitch values rate the change-up as easily his most effective secondary.

The one difference really comes down to the fastball: Anderson has an extra couple ticks, giving him a little more margin for error. He also uses both a two seam and four seam fastball, though it’s noteworthy that that he’s been using the two seam less and less: 23% in 2015, 19% in 2017, down to 13% in 2018 and just 7% in 2019. Perhaps this is something for the Jays to look to optimize, relying just on a four seamer like Estrada with a cutter for contrast?

Granted, none of this is to say that Chase Anderson is going to be the second coming of Marco Estrada in Toronto, who for two and a half years was one of the top starters in the American League. But the beauty of this deal is that he doesn’t have to be. This is a fine deal if Anderson replicates what he has been over his career, and any upside from there would move it into proverbial home run territory (something he knows a little about...)

That’s by virtue of the fact that this trade has little effective cost for the Jays. For me, Chad Spanberger is basically a non-prospect. When the Jays acquired him at last summer’s trade deadline in the Swunghwan Oh package, he had gaudy numbers at both minor league stats in addition to his breakout junior season at Arkansas. But both those were in good hitter’s parks, with much more pedestrian (for a 1B) slash lines on the road. And then he struggled in AA this year at a more age appropriate test.

In terms of opportunity costs, the $9-million commitment (including 2021 option commitment) leaves the projected payroll below $70-million, and closer to $60-million if (when) Ken Giles is dealt. So there should be plenty of financial firepower left to pursue more significant, impact type upgrades; adding his salary shouldn’t foreclose other plans. And with so many holes in the rotation and pitching staff, it’s not like it’s stealing inning from young pitchers who are hammering down the door.

All in all, a solid start to the offseason. May the remainder be as fruitful as five years ago which kicked off in a similar manner.

Data from FanGraphs and Brooks Baseball