Ace Chanderson was almost certainly the Brewers’ best starting pitcher in 2017, but he struggled with home runs in 2018, and hasn’t been seen since a very clever Dan Jennings/Freddy Peralta start replaced Anderson against the Cardinals in stretch run to take the division. It’s hard to say that Anderson was bad, as he posted a very respectable 3.93 Earned Runs Average (ERA) and a 1.190 Walks and Hits per Innings Pitched (WHIP) over 30 games, and if those numbers are the ones you pay attention to, you may be confused about why he’s missing in action. Only nominal team ace Jhoulys Chacin and the surprising Wade Miley have lower ERAs; as most national media members refer to lack of starting pitching as the Brewers’ achilles heel, Anderson would seem a welcome presence in the rotation.
Of course, the Brewers are a bit odd about what they look for in pitchers, with command studs like Zach Davies and reclamation projects like Wade Miley more attractive to the front office than your stereotypical, and overpriced fire-ballers. The Brewers are focused on one thing above all else, that being a pitcher’s numbers on their first, second, and third times facing an order, and once you understand this, a lot of seemingly mysterious actions from the Milwaukee front office suddenly look very clear. For starters, for anyone who once claimed the Brewers need to add a starting pitcher, it will become clear that any starting pitcher would, to be valuable, need to be better at preventing runs on his third time through the order, than the vast majority of Brewer relievers are their first time through. Because the Brewers pull starters so early, most Brewer starters don’t routinely face a lineup three times, and even moreso in the playoffs. A new starting pitcher isn’t adding value by replacing just Zach Davies; A big name free agent stud needs to be better than Davies plus Josh Hader, or Jeremy Jeffress, or Corbin Burnes, or Brandon Woodruff, or Corey Knebel. As it turns out, there are basically no starting pitchers available as free agents, or otherwise, that actually fit the bill, and those that do are fantastically expensive. To the extent the Brewers do look for starters in the off-season, it’s unlikely you will think much of them because they will likely have a proven track record of excelling the first two times through the order, and not much more.
This brings us back to Anderson, who, in the grand scheme of things, was pretty good at preventing runs. But, the Brewers don’t care about the grand scheme of things, only the first two acts, and as it turns out:
First time through the order, OPS against.
- Jhoulys Chacin – .577
- Wade Miley – .601
- Freddy Peralta – .633
- Gio Gonzalez – .678
- Junior Guerra – .695 (.908 the second time)
- Zach Davies – .700
- Chase Anderson – .758
- Brent Suter – .769
Now, Anderson does improve drastically the second time through the order with a .639 OPS against, and it’s possible that a lot of this is just bad luck or noise, but the facts are the facts, and Anderson did give up 13 of his 30 home runs allowed his first time through the order. Given how the Brewers are constructed, falling behind early can be ruinous, and because the Brewers have depth, they don’t need to be cute about such things. Anderson has been a good Brewer and deserves a ton of credit for his efforts, but because of this one deficiency he simply couldn’t fit on a playoff roster. Over the course of his career he is not quite so bad, and has shown fairly normal “times through the order” splits, But the home runs make him prone to some early blowups, and being bad early is the one thing the Brewers can’t tolerate out of a starter. If he’s back next season, I’ll be shocked.