The way too early call on Cody Anderson

  (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)  
Cody Anderson hasn't been a very good baseball player for your Cleveland Indians in 2016. There was a lot of buzz at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario surrounding Anderson coming out of Spring Training after he'd spent the offseason working out with the Indians' strength and conditioning coach. He showcased this with an uptick in velocity this spring.

Uptick may have been the wrong word.

His normal four-seam fastball prior to this season hovered in the 93-94 MPH range (according to Brooks baseball), but in the spring, it was normally getting clocked at 95-97, according to most sources. While spring training guns can often be suspicious, the relative consistency of the velocity measures led many to believe this was more than offseason smoke and mirrors. It appeared as though Cody worked out, got fit, and threw harder because of it.

Seems almost too easy.

When Jeff Sullivan of fangraphs notated that if the uptick was true-to-form, Anderson's intangibles looked fairly similar to the New York Mets' Matt Harvey.

And thus begins my way too early assessment on Cody Anderson, using stats and numbers that are way too early to use. Snap judgements are easy to make. Realizing they are snap judgements aren't easy to see, so I'm prefacing all of this with the understanding that Cody Anderson has made three whole starts in 2016.

Three whole starts.

After three starts, Anderson has seen diminishing returns on production.  I want to make sure to preface this entire conversation with, after three starts. Anderson has given up ten earned runs in his last two starts, and has given up 12 in all. He's struggling equally against righties and lefties, and his ERA is a pronounced 7.53, with a 7.01 xFIP. In other words, not very good.

As far as the vaunted velocity uptick, over the course of his three starts, he hasn't been above 95 with consistency, as he apparently was in the offseason. The average velocity of his four-seamer is sitting at 94.26, and the rest of his pitches, including his vaunted changeup, seems to be in that same improvement arc. While almost a MPH average shouldn't be scoffed at, it's certainly not the leap that many were pondering, and ultimately not the one that Jeff Sullivan was having some fun with in his "pondering" piece for fangraphs.

Before we jump to conclusions though, there are some interesting sidenotes to all of this that are worth paying some attention to. While Anderson's "best start" on paper was his first start, in which he gave up only two earned runs in six innings, while walking and striking out three each, there have been some promising developments in his last two starts, that were hidden behind getting roughed up.

First, there's been a clear and true uptick in his velocity. His four-seamer over those last two starts are truly up over another half-mile per hour, clocking in at 94.88. Again, 1 1/2 MPH over his career isn't the 3-to-4 that's been reported, but it's still significant, and the rest of his pitches are following suit. I mention this first, only because it's the one tangible stat that likely will bear out over time. This isn't to say that he isn't going to see fluctuation here, but he's clearly throwing harder, and it seems to be growing with every start (his last start saw his four-seamer sitting at 95.22).

Everything else I talk about is a much too early discussion on any sorta stat that means anything.

Anderson has also seen an uptick in strikeouts, while maintaining an elite walk rate, striking out eight over that two game stretch (10 IP), while walking only one. While Anderson's ERA and FIP are hovering north of 10 during those two games, his xFIP is hovering right around 4.00. Obviously, single game numbers don't mean a whole lot, and the fact that he's given up four home runs in ten innings would suggest that his velocity has only equaled a launchpad.

My only point to this path is to notate that his velocity is tangibly moving game-to-game, and that there are some hidden positives in the numbers, if you look at them in isolation. A two-game sample-size for xFIP and BABIP (his is hovering right at .500) is ludicrous. So is a two-game sample size for FIP, and really, anything, especially when you consider the development of a potential new arsenal.

A couple of other things to notate over the last two starts. Anderson has almost exclusively been utilizing his fastball-changeup mix. Of his 146 pitches, only 17 have been his cutter or his developing curveball, and most of those were in his 2nd start. He only threw one curve and four cutters in his last start, which lends to the belief that he just didn't have those pitches, or didn't feel comfortable throwing them.

This is where the true problem with Anderson's season may be hiding. In the immortal land of Major League baseball, everything is just something that's waiting to be figured out. While the uptick in velocity is wonderful, we aren't talking about Danny Salazar stuff here, and we're also discussing new intangibles in which Cody hasn't had time to develop. He can't overpower hitters yet, as Salazar does. He doesn't have the movement of Carlos Carrasco or Corey Kluber (or Salazar, for that matter) yet. Honestly, while his change-up is his out pitch, it's not something that mystifies hitters to the point of frustration. Anderson has never been a strikeout pitcher, which is why his upward K/9 trajectory is promising.

But he's still figuring things out, and he really needs that curve or cutter to be something he can use.

And that's when you have to ponder the real move the Indians should make regarding Cody Anderson. I've seen many pieces written with a knee-jerk reaction to Anderson's struggles. Most point to some statistic that honestly doesn't mean anything. You can talk about K%, BB%, FIP, BABIP or xFIP. Hell, you can utilize normal numbers.

Three games isn't nearly enough data to use regarding any such decision.

This is especially true when you take into account the hidden gems regarding the true 1 1/2 MPH velocity improvement.

That said, the one, true question you have to ask yourself is this: if you have added something to your pitching repertoire that you haven't mastered yet (and yes, that includes a velocity improvement), like a brand new curveball, shouldn't you have time to get used to it? Shouldn't you get a chance to master those changes, before you unleash them at the big league level?

In other words, if Cody Anderson has options, wouldn't a four-to-six game stretch in Columbus to build confidence in the curveball, as well as get used to his velocity increase make sense?

Yes, it kind of does.

While I agree with the move to keep Anderson at the big league level to start the year off, it's clear that he hasn't gained the confidence in his stuff yet to perform consistently. The velocity has improved with the warmer temperatures, but he's still trying to figure out how to get hitters out. Give Anderson one more start, but if he struggles one more time, send him down to Columbus for a month to continue to work on that curveball, while getting used to throwing harder, with significantly more movement.

Let the rubber band snap forward on his arsenal, so that he can become an effective starter with his new stuff, and not be the pitcher still using last year's mentality. He needs to learn better mix, and he needs to trust in the cutter more, and find footing with the curve.

If that happens, Anderson could be better than the bottom-of-the-rotation starter that many were predicating.

Who should take his place?

But that's for another day.
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