After steamrolling the Athletics the past two evenings, the Yankees will run into a tougher opponent tonight. His name is Brett Anderson.
Photo courtesy of Daylife.com and Getty Images
Brett Anderson has just about everything you’d want in a starting pitcher. To start, he’s a baby. Born in 1988, Anderson is only 22 years old, about a year and a half younger than Phil Hughes. The Diamondbacks drafted him straight out of high school in 2006 with their second round pick. In his first season as a 19 year old he racked up 120 innings, a K/9 of 9.3 and a K/BB ratio of 5.95 between Low A and High A. Yet the Diamondbacks felt their need for a major league-ready starting pitcher and dealt Anderson, along with Carlos Gonzalez, Dana Eveland, Aaron Cunningham, Greg Smith and Chris Carter, to the Athletics in exchange for Dan Haren and Connor Robertson. Surely, this was one of Billy Beane’s finer trades.
Oakland was slightly more patient with Anderson. In 2008 he hurled 105 innings between High A and Double A, striking out 10.1 batters per nine innings and walking a mere 2.3 per nine. Anderson entered the 2009 season as Baseball America’s 7th best prospect in baseball and the Athletics decided to have him skip Triple A and start the year in the majors. He didn’t disappoint, posting a 4.06 ERA over 175 innings with a K/9 of 7.7, a BB/9 of 2.3 and a FIP of 3.69. By most measures, Anderson’s first season in the bigs as a twenty-two year old could not have gone better. He was an ace in the making, and Oakland locked him up long term with $12.5M guaranteed over 4 years with two club options of $8M in 2014 and $12M in 2015.
But 2010 hasn’t gone as Oakland planned. Anderson was pulled from his April 24th start with left elbow tightness. Despite initial reports that the injury wasn’t considered serious, Anderson missed almost a month before retaking the mound on May 30th against Detroit. The outing went well and Anderson scattered only 3 hits over 5 scoreless innings, walking none and striking out 4. Yet in his next start he was pulled after two innings with elbow pain, and he returned to the disable list with left elbow tendinitis. Despite some indications that he would need season-ending surgery, Anderson rehabbed and returned to the mound two months later at the end of July. Since then, he’s made six starts, throwing 34 innings with a 4.19 ERA, striking out 25 and walking 8. Some of those starts were great, particularly his outing against the Rays on August 21st, when he allowed 2 runs over 7 innings and struck out 8. But in his most recent outing against Texas he lasted only two innings before getting pulled with a hyperextended left knee. Despite that, Anderson is still in line to start against New York tonight. It’s been a long, injury-filled year for Anderson, and you have to imagine that another knee tweak would result in Oakland shutting him down for the year. If his left knee is weak and alters his kinetic chain of motion, he could reinjure his elbow or another part of his body.
Yet, when Brett Anderson is healthy he can eat hitters alive. His fastball sits in the low 90s and he’s capable of dialing it up to 95 mph. He commands the pitch well and pounds the strike zone. But his out pitch is his slider*, and he throws it early and often. The past two years he’s relied on the pitch around 31% of the time, quite a lot given the relative toll a slider takes on an arm. Francisco Liriano relied on the slider to a similar degree before needing Tommy John surgery. But like Liriano, it’s not hard to see why he favors the pitch. In 2009, his slider had the highest pitch type value of any qualifying MLB starter at 22.9 runs above average. This mark would also be good for the league lead in 2010, currently held by Liriano at 21.2 runs above average. Anderson also features a curveball and a changeup, and throws them both around 7-8% of the time. They aren’t just show-me pitches; he’s capable of throwing them for strikes at any point in the count. Additionally, Anderson is primarily a groundball pitcher. In his major league career he has generated ground balls around 53% of the time, a trend consistent with his minor league pedigree, and one sure to produce great results given Oakland’s tendency to field excellent defenses behind their pitchers.
If he’s healthy, Brett Anderson will eat your lunch and make you thank him for it. He’s a lefty with a hard fastball and nasty breaking pitches. He keeps the ball on the ground, he strikes batters out, and he limits the walks. He’s everything one would want in a pitching prospect, and he’s only 22 years old.
*Note that Fangraphs and Texas Leaguers classify his pitches differently. Fangraphs had his pitch types at 52% fastball, 32.1% slider, 6.7% curveball and 8.5% changeup. Texas Leaguers has him at 48% 4-seam fastball, 6.4% 2-seam fastball, 29.5% curveball, 9.5% slider, 6.2% changeup. In reality, Anderson throws a slurvy type breaking ball. He throws it often, and it’s hard to hit.
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