While the Oakland Athletics don’t have a lot to be excited about this time of year, sitting 15 games under .500, they have plenty to be thankful for: the makings of a good young rotation, with Trevor Cahill, Vin Mazzaro, Gio Gonzalez, and, most importantly, Brett Anderson.
Brett Anderson was drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the second round in 2006. Following an excellent 2007 in South Bend and Visalia (120.1 IP, 125 K, 21 BB), Anderson left the D-Backs for Oakland as part of the Dan Haren trade. The lefty continued his dominance in 2008, posting 80 Ks against 18 BBs in 74 IP at High-A Stockton, followed by 38 Ks against 9 BBs in 31 IP for Double-A Midland.
Anderson has always had excellent stuff, with a four-seamer that sits at 92-93, an 89-90 mph two-seamer, a low-80s curveball, mid-80s slider, and low-80s change-up. Anderson’s repertoire has always been good enough to get swings and misses, but his calling card is his command. In the MLB, command always trumps stuff, but when a pitcher combines the two, he becomes deadly. Anderson did this all throughout the minors, with an aggregate 243:48 K:BB (5.06:1) ratio.
Dazzling performances, a great pedigree, and a 36th overall prospect ranking by Baseball America meant that Anderson was on the fast-track to the bigs. After breaking the camp with the big team in April, the Double-A to MLB jump seemed a little extreme. While Anderson certainly had the stuff, polish, and command to perform in the MLB, skipping Triple-A is nothing to scoff at. While anecdotes often point to Double-A being the primary testing ground for position players, the Triple-A vetting process can be just as important, especially for starting pitchers. Oftentimes, hurlers with huge strikeout numbers in the low minors falter when they reach Triple-A and the majors. But, hey, these were Billy Beane’s A’s, and they can do anything. So, Big Brett made the jump, err, took the plunge, to the Oakland starting rotation.
So, on to 2009. Anderson has made quite the name for himself this season. While posting a less-than-ideal 4.42 ERA and 1.30 WHIP, his peripherals have been much better than his current line. While the command and strikeout numbers aren’t quite the same as his minor league stats, they leave a lot to be excited about.
Through 146.2 innings, Anderson has struck out 119 batters and walked just 41. His command left the minors in tact, as a 2.52 BB/9 is great for any level of MLB experience, especially a rookie. The Ks have taken a hit, somewhat, sitting at 7.30 K/9, which is about average for a 12-team league. Anderson also features some slight groundball tendencies (1.31 GB/FB), which could be aided by an increased use of his two-seamer (7.2 percent usage).
Nothing in Anderson’s performance record jumps out as being particularly lucky or unlucky (other than his ERA). His BABIP sits at .309 and his HR/FB% sits at 11.0 percent, both of which could lower somewhat, though not much. Oakland’s defense won’t be helping him with the BABIP, however, as their .683 defensive efficiency ranks very poorly at 26th in the MLB.
His ERA has should rebound quite a bit, however. His current 4.42 ERA is shown to be quite high by both FIP (3.96) and tRA (3.93), as well as my own metric, which expects a 3.86 ERA from here on out. His WHIP seems to be more in line with his actual performance, at 1.30, though I have it at 1.28. The 0.02 difference is nothing to write home about, however, and should be wiped away by any chance variation or measurement inaccuracies that should occur.
The one knock on Anderson this season, however, has been his contact percentage. While 83.3 percent is decent, it is a little higher than is ideal and is a sign that his strikeout numbers may be a bit higher than they ought to be. As a result, his 7.30 K/9 seem a little high and should be closer to the mid-6s than the low-7s. His walk rate seems to be right where it should be, given his proclivity to hit the strike zone (50.3 percent zone percentage) and his ability to get ahead in the count (58.3 percent first strikes). If anything, 2.52 BB/9 may be slightly lower than expected, as the peripherals seem closer to the 2.7 range. Still, it’s a great walk rate for any pitcher, especially a young one.
Anderson’s combination of excellent peripherals and average results put fantasy owners in a very fortuitous position. Most leagues have passed their trade deadline, so unless you are in one that is still trading, you need to check your waiver wire and see if Anderson is available. If your league is still trading, and you could use some pitching help, see if you can pry him away from an unsuspecting owner. If so, he will be quite the asset.
Assuming Anderson is capable of living up to his expected ERA improvement and doesn’t fall lower than 6.5 strikeouts per nine, he should be just about league average for a starting pitcher in 12-team mixed leagues. If he’s available in your league, he will be a welcome addition and should be worth 1-2 points above replacement level over the course of a full season.
If you employ a league average starter at the fifth and sixth rotation spots, you’ve got quite a good rotation. Don’t let Anderson slip through your fingers. He might be that valuable final piece in your 2009 championship run.