Brett Anderson Looks Like Brett Anderson at Just the Right Time

Let’s just go ahead and get this out of the way now: there’s no such thing as a good time to lose a starting pitcher like Bartolo Colon. Over 24 starts with the A’s, Colon posted a 3.43 ERA and peripherals that make him look only a little less good, and Colon has been a big part of Oakland’s attempted playoff push. Now he’s done, having been found out for cheating, and at this writing Oakland is five games out of the division and just a half-game out of the wild card. If the A’s were terrible, this would be too bad, but it wouldn’t be potentially devastating. The A’s aren’t terrible. The starting rotation has lost value right when the season leverage is getting its greatest.

But while there’s never a good time to lose a Bartolo Colon, there are worse times and there are better times. In one regard, this was a profoundly bad time for the A’s given their position in the playoff race, but on the other hand, Colon was suspended a day after Brett Anderson made his 2012 season debut. Anderson was excellent against the Twins Tuesday night, and Anderson figures to be a major stretch-run contributor right when it turns out the A’s could really use one of those.

For those who have forgotten, or for those who never knew, Anderson’s back from Tommy John surgery, having last pitched in the majors in June 2011. He had a good deal of success earlier in his career for A’s teams that were neither remarkably good nor remarkably bad, and now he has a chance to make a real difference with people paying attention. And where you’d think Anderson might be treated with kid gloves, since he’s a 24-year-old coming off major elbow surgery, it doesn’t look like there are any restrictions. In fact:

The A’s say there will be no extra limitations on Anderson when he returns. Melvin noted that like the other pitchers in the rotation, he will be held to around 100 pitches. Anderson says the team hasn’t told him he is only allowed to throw a certain number of breaking balls. The leash is completely off.

Brett Anderson will be allowed to pitch as much like Brett Anderson as he possibly can. And based on his 2012 debut performance, there’s not a whole lot of difference between Brett Anderson now and Brett Anderson before. Hands-down the biggest change is that Anderson has shed considerable weight from his previously more abundant physique. If you just want to talk about pitching, then Brett Anderson didn’t pitch like a different pitcher.

It needs to be stated that we’re working off of one start. Tuesday night, one start, 86 pitches, facing the Twins. I suppose we can’t say much of anything about 2012 Brett Anderson conclusively. But we can work with the evidence. What’s the first thing you look at when a pitcher’s back from injury? Fastball velocity? Anderson sat 90-93 miles per hour, which is about where he used to be. His final two fastballs, in the top of the seventh inning, clocked in at 92. Nothing in there suggests any reduced arm strength.

How about pitch mix? Last year, before succumbing to injury, less than half of Anderson’s pitches were fastballs. He’s been about a 50-percent fastball guy since breaking into the league. Tuesday, 42 of Anderson’s 86 pitches were fastballs. He barely threw his changeup. Anderson hasn’t come back from surgery hesitant to use his breaking balls; he’s embracing them as much as he ever has. The breaking ball is and has always been Anderson’s bread and butter.

The next thing, obviously, is pitch movement, and there’s nothing of note in Anderson’s pitch movement if you’ve got your eyes peeled for changes. All of Brett Anderson’s pitches were still Brett Anderson’s pitches. If you’re concerned about his sink, since Anderson was an established groundballer, the Twins put 16 balls in play, and 13 of them chewed dirt. Granted, nobody has hit grounders quite like the Twins have hit grounders this season, but Anderson generated his grounders and then some.

How about wow factor? Is that even a thing? If that’s a thing, then Anderson had it last night, and because I can’t seem to go a post without a .gif, here’s a .gif:

If you can believe it, that’s a slider. Brett Anderson’s still got his slider. That’s the pitch that most allowed Anderson to finish Tuesday with six strikeouts, in addition to all the grounders. Generally a slider is a relatively ineffective pitch against opposite-handed hitters, but Anderson’s slider — and his slower, similar curve — has a lot of up-down drop to it, so he can feature those pitches against righties without getting burned.

Possibly of note is that Anderson threw a ton of strikes, and a ton of pitches in the strike zone. When Stephen Strasburg first came back from Tommy John surgery, he peppered the zone in the name of fewer deep counts and greater efficiency. In theory, it would help to preserve his arm, although Strasburg’s abandoned that approach in 2012. We’ll see if Anderson goes to the zone more often down the stretch, or if he’ll just pitch like he always used to pitch.

Based on what we could learn from one start, Brett Anderson’s fine. Maybe his stamina isn’t what it could be, but his ability remains intact. Anderson owns a career 3.57 FIP and 3.56 xFIP. Funny thing about guys who get grounders and strikeouts while limiting their walks: they’re good pitchers. Anderson’s a good pitcher, back in the Oakland rotation right when the same rotation has lost an important regular. There could’ve been worse times for Colon to get suspended.

Of course, this isn’t about Brett Anderson vs. Bartolo Colon. Had Colon not been suspended, they both would’ve been in the rotation. Colon’s suspension presumably means more innings for Dan Straily and, immediately, Tyson Ross. That’s where you run your WAR calculations to try to measure the impact. But overall, the A’s received good news and bad news on consecutive days, and they kind of offset. Maybe they more than offset. With the Colon suspension, the A’s are probably worse than they were this morning. With Anderson’s return, the A’s might still be better than they were a few mornings ago.

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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

21 Responses to “Brett Anderson Looks Like Brett Anderson at Just the Right Time”

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  1. Kyle says:

    It’s nice to have Brett Anderson healthy and back to throwing baseball, he’s always been an interesting and cool guy to follow.

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  2. Tim_the_Beaver says:

    I don’t know you too well yet, Jeff, but I have to say, I like the cut of your gif

    +17 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Jake says:

      Get used to it from him. This guy practically invented the gif. There is even a rumor swirling around that he is considering changing his name to Jiff.

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  3. JDanger says:

    Look at that SLIDER!!!

    I bet Brett Anderson and me could be real good friends if he’d just give me a chance.

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  4. Matt says:

    Watching that pitch, I never would have thought it was a slider. I totally thought in was a curveball until reading otherwise.

    Nice to see Brett Anderson back in the rotation, and good luck to the A’s.

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  5. Do Oakland Atheltics fans see this glass as half-empty (as you say, “this was a profoundly bad time for the A’s given their position in the playoff race”) or as half-full (a juiced Colon delivered, as you say, “a 3.43 ERA and peripherals that make him look only a little less good” over 24 starts before getting caught for cheating in obtainment of said success)?

    Do Angels fans (and other wildcard chasing teams) see this same glass in reverse?

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    • Well-Beered Englishman says:

      I can’t believe you found a name URL even better than the last one.

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    • Zonis says:

      General feel on AN is that Colon, while a loss, happened at a time when we were actually pressed to find room in the rotation for all the quality pitching we have.

      Not only did Anderson return, but so did McCarthy. We had to demote one of our top pitching prospects to make room for Anderson, and that is the only thing that we’re annoyed at-that we can’t recall him for ~10 days. We also have Blackley in the bullpen, and AJ Griffin on the DL, hopefully back soon.

      So we have 3 good starting pitchers ready to fill the void potentially, and Ross is getting a start only because of the timing (Blackly pitched 5 IP in relief, Straily was demoted to make room for Anderson and will be back in 10 games, and Griffin is not ready to be activated yet). And then there is Brad Peacock, who again, pitched yesterday.

      In a week, the A’s rotation will be:

      with Blackley, Griffin, Peacock and Ross waiting in the wings.

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      • Tim A says:

        Anderson, McCarthy, Parker, Milone, Then Griffin, Blackley, Straily, Ross, Peacock
        Is the depth chart the team has been rolling with all healthy/available.
        Pre SSPD Griffin was still coming back to the rotation after one more rehab start. Griffin is after all 3-0 with a -3.00 ERA and -1.00 Whip in 8 starts. Blackley stays pen unless they have to since he is the only proven long man in it right now. Most others haven’t got any experience working out of the bullpen.
        Expect Melvin to operate as he has all season. He will throw paint(4 or 5 starters) at the wall and what sticks is what he moves forward with. This team is all about depth, and trial and erroring out the holes till you have a winning recipe.

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    • Chris33 says:

      It’s the fresh arm of Anderson vs a very smart pitcher like Colon…I think most people with go with the fresh arm going into Sept.

      Plus Anderson should improve, wile Colon could maybe drop off a little, so it looks like glass 3/4 full.

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  6. Ron says:

    Unfortunately there is never a right time to be an overweight, or perhaps the term over-fat is appropriate in this case as to distinguish him from baseball players who are overweight due to increased muscular size, redheaded male. It’s science.

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  7. Cus says:

    I love Fangraphs, but JESUS! if it looks like a curveball, and breaks like a curveball, it’s a $%%^$ curveball.

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    • TomG says:

      But if it’s gripped and released like a slider, it’s probably not a curveball.

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    • Matt says:

      Yeah, that thing looks like a curve!

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      • hildebeast21 says:

        Who cares? Call it whatever you want, the pitch is filthy. I’m guessing the guys in the Twins dugout weren’t saying “wow, he got me with that slider.” They were probably saying “how the f$%& do you hit that f&*%ing thing?”

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    • Average_Casey says:

      Hoestly, looking at the pitch I think it’s really a slurve. The release is halfway between a slider and a curve and so is the arm action. I don’t think Pitch FX has that classification so it’s either one or the other. I don’t remember Anderson’s curve ball but looking at the arm action of the GIF, I would guess that it has more of a 12-6 action like really good curve balls should.

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    • Jake says:

      If you watch Brett Anderson throw, you will see that he has a pitch that looks even more like a curveball.

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  8. Brian says:

    The suspension sucks, but am I the only one giggling a little bit reading headlines about the A’s Colon?

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