In terms of pitching attributes, there’s no better blend for starters than high strikeout totals, few walks and ample ground balls. The hurlers who can miss bats, limit free passes and burn worms reign supreme.
Oakland’s Brett Anderson fits the profile. One of the shiny baubles picked up in the December 2007 Dan Haren deal, Anderson ripped through the minor leagues (9.7 K/9, 1.9 BB/9, 56.5 GB%) and made the A’s out of spring training last season. As a 21 year-old with scarce experience above A-ball, Anderson was arguably one of the top 15 starters in baseball.
In 175.1 innings, Anderson struck out 7.7 batters per nine innings, while walking just 2.31 hitters per nine. He remained a strong groundball pitcher in the show, with a 50.9 GB%. The lefty’s 3.61 xFIP, based on K’s, walks and a normalized home run per fly ball rate, placed 14th among starters.
In terms of stuff, Anderson went from good to great during the course of the season. Take a look at his velocity chart for 2009:
In April, Anderson sat 91 MPH with his fastball, with an 82.7 MPH slider. By the summer, he was averaging 93-94 MPH with a mid-80’s slider. Overall, Anderson’s heater wasn’t a great pitch in 2009 (-0.56 runs per 100 pitches), nor was his changeup (-0.47). However, he featured some of the best breaking stuff in the majors.
Anderson’s slider (tossed nearly a third of the time) was worth +2.51 runs per 100 pitches. In terms of overall runs (wSL), Anderson’s +22.2 topped all big league starters. His high-70’s curveball also rated well, though the sample is small considering that he threw the pitch less than seven percent (+0.25 runs/100).
Trip Somers’ Pitch F/X tool has different pitch classifications (his site classifies most of Anderson’s breaking pitches as curveballs). Whatever you want to call his pitches, Anderson showed exceptional control when he spun a breaking ball. He threw both the slider and curve for a strike 65.1 percent of the time (62.7 percent MLB average for the slider and 58 percent average for the curve).
For 2010, CHONE (3.92 FIP) and ZiPS (3.78 FIP) both project FIPs in the high three’s. The FANS are even giddier, envisioning a 3.48 FIP.
As that fan forecast attests, people are privy to Anderson’s talents. But he still might be a relative value entering the season. According to MockDraftCentral, the 22 year-old is, on average, going 35th among starting pitchers. That’s after regression candidate Jair Jurrjens and health question mark Brandon Webb.
The only thing standing in between Anderson and acedom is health. The A’s were pretty cautious with him in ’09, limiting Anderson to 94 pitches per start, but his innings total did increase by about 70 from 2008 to 2009 (it’s closer to 40 if you count his pitching for Team USA and a pair of Triple-A playoff starts in ’08). Given Anderson’s talent and modest ADP, he could be the rare top prospect who’s actually a bargain on draft day.