Monday, April 25, 2011

Oakland Ace May Not Be Who You'd Think

If you were to guess that Trevor Cahill and his 3-0 record would make him the ace of the Oakland Athletics' pitching staff, you might be wrong. If you would guess that among all starters, Cliff Lee has the lowest walk percentage in baseball, again, you would be wrong. The answer to the first statement might be Brett Anderson. And the answer to the second statement is definitely Brett Anderson.

Anderson has now started five times for the Oakland A's. According to, he is currently valued as the third best pitcher in baseball behind only Roy Halladay and Dan Haran. That's pretty good company. Four of his five starts have been quality starts and he hasn't given up more than three runs in any of them. Sure, two of those starts have been against the Mariners, a team that struggles to score runs. But he's also faced the Twins, the Red Sox and the White Sox. Anderson has only allowed four walks in his 34.2 innings and best of all, he hasn't yet yielded a homer this season.

But those are just the glamor stats. Everywhere you look with Anderson, you see a good number. His pitching has not been lucky. His BABIP is right around where it should be, especially for a ground ball pitcher. His infield to fly ball rate currently sits at 3.94, the best of his career. That is due to 68.4 percent of batted balls against him resulting in that type of contact. His line drive percentage is also the best of his career at 14.3 percent. Opposing batters are definitely having a tough time squaring up the bat against his pitches.

The thing with Brett Anderson is that he doesn't throw too many pitches that aren't wrinkled. He's never thrown less fastballs as only 46.1 percent of his pitches have been of that variety. And those have good movement. Anderson is throwing less sliders this season but many more curve-balls. And that is the pitch that everyone is raving about. The success of Anderson's curve has allowed him to effectively spot his fastball, which makes the fastball more effective. Fangraphs puts a higher value on his fastball this year than at any point of Anderson's brief career.  He's throwing his curveball more than twice as much as in any time of his career, almost twenty percent. And it's been a killer.

It feels like Brett Anderson has been around for a long time. He is only in the third year of his career. He was drafted as an eighteen year old out of Stillwater High School in Stillwater, Oklahoma back in 2006. He made the jump from A+ ball in 2008 to Double A and combined for a little over a hundred innings in those two 2008 stops. He went right from Double A to the Oakland A's' rotation in 2009 and made 30 starts that season. Perhaps his 175+ innings that season were too much of an increase from the previous season for his young arm. He lost much of 2010 to injury.

Perhaps it was because he was limited to only 112+ innings in 2010 that most projections were hesitant to project him this year at more than 21 starts. But so far, so good and Anderson is chugging along. To think that he's only 23 years old is quite scary for the rest of the league. After all, he's this good now and he's three years younger that Josh Johnson, seven years younger than Haran and ten years younger than Halladay.

It will be interesting how this young group of Oakland pitchers holds up. The previous time the Athletics had young pitching like this in Hudson, Mulder and Zito, all of them lost arm strength as time went on. Only Hudson has survived as an effective pitcher. With someone as young as Anderson, you kind of hold your breath. But with that said, right now, there are few pitchers better in the majors than Brett Anderson.

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