Brett Anderson was expected to be on the disabled list by this time of the season. After all, his 68 innings pitched this season is his highest total since the 83 1/3 he threw in 2011. Hey, at least his arm is fresh. And his Twitter game is on-point.
But Anderson, who takes the mound tonight for the Dodgers against the Rangers, has been somewhat of a stabilizing factor in the Dodger rotation. After the team lost both Brandon McCarthy and Hyun-Jin Ryu, it looked like things could go south rather quickly (despite having Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke). Instead, he has taken hold of the No. 3 spot in the rotation since it was announced April 29 that McCarthy would need season-ending Tommy John surgery.
Anderson since April 29
- 2.79 ERA
- 6 IP/start (48 1/3 innings)
- 4 HR allowed
- 2.6 BB/9
- 6.7 K/9
Not overwhelming numbers, but considering the Dodgers are trotting out guys like Mike Bolsinger (who has been great) and Carlos Frias (who has shown flashes of greatness) — both of whom have way over-performed expectations — I think it’s more than acceptable.
Now, Anderson isn’t a big strikeout pitcher (7.0 K/9 coming into the season), but what he has done well this season — better than any other season in his career — is get ground balls. His 67 percent ground ball rate is the best in baseball, ahead of guys like Dallas Keuchel (64.2), Tyson Ross (62.3) and Felix Hernandez (60.2). He has a 56.8 percent GB rate (including 2015) for his career, so the fact he gets a lot of worm killers isn’t surprising. But he’s increased his rate substantially.
From the start of the season until April 29, Anderson was getting ground balls with primarily with his slider (19.1 percent) and sinker (16.2 percent). That isn’t surprising. What is surprising is that from April 30 until now, his ground ball rate with his 4-seam fastball has increased by more than 6 percent (from 8.2 to 14.6). He’s still getting a fair amount of grounders from his slider (16.7 percent) and sinker (12.9 percent).
Interesting to note: So far in June (two starts), Anderson has thrown just 12.8 percent fastballs, while his slider usage has increased to 33.5 percent. His sinker usage has also increased to 30.7 percent. This could be a sign of things to come, and if he’s able to get a good amount of ground balls while throwing his 4-seam fastball less, that should be good news for his higher-than normal home run-to-fly ball rate (14.1 percent).
No matter what he throws, he’s getting ground balls. That doesn’t bode well for his above-average BABIP (.321), but that’ll happen when more balls are hit on the ground. He has been bitten by the home run bug a bit (0.8 HR/9), but there have been some really good hitters to get him: Paul Goldschmidt (twice, of course), Nelson Cruz, Jhonny Peralta and Yasmany Tomas. What’s funny is, he hasn’t given up a home run while he has been ahead, they have all come with his team tied or behind.
Anderson also has a consistent ERA (3.57), FIP (3.71) and xFIP (3.44) spread. He isn’t getting lucky by any means, but he has been consistent. If he were to post these numbers for the season (in, say, 140 innings?), I think we’d all take that in a heartbeat.
Like I said earlier, he isn’t a strikeout-per-inning guy. He is getting more swings on pitches outside the strike zone (31.7 percent) than he has in any other season outside of 2014 (33.6 percent), but he is also getting just 7 percent of his strikes via the swing-and-miss (90th among qualified starting pitchers).
For Anderson to continue to have success and be a viable starter for the Dodgers, he has to keep his pitches down and hope his off-speed stuff can induce some swings-and-misses. There is nothing wrong with a pitcher who has a strikeout rate between below-average and average, especially when he pairs it with an above-average walk rate. But Anderson’s ability to get ground balls will be the determining factor for his future success. One thing’s for sure: He’s on his way to being worth his $10 million contract, provided he stays healthy.
Please stay healthy, Brett.