Should Oakland Athletics Make Brett Anderson's Conversion To Reliever Permanent?

By Thom Tsang
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

I know, it sounds a little weird — why would the Oakland Athletics permanently make take their former ace off the mound as a starter?

Well, when he might never really get around to being one, I suppose. Call it bad luck, or injury-prone — it doesn’t really matter at this point for Brett Anderson, really. What does matter is this: in four seasons, he’s suffered no less than four major injuries in three different areas of his body, and he has given the team just 157.2 innings (and counting) in the last three seasons.

And because he’s never really had too much of an opportunity to settle into a groove, his 3.82/1.28 ERA/WHIP with a .260 BAA over 445.1 career innings isn’t entirely what you’d call ace-like either.

This is no knock on his physical talent as a pitcher, of course. Any A’s fans who have had a chance to see him pitch while he’s been right can see that there’s ace potential there; there’s a reason why the team decided to reward him with an extension, after all … but when does the health factor become less or a reason and more of an excuse?

The facts, as it were, say that Anderson has been a 2.1 fWAR player for the Athletics over the last three seasons, and that the team isn’t going to pick up his $8 million team option for 2014. They’ve not only removed the “future ace” designation from the southpaw, but they’ve removed him from the rotation altogether as the team looks to lock up another AL West title in 2013.

In fact, the $5.75 million man may not even end up on the postseason roster as a long reliever … and it wouldn’t necessarily be an egregiously poor choice.

So … where does this leave Anderson in 2014?

Undoubtedly, if healthy and in form, he has the talent to lead an already talented Oakland A’s rotation. Bartolo Colon‘s magical run is going to have to come to an end at some point, whether due to a bidding war in free agency or just due to retirement because he’s 23475802 40-years old; should either happen, that spot in the rotation would be better taken up by Anderson than say, Tommy Milone.

Still, if their young lefty simply isn’t durable enough to start (and from his elbow to the latest back spasms, he hasn’t shown to be), should they at least try to get some value out of him as a lefty reliever?

The answer, in short, is no. That said, there are obviously a couple of things to consider here.

The first of which is that Anderson’s four-pitch repertoire is better suited to a starting role. Yes, he is primarily a fastball-slider guy, but as illustrated by his 15.2 sub-par innings of work as a reliever with a 5.17/1.47 ERA, pitching short outings at a time isn’t really helping him get his control back from the long layoff.

The stuff is still there (8.62 K/9), but everything else is a major question mark at this point; if for some reason the A’s don’t even give him a shot at being a starter again, they potentially risk any chance of getting even trade value out of a pitcher who could still conceivably be an impact starter on the free agent market in 2015.

Besides, the A’s have seen this story before with Rich Harden, and they managed to get a package from the then ace-to-be that included Josh Donaldson, so they have seen first-hand how taking a risk could pay off here.

Whether Anderson will be a starter long-term is still an open question, of course — he is still only 25 and many things can happen going forward. However, regardless of if he’s in their long-term plans or not (I’m guessing not), the A’s being conservative with his role going forward in the bullpen has so little upside that the only real option is to start him … and hope for the best.

Thom is an MLB writer for Follow him on Twitter @BlueJaysRant, or add him to your network on Google

You May Also Like