In many ways, after all the rumors, a trade away from the Oakland Athletics was just what Brett Anderson needed.
The only problem? The scenery changed from one of the most pitcher-friendly environments to arguably the most hitter-friendly one. There are probably lots of analogies of opposites to be used here, but the contrast is so stark that it’s almost unnecessary at this point — let’s just say that the lefty will have his work cut out for him as a member of the Colorado Rockies.
But he Anderson cut out to work at the Mile-High City?
Fortunately for the Rockies, all signs point to yes — as least as far as is stuff is concerned, anyway. Not that the Colorado staff already didn’t know this, but of all the pitching help that they could have sought to acquire this offseason, Anderson may very well be the best fit. The reason? His ability to stay grounded.
Or rather, it’s his ability to keep opposing batters grounded. Armed with a low-to-mid 90s fastball and a wipeout slider which he puts heavy usage on (fifth-ranked 33.2 percent from 2009-2013), the southpaw’s main calling cards are control (2.40 BB/9) and weak contact. Not only is he ranked in the top 20 in both GB/FB (1.90, 18th) and ground ball percentage (54.6 percent, 14th) over the last five seasons, but he actually leads the league with a 16.7 percent line drive rate in the same span.
So while the sample size here might not be overly large at 450.2 innings, you could make an pretty solid argument that there aren’t a whole lot of folks that give up fewer hard-hit baseballs when they’re on the mound. And in a home park like Coors where fly balls go to heaven, it’s needless to say that this will make all the difference.
What’s even better is that he’s not necessarily a contact pitcher either. Though he’s only managed to generate a swinging strike rate of 7.1 percent over his career, his control has allowed him to get a fair number of strike three calls, good enough for a 7.13 K/9 rate over his career. The Rockies are unlikely to see the 9.27 he put up over 44.2 innings last season, but Anderson should be good enough to lead the team in both the K/9 and BB/9 departments upon arrival.
Not that the expectations should be any lower in Denver, really. The 25-year-old was acquired as a frontline starter, and assuming he can continue to produce to the 3.56 FIP over his career and avoid the BABIP monster (.309 over career, .359 in 2013), he should be just fine. Pitching in Colorado won’t be easy, but that’s only half of the games, and he will be moving to the NL; all things being equal, it’s not as if his ERA/WHIP are expected to skyrocket here.
That is, if he can avoid the biggest caveat that got him moved in the first place: his health.
Being injury-prone is not a stigma that any young starter wants attached to their name, but 163 innings of work over three years will leave him with no choice. Whether of not you choose to see Anderson’s previous health issues as a series of unfortunate coincidences or a developing trend, there is no question that his biggest goal in 2014 will be to stay on the mound.
After all, as the recently-retired Mark Prior and Roy Halladay will probably tell you, it doesn’t matter how good you are if you can’t be healthy enough to pitch, and the DL is one place that the Rockies’ new lefty will need to avoid.
Fortunately — as much as multiple injury-plagued seasons can be fortunate, anyway — Anderson’s issues appear to be mostly unrelated: elbow injury leading to Tommy John, comeback season cut short by oblique injury, the saga over his ankle sprain-turned-fracture … they don’t suggest a recurring problem area, which is to say that he’ll just have to avoid to find a new way to hurt himself.
If that’s all the Rockies have to contend with to find the ace upside in that arm, you could probably say they’ve done pretty well for themselves here, no?