The Case For Brett Anderson

Why should Brett Anderson be among the five pitchers who start the season in Oakland's rotation? Unless Anderson spends 3-6 weeks in the minors this year, the A's could be faced with enabling Anderson to hit arbitration, or free agency, a full year sooner. Anderson has pitched just 225 minor league innings, only 31 of them above A-ball. Two months ago, the kid wasn't even old enough to drink. Who would be so daft as to head north with Anderson in the big league rotation in April? Billy Beane, I suspect - and me, I know.

If Braden, Gallagher, and Eveland are locks for the rotation, Duchscherer and Gio Gonzalez are non-factors at the outset, and Jerome Williams is officially out of the running, there are 5 candidates (E. Gonzalez, Outman, Anderson, Cahill, and Mazzaro) for the final two spots in the rotation.

I don't think Outman is a good choice. Not only is he fiddling with his mechanics right now, trying to figure out which delivery works best for him, but Outman has a hard, straight fastball and does not have a dazzling assortment of offspeed pitches - he is really a power pitcher, and as such he needs top velocity or a better changeup than he currently has. In my opinion, Outman should either be sent to AAA to work on his changeup and his delivery, or he should be put in the bullpen where he can at least throw his straight fastball 2-3 MPH harder.

Meanwhile, though Cahill may be able to hang in there I don't think either Mazzaro or Cahill is best served starting out in the big leagues. In contrast to Anderson, Mazzaro and Cahill have work to do in AAA to improve the consistency of their mechanics, and their overall control/command, before it makes sense to promote them to the big leagues.

Anderson, in contrast, has nothing in particular to work on and now is when the A's need a starter. If you're worried about service time, consider that when Duchscherer or Gio is ready, Anderson can always be sent down to AAA for 3-6 weeks just to manage the service time issue. But if Anderson is one of the A's best 5 options right now - and not to be, he'd have to be a worse option than Edgar Gonzalez and Josh Outman - the A's should go ahead and put their best foot forward, rather than going with an inferior option just to stash Anderson away, or to let him work more on...On what? Throwing strikes? Working hitters? Getting ground balls? He already does all that.

You see Anderson is 21 going on 30. He draws rave reviews from scouts not for his raw stuff but for his maturity, his poise, his feel for pitching. If he's ready, he's ready, and I haven't seen anything from Anderson to suggest he is less likely to be ready to get major league hitters out than Edgar Gonzalez or Josh Outman (or Trevor Cahill or Vin Mazzaro). The 2 Ks in 11.2 spring training innings concern me the most, but when I saw him throw 4 shutout innings against the Angels, he struck out only one yet he also had only two hard-hit balls off of him - two of the three hits - while breaking 6 bats and getting 10 ground ball outs. For the day the Angels batted .200/.200/.267 against Anderson, and there were no hard hit outs. So while Anderson didn't miss bats, he sure missed the sweet spot on bats. Consistently. He was in complete control of the game, and that means more to me than a K/IP ratio over less than 12 IP.

The A's need starters now more than they will at any point, as Duchscherer and Gio only figure to get healthier while Cahill and Mazzaro only figure to get more ready for prime time. Service time can always be managed in May or June. And when you figure to be in a tight race, in a division that could be wide open, what you should aim to do is to put the best guys you can on the field. So if Brett Anderson looks like a better bet to handle major league hitters, for 6 IP at a time, than the worst of E. Gonzalez and Outman - which is hardly a stretch - then I say, "Welcome to the show, Brett." It pays to get hitters out, and at every level he's pitched, including the Olympics and the Cactus League, that's exactly what Brett Anderson has done.

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