Brett Anderson to the bullpen is a bad idea

Stay away from batted balls! - Jared Wickerham

Every A's fan, or really, any baseball fan who keeps reasonable tabs on MLB games knows Brett Anderson's story. He came up at age 21, one of the spoils of the Dan Haren trade, and immediately found himself labeled as the organization's number-one pitching prospect. Everything that a pitcher should do well, he did well: he made 30 starts in 2009, punctuated by the famous complete game two-hitter at Fenway Park. After that season, it appeared the A's had found that elusive ace pitcher, who dominated AND took the ball every 5th day.

Then came the injuries. First it was a nagging elbow once, then twice, and then A's fans got the news everyone both expected and dreaded: Brett Anderson would go under the knife for Tommy John surgery. Granted, it was the middle of 2011 -- a mostly lost season anyway -- but that meant he would barely be able to contribute for 2012, and more likely be able to return at full strength to begin 2013. For awhile, it looked like that plan would work and then some: Anderson lost weight during his rehab, and returned last year for the stretch drive, pitching as well as anyone ever had after ligament replacement surgery. Indeed, in only 35 innings, he was worth almost a full win, a kept a 2.57 ERA and 2.72 FIP during that time. Were it not for an oblique strain, he may have had even more regular season starts. Instead, however, he would rest the strain and return for the ALDS, pitching the A's to victory in a do-or-die game 3 in Oakland.

To begin this season, he was the Opening Day starter, but it was soon obvious something was amiss. After some awkward fielding in Houston, he gave up 3 HR to Detroit at home in his 3rd start, came out of his fourth start after 1 inning in Tampa, and gave up 6 runs in 4 innings at Boston. Say what you will about his injuries, but he has never pitched like that when healthy. Indeed, it turned out that Anderson had a stress fracture in his right foot, and hasn't pitched since a gutsy 5.1 IP relief appearance against the Angels in the 19 inning game on 4/29.

All of this is to say that Brett Anderson has started in all but one of his MLB appearances. He has started because he has a starter's repertoire: two- and four-seam fastball with decent velocity, a strikeout slider, and a curve, and changeup. When he has been healthy, he has been an effective starter (albeit probably not the top-line starter expected of him at the beginning of his career) to the tune of a 3.57 FIP and 3.77 ERA. Let's compare that to the career FIPs and ERAs of the current starting five:

Pitcher

ERA

FIP

Bartolo Colon

3.96

4.12

Jarrod Parker

3.65

3.91

Tommy Milone

3.85

4.05

A.J. Griffin

3.59

4.30

Dan Straily

4.27

4.50

If you compare ERAs, Anderson is in the middle of that pack; if you compare FIPs, Anderson is better than every single starter on the A's staff. Granted, Colon is having a career year, so it may not be incredibly fair to him to use his career numbers, but Anderson is at least better than any of the other starters who are not Bartolo Colon. Dropping any of those four in Anderson's favor will is more likely to produce a better outcome down the stretch than keeping them there. Put this another way: if you are in the camp who wishes to acquire Jake Peavy (with a career 3.49 ERA and 3.53 FIP), putting Anderson in the rotation is like trading for another starter who is slightly worse than Peavy overall, but better than the current options. And he doesn't cost anything!

Granted, I can see the motivation for both the team and Anderson in the short-term. First, Jerry Blevins has been performing less-than-stellar as of late. Second, Anderson's injury history is undeniable. It is must be frustrating for both sides to have his great stuff but then so often see him on the shelf. My response to those problems is two-fold:

1) Blevins is not this bad, and bullpens are fungible anyway. It is quite possible, likely even, that Blevins regresses positively towards his career norm as a serviceable left-handed reliever

2) There is no conclusive evidence that bullpen assignment is less conducive to injury

3) Despite my personal misgivings on the idea, Sonny Gray has looked great coming in from the bullpen in a couple appearances. It is not inconceivable that he could be a power arm out of the bullpen down the stretch. In addition, it is not clear that replacing someone in the rotation with Gray would yield positive results given his inexperience.

Indeed, I hope Beane and Co. see it this way, too. I hope Brett Anderson himself reads this and sees how he can best help his team. As long as he avoids batted balls...

The A's will attempt to again allow meaningless home runs against the disappointing Blue Jays squad tonight. Lev Facher will host your game thread for the 7:05 PM tilt. In the meantime, I'll keep praying to based gods that the A's acquire Peavy.

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