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Brett Anderson Slides Back Into A’s Rotation, Pitches Like He Never Left

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Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images

In between notices of “buffering” and the video just completely cutting out I got to see some of Brett Anderson’s return to the oakland A’s last night and was pleasantly reminded of how perfectly decent he can be.

When it was announced that Oakland had brough Anderson back on a minor league contract it was clear that this wasn’t just in the interest of good PR or to find a warm body willing to take a beating every 5th day. The A’s know who Brett Anderson is and that he’s always been a talented pitcher. He owns a career 4.03 ERA, 3.73 FIP, and 3.60 xFIP, decent K/BB walk rates thanks mostly in part to his low walks totals, and really high groundball rates. These are desirable traits for any starting pitcher to have and Anderson is also barely 30-years old even though this will be his 10th major league season.

Last night in his season debut versus the Seattle Mariners Anderson was much more than decent, however. He was pretty darn good. His 13.8% swinging-strike rate was the 7th best in a single game in his career, and his best mark since 2015. He efficiently used just 80 pitches through 6+ innings, walked just one and made only one true mistake that was taken deep by Ryon Healy. His fastball velocity approached 93 MPH on average, just as it did during his first stint in Oakland. There was a lot to like in this start, but most of all may have been that Anderson kept the A’s close despite a historic effort from his opponent James Paxton.

When it was made public that Anderson would be recalled from triple-A to start last night’s game many wondered which Anderson we would get. The inconsistent, oft-injured version? The worm-killing groundballer? Or a new, mysterious pitcher that had elevated strikeout rates in Nashville relative to his career nrom?

In 4 starts with triple-A nashville this year Anderson posted the best strikeout rate of any stop in his pro career (32.1% K), save for 3 innings at high-A back in 2013. While that rate of strikeouts didn’t come to Seattle with Anderson last night, perhaps the whiffs did and I want to know why.

Another unusual thing happened last night. Anderson apparently abandoned his changeup in lieu of more sliders. He threw his slider 43.8% of the time last night, which is higher than any single season in his career and sixth highest of any single start in his career. You may notice a similarity between his 2011 and 2018 seasons. That’s because Anderson threw his fastball as often in 2011 as he did last night. That is also the season in which he threw his slider most often, until last night.

Brett Anderson’s Pitch Types

Season Team FB% SL% CB% CH%
Season Team FB% SL% CB% CH%
2009 Athletics 52.7% (92.6) 32.1% (83.7) 6.7% (77.5) 8.5% (84.0)
2010 Athletics 50.9% (92.1) 31.3% (83.6) 9.3% (77.7) 8.5% (84.2)
2011 Athletics 47.5% (90.9) 39.9% (80.6) 8.1% (74.8) 4.5% (82.2)
2012 Athletics 50.3% (91.5) 32.7% (81.8) 11.5% (76.6) 5.5% (84.2)
2013 Athletics 55.2% (91.7) 33.1% (82.3) 7.7% (76.2) 3.9% (84.2)
2014 Rockies 50.2% (89.8) 33.6% (80.6) 10.2% (74.4) 6.0% (82.6)
2015 Dodgers 52.4% (90.7) 25.8% (82.0) 12.1% (75.9) 9.7% (83.4)
2016 Dodgers 59.3% (91.3) 17.2% (83.2) 15.3% (77.3) 8.1% (82.9)
2017 2 Teams 52.6% (90.5) 21.4% (82.4) 12.2% (75.3) 13.8% (83.5)
2018 Athletics 47.5% (91.6) 43.8% (82.3) 8.8% (76.0)
Fangraphs.com

What did that 2011 season look like for Anderson? Like his typical self:

Brett Anderson’s 2011 Season

Season ERA IP GS K% BB% K-BB% GB% FB% HR/9 BABIP FIP xFIP SIERA
Season ERA IP GS K% BB% K-BB% GB% FB% HR/9 BABIP FIP xFIP SIERA
2011 4.00 83.1 13 17.1 % 7.0 % 10.1 % 57.5 % 24.8 % 0.86 0.306 3.96 3.66 3.60
Fangraphs.com

An interesting note about that 2011 season: That year Anderson allowed the second-lowest rate of hard-hit balls in his career. The only season in which he was better was 2015 with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Back to the present. We’ve established that Anderson has a history of being a mid-3 to low-4 ERA pitcher, at least for stretches in-between injuries. We’ve also identified that there may be something different with Anderson in that he threw more sliders and less changeups and that it may have resulted in more swings and misses than usual. The slider specifically was good last night yielding a 25.7% swinging-strike rate. That pitch has typically been his best pitch, posting positive pitch value scores in 7 of his 9 previous seasons. Last night was no different.

We’ve seen pitchers re-make themselves late in their careers by either converting from starter to reliever or by introducing or increasing the usage of a certain pitch. We’ve been seeing this with Trevor Cahill so far to much success. I know it’s only one game and limited data, but Anderson might be in the middle of a similar transition. This is something to keep an eye on, but I’m optimistic Anderson may be able to re-capture the form that made him a mid-rotation arm early in his career.