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Quick look: Tanner Anderson exceeds expectations in debut start

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The rookie may have earned himself another start.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Oakland A’s tried out a new starter on Monday. Tanner Anderson, acquired last winter in a minor trade, made his first career MLB start, against the first-place Tampa Bay Rays. Let’s take a closer look!

First and foremost, Anderson pitched a good game. He’d posted a 6.26 ERA and 7.27 FIP in Triple-A this year, so expectations were low, but he stepped up and threw a near-quality start against a good team. His final line was: 5⅔ ip, 2 runs, 5 Ks, 2 BB, 3 hits.

In terms of arsenal, Anderson showed four pitches. (Statcast registered one instance of a two-seam fastball, but I’m including it with the sinkers.) Here are the four offerings, their frequency, and their average/max velocity (all data via Statcast):

  • Sinker, 53%, 92.7 avg, 93.9 max
  • Slider, 20%, 84.9 avg, 86.5 max
  • 4-seam, 18%, 92.1 avg, 93.1 max
  • Change, 9%, 87.9 avg, 89.4 max

I’m not great at eyeball scouting the quality of a pitcher’s stuff, but the sinker seemed like a fine enough pitch. He left it up a couple times, incuding once to Austin Meadows to lead off the game, and he was lucky that the resulting drive found a glove instead of a seat. And of course, the homer to Brandon Lowe was left over the plate. But on the other hand, on multiple occasions he showed a willingness to challenge hitters inside with the pitch, resulting in weak contact — in fact, that was the primary way he got weak contact with the sinker.

Here’s a breakdown of each pitch by Swinging Strikes, Called Strikes, Fouls, Weak Contact, and Hard Contact (95+ mph). Not included are ones that were called balls (total of 36 of his 92 pitches).

Pitch # SwStr CaStr Foul Weak Hard
SI 49 5 6 10 5 4
SL 18 3 3 3 1 1
FF 17 0 4 5 2 0
CH 8 1 0 0 2 0

Here’s a look at the sinker at its very best. This is max velocity, properly sinking down just below the zone. He was facing an aggressive swinger in Avisail Garcia, leading off the inning, ahead in the count 1-2, so this was the time to have him chase a pitcher’s pitch — and even better, he got the whiff instead of the grounder, eliminating the chance of BABIP shenanigans.

A few more assorted thoughts:

  • Assuming that stray two-seamer was really a sinker, four of his five strikeouts came on the sinker, with the exception being a slider to Daniel Robertson.
  • The only called strikeout was the finale of the 13-pitch at-bat to Mike Zunino. It was a borderline call, and while I agree it was a strike I also wouldn’t have complained if it hadn’t been called, but that kind of painting is exactly what he needed to do against a hitter who was fouling off everything. Props to Anderson for staying tough in that at-bat, and never giving in to Zunino, either with something over the plate or with Ball 4. This was one of his most impressive moments of his night, while he was still locked in a scoreless duel with All-Star Charlie Morton.
  • Ji-Man Choi was the batter who most had his number. He hit the ball hard both times against Anderson, 105+ mph each time, which turned out to be two of the three hardest-hit balls against him. That made it an easy call to pull Anderson in the 6th when Choi was coming up, and it worked as Yusmeiro Petit struck him out. (Though Choi got the last laugh, with a dinger off Joakim Soria later on.)
  • The other hard-hit balls were the Lowe homer, the Lowe lineout to 2B (hit hard but a routine out), and the aforementioned Meadows deep-flyout. Worth noting that Choi, Lowe, and Meadows all bat lefty, so righty hitters did absolutely nothing against him.

I don’t have any grand conclusions to offer after one game, just that raw data and a couple quick reactions. We’ll learn more about his stuff as he pitches more, and as more lineups face him. To that point, though, it does appear that we’ll see some more of him, as Susan Slusser of the S.F. Chronicle reported the following: “Doesn’t sound as if the A’s have plans to send out Tanner Anderson today, so he might be sticking around to get another start. Certainly did enough to get another look.”

And why not? Daniel Mengden has struggled to find the zone consistently, and Paul Blackburn got torched in his try last weekend. Let’s see what Anderson can do for an encore at the Coliseum next week, whether against the Mariners (on regular turn) or the Orioles (if they use the Thursday off-day to skip the fifth starter).