If you’ve been reading TPOP this week, you would know that everyone on staff is sending Neal Huntington macaroni artworks of a certain White Sox southpaw. We’re also bracing ourselves for the possibility he is not going to be donning black and gold, so there have been quite a few suggestions for backup plans.
Steve gave a handful of names a couple days ago, and Kevin opined earlier this week that a potential trade for one of the Dodgers’ surplus starters could be mutually beneficial. While every suggestion would improve the rotation, few have the potential to be a real middle or front of the rotation arm (maybe Yordano Ventura). It also doesn’t seem very likely that ownership will expand payroll enough to sign one of the better free agents remaining, nor Huntington being willing to give up his well-hoarded prospects for anything less than Quintana.
The safe money is that if the Pirates don’t land Quintana, they’ll just fill in the number five slot with an internal option. That could be Drew Hutchison, Steven Brault, Nick Kingham, Trevor Williams or Tyler Glasnow, who at this point last year was having palm branches placed in front of him.
Still, that doesn’t mean they should just settle with what they have. The rotation could use another arm, especially if it means they can put Hutchison in a swingman role and giving the rookies more time to grow in AAA.
So is there a poor man’s version of Quintana out there? Or at least a food stamps version of him?
I think so: Brett Anderson.
Let’s address the elephant in the room right off the bat: Anderson had a rough, rough, ROUGH year with injuries in 2016. He’s had two back surgeries in the past three years, including in March last season. The surgery limited him to just 11.1 innings and an ERA just under 12.
That would be a deal breaker for a lot of teams, but the Pirates have to find reclamation projects in new ways now that the price for pitching has gone sky high. He’s turning 29 in February, so he is still young enough to recover. Plus, they have some depth with Glasnow, Brault, Hutchison, Kingham and Williams behind him, so I believe they can take a chance on an injury prone player. If he stays healthy, great. If he gets hurt, then there are other guys champing at the bit for their shot.
He may not be a household name and few teams are begging him to join, but Anderson’s 2015 was almost as good as Quintana’s 2016.
Quintana is obviously the superior and more consistent player. He has logged at least 200 good innings each of the past four seasons. Only one Pirate pitcher has gone 200 frames in a season the last four years (Gerrit Cole in 2015).
But Anderson’s 2015 was quite impressive and only a shade worse than the lefty we all are going gaga over. It’s why the Dodgers extended him a qualifying offer. The question is whether or not that difference between him and Quintana is worth some package of Glasnow, Austin Meadows, Kevin Newman, Elias Diaz, your first born and a lifetime supply of Primantis sandwiches.
So what makes Anderson so appealing? First of all, he’s a lefty, and in a rotation full of right handers in a division with Anthony Rizzo, Matt Carpenter and Joey Votto, that’s a good trait to have.
Anderson has never been much of a strikeout pitcher, fanning only 6.65 per nine over his career, but he helps make up for that with an above average walk rate (2.40 per nine). What makes him so effective, though, is his ability to get groundballs. He gets grounders at a 58.2 percent clip (including a league best 66.3 percent in 2015) and has never done worse than 50 percent in a season. Even if he’s injury plagued and can’t start, a lefty groundball pitcher has a lot of value in the bullpen.
But let’s go back to the first chart I mentioned for a moment. While Anderson’s final results may not have been as good as Quintana’s, the rate of hard and soft contact has a noticeable advantage in his favor. This may be because he has better stuff.
To prove it, I’m going to be introducing a new stat to TPOP: quality of pitch (QOP). The metric was birthed in 2010 by Jarvis Greiner and Biola University probability and statistics professor Dr. Jason Wilson. By analyzing a pitch’s location, break and release point, they can assess the quality of each pitch. The formula can be found below.
Even though he may have only had a good, not great, ERA and peripherals, Anderson’s stuff matches up well to Quintana and the Pirates’ top three.
Assuming he can stay healthy and return to his 2015 form, Anderson could have the filthiest stuff in the rotation. That’s worth at least a look.
Anderson is obviously not the long term answer. Unless the Quintana deal goes through, Glasnow is probably the Pirates’ guy going forward. He was rushed a little ahead of schedule last year out of necessity and some have soured on him because he is still raw. With a little more grooming, he could reach his potential. He’s one of the best pitching prospects in all of baseball for a reason.
Finding one more veteran to fill out the rotation will not only be beneficial to Glasnow, but it would also help the 2017 team immensely. Pitchers like Tyson Ross or Jason Hammel are good choices, but Anderson has the highest potential and comes in at the lowest cost.
There has been no news about Anderson’s market this entire offseason, so it’s safe to assume there won’t be a bidding war for his services. A low base salary with incentive clauses for either innings pitched or starts could be the low risk, high reward move the Pirates need to make to cement themselves as a playoff contender.