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What’s Next for Former Top MLB Prospect Ian Anderson

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On August 7, 2022, the Atlanta Braves announced they were optioning Ian Anderson to Triple-A Gwinnett. Anderson struggled to the tune of a 5.11 ERA and MLB-leading 53 walks across his 21 starts.

While the book is not closed on Anderson’s season with the Big League club – he will return to the Majors as the 27th man for an upcoming doubleheader – it is quite the fall from grace.

The Rise

Anderson rose to prominence with an explosive 2020 season. In his first six starts, he allowed a 1.95 ERA, striking out 11.4 batters per nine. He finished seventh in NL Rookie of the Year voting. In the playoffs, he continued his run of form. In 18.2 innings, he allowed two runs while striking out 24.

In his proper rookie season, Anderson settled in as a middle-of-the-rotation arm. He threw 128.1 innings to a 3.58 ERA, good for a 121 ERA+. While his strikeout rate dipped to 8.7 per nine, he lowered his walk rate, so it was not a total loss. He was strong in the playoffs again, allowing just three earned runs in 17 innings. His run culminated in Game 3 of the World Series when he held the Houston Astros hitless over five innings.

Through 35.2 playoff innings, Anderson has a 1.26 ERA and 40 strikeouts. Among starters, only Sandy Koufax (57 innings, 0.95 ERA, 61 strikeouts) and Christy Mathewson (101.2 innings, 0.97 ERA, 48 strikeouts) have been better. The Braves are 7-1 in his starts, only blowing Game 7 of the 2020 NLCS after Anderson left with the lead.

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The Sophomore Slump

Anderson’s 2022 season has been nothing short of a disaster. His Baseball Savant page is littered with blue, and his fastball and curveball have both been tattooed. His fastball has surrendered a .386 wOBA, and his curveball has allowed a .359 wOBA – the equivalent of Nolan Arenado and Rhys Hoskins respectively.

Heading into August 7, Anderson led the NL in walks allowed and was fifth in the NL in earned runs allowed. He was walking 11.3% of hitters, and his strikeout rate dipped below 20%. His stuff is regressing, and his Greg Maddux imitation has been less than flattering.

Many pitchers have success by working around the zone. Even the 2022 Braves have had some success with control artists like Collin McHugh (2.0 walks per nine) and Jesse Chavez (2.3 walks per nine). Anderson’s problem is that he is not pinpoint enough to be effective.

The Problem

For lack of a better comparison, if Anderson was in a video game, he would fit the “all-around pitcher” archetype. He does not have the velocity to win. Similarly, he does not have the secondary pitches to win. The gut punch is his lack of control.

Three damning statistics are Anderson’s fastball velocity, spin rates, and walk percentage. He has a middle-of-the-pack fastball (56th-percentile velocity), so he cannot use it to get out of trouble. His fastball spin (second percentile) and curveball spin (first percentile) are among the worst pitches in baseball. Finally, Anderson has a 13th percentile walk rate.

In a simple sense, Anderson does not have the velocity or movement to miss bats. He is also not threatening enough to force hitters to swing at borderline pitches. The best pitchers have three trump cards (velocity, stuff, control) — think Jacob deGrom and Corbin Burnes. Good pitchers have two trump cards — think Max Fried. Pitchers can be effective with one trump card — think Spencer Strider. Anderson has none.

What’s Next

Saying that a 24-year-old has maxed out is a slippery slope, but the Braves have to be realistic. Have they seen the best of Anderson? What can he change to be better than a boom-or-bust starter?

Perhaps the best course of action would be a fundamental change in how Anderson throws the baseball. His arm slot comes right over the top, limiting the potential of any breaking pitches. From a horizontal perspective, Anderson currently offers next to zero value. Anderson has never thrown a pitch with even average horizontal movement.

From his over-the-top arm angle, Anderson cannot generate any meaningful break. The Braves have two options. Either they can encourage Anderson to develop a pitch in the cutter or splitter family, or they can do a wholesale change in how Anderson throws the baseball by moving his arm slot.

Without a dramatic change (a la Lucas Giolito in 2019), Anderson’s time as an effective MLB pitcher may have passed.

Main image credit Embed from Getty Images

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Ryan Potts is an avid football and baseball fan. He covers the NFL and Major League Baseball, focusing on the Baltimore Ravens and Atlanta Braves.