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Stop forgetting about the second-best pitcher on the Rockies

Jake Shapiro Avatar
January 4, 2018

Every time Tyler Anderson steps foot on a mound, he’s good.

Every time someone writes about the Colorado Rockies’ 28-year-old left-hander, they come to that exact conclusion. So how is it that, after a playoff appearance and embarking on what should be the most exciting season of baseball in Denver in a decade, nobody seems to remember the club’s No. 2 starter?

Simply speaking: injuries.

But people also forget about Anderson because the way he pitches doesn’t inspire the casual crank. He’s been overshadowed since coming into the organization by Jon Gray, Eddie Buttler and many others with their high velocities, silky sliders and the oh-so-sought-after strikeouts.

But the hardcore fans of hurling could liken Anderson to a master painter with the way he’s been able to spin the hardball over his entire professional career.

From a Texas League Pitcher of the Year honor to a 4.09 ERA in his first 200 injury-plagued and delayed innings, Anderson has fought through a lot to get here. And “here” in 2018 will be Gray’s left-hand man, as Bud Black and company will count on the duet to get the Rockies past the Dodgers and a National League West crown.

That simple stat doesn’t do Anderson enough justice and neither does his middle of the road 11-12 record, so let me try.

In the last two seasons, of the 129 pitchers that have thrown 200 or more innings Anderson ranks 31st in all of baseball in xFIP (Expected Fielding Independent Pitching), a stat which attempts to factor things out of a pitcher’s control, including the home park that they pitch. This is above-average and considered about 10 percent better at run prevention than the league average.

Using the same split and similar stat, Anderson ties Zack Greinke and Yu Darvish for 25th best in baseball in ERA- at 83.

What does that mean?

It means I am not cherrypicking data and that statistics say Anderson is 17 percent better than league average, which would be 100 on the ERA- scale.

Anderson does this with an above average strikeout rate, an above average groundball rate and above average rate of preventing hard contract. None of that is entirely impressive on its own but together it does add up.

Something that is impressive on its own is Anderson’s soft contract rate which is best in baseball the past two seasons.

It’s unfair to say Anderson dominates, but this is how he gets his outs, which he does get pretty consistently. Inducing soft contact is a recipe for success and Rockies fans have seen that, particularly the last two years from the left side in Anderson and Kyle Freeland.

Anderson possesses deceptively solid velocity on his fastball, coupled with a great change-up and a go-to cutter, which often produces unhealthy, wild hacks. Soft contact and swings and misses are his game, and he does it not only with his pitch mix but with a unique delivery which destroys hitters’ timing.

Put all of this together and it’s clear that Anderson’s ability to generate soft contact is a skill in his game, not just a coincidence of some other part of his pitching.

Now consider this: the statistics shown above, which roughly rate Anderson as one of the league’s top 30 or so pitchers—or a second starter on a good team—like to factor out batted balls and stick to the three true outcomes: home runs, strikeouts and walks.

A long-held theory among the stats crowd likes to tally the game of baseball into those three categories, leaving batted balls to luck, good or bad. That theory has diminished over the years but it is still deeply rooted in new wave statistics.

Still, with those statistics that you probably don’t entirely understand, Anderson is one of the game’s better pitchers. Which is funny because the stats that are seemingly so favorable to him are actually undervaluing him with their blind spot for judging his best skill.

This can be clearly seen in Baseball Reference’s WAR against Fangraphs because the former accounts for batted balls and rates Anderson to be more valuable. Fangraphs has tallied Anderson with roughly 1.5 wins above replacement less than Baseball Reference.

Take this article with a grain of salt if you must, because his career thus far has been derailed by injury. But it’s crystal clear that when Tyler Anderson is on the mound, he’s good.

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