Braves 2020 Player Review: Ian Anderson

Whence and whither our American Ian Anderson?

As to the former, I wrote this a couple of weeks ago:

Anderson blazed through the minors like the second coming of Soroka — indeed, his prospect ratings were very similar too, as he was the #24 prospect in Baseball America coming into 2019, one slot ahead of Soroka. Then he blazed his way through his first six starts after his 2020 callup, a sparkling 1.95 ERA in 32 1/3 innings, with an incredible 29.7% K-rate offsetting a perhaps slightly too-high 10.1% walk rate.

He was good in the playoffs, too, until he ran into the Dodger buzzsaw. But his one weakness came sharper into focus: control. So the question is: will he be like Fried, a fellow high draft pick with sterling scouting reports who improved his command over time? I’m strongly inclined to bet yes. But what’s true for every single pitcher is true for Ian Anderson: his ceiling will be dictated by his fastball command.

As to the latter, the sky is the limit, as this obscure British comedy sketch suggests!

The projections are of no particular value; Fangraphs has something called “ZiPS 2021,” but I’m pretty sure that those numbers are more than a year old and have not yet been updated with the stats from this year. And that, I’m pretty sure, is why Ian Anderson’s “projected” 2021 stats are virtually identical to Touki Toussaint and Tucker Davidson’s “projected” 2021 stats.

There’ll be more to go on in another few weeks or months, as Dan Szymborski and the Steamer folks and others go back to the data mines with their pickaxes and their VLOOKUPS. But not a whole lot more to go on, given that we have a grand total of six (very good) regular season stats, four (good, but shakier) postseason stats, and some alternate site work of genuinely unknown quality.

The biggest difference that we have now, even beyond those ten starts, is a clear understanding that Ian Anderson’s changeup is better than we’d thought, perhaps better than we hoped. Keith Law has consistently referred to it as “a 70” in scouting lingo, which means that it’s basically already one of the better pitches in the league. (It’s normalized where 50 is average, so 60 is one standard deviation above the mean, 70 is two standard deviations above the mean, and 80 is three standard deviations above the mean, and the highest end of the scale.)

This basically gives him the ceiling of a strong #2, and suggests he could be a cromulent #3/#4 effective immediately (meaning, let’s say, 2.5 WAR across 30 starts).

Of course, he could also perform the way he did in the playoffs, occasionally losing the strike zone entirely — because, after all, he’ll only be 23, and even though he had a few magical weeks, he still has very little experience succeeding at the highest level — and be more like a #5. That would still probably make him a #3 on our tattered staff, but tempered expectations are in order.

Realistic expectation: He could be 2016-2017 Zack Davies.
Pessimistic expectation: He could be 2018-2019 Zack Davies.
Optimistic expectation: He could be 2020 Zack Davies.

See there! A son is born
And we pronounce him fit to fight!

47 thoughts on “Braves 2020 Player Review: Ian Anderson”

  1. Let’s leave the discussion from last thread there. Cool?

    I dropped an early rumor at the end of the last thread. Word out of Chicago is Jon Lester, who lives in Chicago, would like to play for the Braves next year, and wants a 1 year deal.


  2. Alex,

    Although I think it wise to not expect too much too soon, I think you are underrating my cousin Ian. Maybe it is just family bias.

    IF you assume Law is correct on the changeup (and what we saw at ML level particularly in the postseason seems to show that), and if the genera consensus otherwise is correct, he is already a 3 fringing on a 2 with a fairly good chance to be a 1. I absolutely do not see how his ceiling is a 3.88 FIP pitcher (Davies 2020). Ceiling as I understand it is “10% probability outcome.” Barring injury, his 10% probability outcome is a top 16 pitcher in MLB and bona fide “ace.” Barring injury, his medium performance next year would be well above average (2.5 to 4 WAR).

  3. @ 1,

    I am not against it. Depends on money. Now, to expect Lester to be more than 25 starts of #3 – #5 is iffy. He is a veteran and I do subscribe to a small bit of “veteran presents.”

    But on money, If you don’t know authorized payroll, you are shooting in the dark. And I do believe that the upside represented by the Battery is now a downside. Having a real estate development which profits from crowds of people will not work until most people (90%) are not scared of diseases. We may never get to where even 75% of the people are not vigorously fearful of diseases.

    I DON’T think the primary need is starting pitching. Primary need is either an A plus outfielder or a lefthanded hitting B minus outfielder (think Springer and Pederson). Second need (and I am a Riley fan) may be 3rd base. Also, if DH is active for 2021, then we may need to get a bat for that. That could change if we can trade some of the AAA / AAAA backlog for some lottery tickets or some good bench players, pen guys, etc. Right now, Hammers need to PLAN on having 2 of those guys piggyback starts as the 5th starter. Then, somebody either proves himself or not. Some can then move to bullpen. Some may progress to a 4 or 5 starter (why pay 10 to 15 million for a 4 or 5 when you can pay 600,000 for one?)

  4. Honestly, I’d be 100% fine with Lester, just as I was 100% fine with Hamels.

    Cliff, love your enthusiasm and I won’t be the one to say you’re wrong!

    As far as Davies, he was the 26th-most-valuable pitcher in baseball by WAR this year, tied with Gerrit Cole with 1.4 WAR in just over one-third of a season. So while I don’t think Davies is truly a 4-5 WAR starter, that’s the All-Star caliber performance he turned in, and to me, All-Star upside is as far as I’m willing to go with out throwing salt over my shoulder and spitting three times.

    If Anderson takes another step forward, which would probably mean refining his curveball until he’s confident enough to throw it for a strike in any count, sky’s the limit.

  5. What do you expect out of Lester that you wouldn’t expect out of Felix Hernandez, for less money? I’m not asking for either of them, mind you, but if AA still wants that Veteran Presence to ail in the dugout all season (the last one that really worked was Anibal Sanchez, right?, and he’s already failed in his post-Braves comeback gig) then I’d get whomever the cheapest one with the biggest name is… Phil Niekro maybe. Niekro will only give you 3 1/3 fewer innings than Hamels, at worst. Warren Spahn would be a splashy signing as well.

  6. He obviously needs command of his other pitches and to develop that curve ball which was supposed to be his big go-to pitch but was kind of just meh. But that changeup is truly devastating…like Tom Glavine or even Trevor Hoffman level devastating. The best example I can think of was, in the midst of having nothing in Game 7 of the NLCS, he got inning-ending strikeouts of both Max Muncy and Chris Taylor with the changeup. It was absolutely 100 percent clear that he was about to throw the changeup in both situations, but in both instances he made the batter look completely ridiculous on a pitch that they had to know was coming.

  7. @6, I don’t see them as comparable; I see Hernandez as Quad-A talent and Lester as an average major league starter (which is what I expected from Hamels, until injuries stole his season).

    Lester wasn’t great in 2020 but Hernandez didn’t pitch at all, so it’s hard to draw many conclusions from the last 12 months. However, from 2017-2019, Hernandez was exactly replacement level and Lester was 2-3 wins better than that each year.

  8. Yeah…King Felix looked great in Spring Training, but Lester’s 2020 was Felix’s combined line in 60 starts between 2017 and 2019.

  9. More to the point, I just am not convinced that Felix can be effective without velocity. I see him as being more like Tim Lincecum — I read reports every spring that Timmy was back, and every spring they were as untrue as the previous.

    Hernandez was a better young pitcher, but Lester has been a better old pitcher.

  10. @8,9: Y’all have higher expectations than I do for Lester. I’m sticking with Niekro. I’d go with Cy Young, but I just think he’s pitched too many innings. His arm has almost surely fallen off by now. (Hey, it’s getting to be Halloween.)

  11. Hard to draw conclusions without knowing the trend but in general I think this is a good point.

    Looking closer, his velo apparently went down another tick — but only his 4-seam FB; his sinker and his cutter held at the same velocity as the last few years. His swinging strike rate and barrel% both went up a lot (both of those now going toward the bottom of the league). His EV basically stayed the same, though, and same with his BB%, launch angle against, and HR/FB. For what it’s worth, his xFIP and SIERA suggest that his slippage was more gradual:

    2017: 4.07 SIERA, 3.85 xFIP
    2018: 4.57 SIERA, 4.43 xFIP
    2019: 4.49 SIERA, 4.35 xFIP
    2020: 5.02 SIERA, 5.11 xFIP

    So I think it would be worth trying to sign him to an incentive-laden pillow contract. Not the Hamels $18 million, but again, he has had so much more recent success than Felix that I feel comfortable saying that Lester may not be done based on 60 terrible innings, where I continue to have no confidence that Felix Hernandez (or, for that matter, Matt Harvey) will ever be an effective major league starter ever again.

  12. @3 – I agree, I don’t think starting pitching is a primary need in a realistic scenario. I think number 1 is signing Freddie to an extension. 2 is finding a comparable hitter to JD and Ozuna to hit behind our MVP (be that at 3rd, left or DH should it be fully implemented in the NL.) And then at 3 we start looking at starters. I do think we need to sign/trade someone who slots 1/2 rather than 3/4. Lester could be a guy that you sign with incentives (more a Felix contract than a Hamels contract) but I still prefer Bauer if we have the money leftover after needs 1 and 2, but if not him I’m warming to the idea of Kluber. (By the way, if AA really wants his vet presence, Sanchez was not picked up by the Nats. I’m sure he could be had for the cheap, but I doubt we want him even if AA does.)

  13. Brad Hand, who had a $10MM option for the 2021 season and and put up a 1.1 fWAR with a 11.9 K/9 and 1.8 BB/9, was just put on outright waivers. The crazy thing will be to see if someone claims him.

    Buckle up, folks. This offseason is going to get nuts in a hurry.

  14. And the White Sox just named La Russa their new manager. I, for one, am looking forward to this hot stove season. The uncertainty means that nothing will be just by the book.

  15. With the Twinks dominance and the White Sox ascendant it is going to be a long winter in Cleveland. Not Buccos bad, perhaps, but I predict an ugly run of seasons. Now would be a good time to see if Carlos Carrasco might be available.

  16. @16 Hand is better than Melancon, so that should give you a good idea of what kind of money Melancon should command. Frankly, I’m in favor of the Braves not re-signing Melancon and saving their money for a difference-maker at OF and/or SP.

    @20 according to my understanding, an acquiring team gets Hand along with the contract containing the option so the acquirer could either pay Hand $10M or decline the option and pay $1M. The Indians were going to decline the option so they figured that instead they’d put him on waivers and see if someone else wanted to pay the $10M thus saving Cleveland $1M.

  17. It depends on the type of waivers, but in general the answer is yes (would not apply to release waivers or a player waived during the 1st year of a multi-year contract, or a guy with 10 and 5 rights, I think).

  18. I sure would enjoy Brad Hand’s services.

    Tony La Russa ran the Diamondbacks into the ground. I’d rather have him as a manager than as a GM, but this is extremely dumb and bad and we all know we can blame Jerry Reinsdorf for this dumbness and badness.

  19. Someone needs to tell Reinsdorf that you don’t make amends for your 1986 error firing LaRussa by rehiring him 34 years later. You need to hire LaRussa’s grandchild or something…

    Oh, wait, nobody has ever managed to tell Reinsdorf anything.

  20. On La Russa – has there ever been a Hall of Famer elected as a manager that went back to the dugout? Pretty wild.

  21. @27 & 28, it doesn’t look like any baseball managers except Mack have, according to Wikipedia, unless they were inducted as executives or something and I missed them. Six college football coaches have coached as HOF members, but four of them (including Bowden, Paterno, and Bill Snyder) were inducted before retirement; only two, John Ralston and Chris Ault, were inducted after retiring and then came back. Also, Bud Wilkinson coached the pro football Cardinals for a couple of years about a decade after being inducted into the college football HOF. Don’t know if it’s happened in other sports.

    I’m pretty sure I saw LaRussa play, and I know I attended at least one Braves game when he was on the team. Seeing that he’s 11 years older than Snitker makes me feel old.

  22. I’m dumbfounded.

  23. @ 30,

    The offers are going to be LOW. I would rather spend 11 on Hand on 1 year commitment than 3 on O’Day on a one year commitment. Without this year’s money debacle and next year’s likely debacle, the offers are going to be LOW.

  24. Hmm. That seemed a no brainer to me as well. Maybe his age? Or cost cutting to free up room for other players?

    ETA – and I agree with cliff @31. I think the money is going to be stingy this offseason.

  25. The entire MLB is about to become AAAA ball overnight. The MLBPA is going to have their hands full with this…

    C O L L U S I O N is coming. No ONE outside maybe the Yankees and Dodgers are going to spend a dime.


  26. I, as well, agree with everything in @34 and 35. I hate to already get started on the front-office doom-saying, but prepare for next year’s roster to look almost exactly like this year’s with the exception of everybody that is out of contract, has a chance to be non-tendered or has a club option to be gone…without major league-level replacement. This could very well be not at all pretty.

  27. It’s been my belief for a while that the Braves aren’t spending much of anything this offseason. They may make one critical signing — a starting pitcher — but I think that’s going to be it.

  28. Brad Hand career FIP is 3.69

    82% SV %

    Darren O’Day career FIP is 3.43

    O’Day’s SV% in way fewer opportunities is awful.

    So they’ve just both been good pitchers that are used differently.

    Hand is obviously younger.

    O’Day seems like the type that can be Jesse Orosco, though.

    O’Day has 3.5 x the HOF standards as Hand in only 3 more seasons.

  29. I don’t sweat not picking up O’Day. I have every trust in AA’s bullpen roster management. Use that money to extend FF5, that would be quite alright by me.

    We have had the collusion talks last off-season and eventually teams, and notably the Braves, started spending after all. At least that’s how I remember it without checking.
    This off-season will be different. Running MLB teams is still a business. Not convinced that means that there is collusion going on if teams are not spending as the have in the past. We are going into spring with the same uncertainty as we had last spring. Things will not drastically change within the next four months unfortunately.

  30. On “collusion.”

    When people drive up to water over the road and turn around, is that “collusion?”

    When people start wearing masks as a disease is moving around, is that “collusion?”

    When most shopkeepers install metal roll down doors as riots break out, is that “collusion?”

    This year usual expected rational behavior would have every major league club that is not run primarily for the vanity of its owner(s) in a low spend mode. That is based on actual conditions which none of you can deny exist. 100% of in stadium revenue disappeared in 2020. Not “maybe they fudged the books 10%.” No, 100% of that revenue was lost.

    Atlanta fans benefitted for years from the vanity owner thing. Ted was willing to spend. In the long run, it made money for TBS and he both competed vigorously and got money for it.

    Using “the offers seem low” as justification for a claim of “collusion” is not only lazy analysis. It is almost completely stupid. When all owners of beach clubs shut down during red tide, that is not collusion. They each can easily make the connection that 10% of the usual tourists aren’t worth opening up for.

    Today, we have to believe that the in person revenue of stadium goers will be down at least 50% from what it was in 2019. It could be far worse. Yes Steinbrenner or (if DeBlasio lets him buy) Cohen could counter play and horde talent at low costs and come out fine in the intermediate run. However, I do not expect more than a handful of clubs to counter punch. And counter punching is at least as valid of evidence of “non collusion” as falling offers is of “collusion,” right?

  31. Maybe I’m wrong but calling someone stupid is pretty rude.

    Perhaps collusion isn’t the right word, but I will not be surprised when there’s a bunch of MLB minimum players in MLB next year that wouldn’t have been in the league prior to COVID.

    You’re correct its not really collusion, its just everyone running their business the same way. COVID will only serve to make the wealthy teams even better, IMO.

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