Starting pitcher Tyler Anderson has been terrific thus far this season for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Could this lead to the lefty becoming an extension candidate?
The Pittsburgh Pirates signed Tyler Anderson this past offseason likely with the hope that he would build up enough value to be a potential candidate to be moved at the deadline. Though that’s absolutely a possibility, Anderson has been ten times better than anyone would have expected him to be. Could he be a potential extension candidate for the Pittsburgh Pirates?
Anderson has pitched extremely well through his first 41.1 innings of 2021. He currently has a 3.05 ERA, 3.13 FIP and 1.04 WHIP. Anderson only has a 22.6% strikeout rate and 7.3% walk rate. His walk rate is above average, but his strikeout rate is below average. However, he has a fantastic 0.65 HR/9 rate. This comes from a solid 43.4% ground ball rate. Impressively, he’s gone at least 5 innings in each of his 7 starts this season without giving up more than 3 earned runs.
It helps that he’s gotten batters to hit into weak contact. His 88.5 MPH exit velocity and 37.4% hard-hit rate rank in the top 55th percentile and top 59th percentile, respectively. He also has a 26.6% whiff rate, which is in the top 73rd percentile. All told, he’s kept opponents to a wOBA of just .255.
Among his four-pitch arsenal, only one pitch is considered a below-average offering this year, that being his four-seam fastball with a .4 RV/100, which is still very close to average. Even then, it could be better as he has well above average movement, and is in the top 86th percentile of fastball spin rate with 2418 RPM.
Now some might get a J.A. Happ feeling with Anderson. Happ may have been the biggest “one who got away” free agents for the Pittsburgh Pirates of the past decade after he signed with the Toronto Blue Jays who included an additional season in their contract offer. Happ was outstanding in his time with the Pirates throughout the latter half of 2015, having a 1.85 ERA, 2.19 FIP and 1.02 WHIP through 63.1 innings.
Obviously, Happ wasn’t going to repeat Clayton Kershaw-like numbers. But he was still a quality starting pitcher for the next few seasons. From 2016 through 2018, he still had a very solid 3.44 ERA, 3.91 FIP, and 1.197 WHIP, representing a very high-end number three or a low-end number two starting pitcher.
While it’s easy to look at Anderson and say that he’s an easy extension candidate, there’s still a good case to be made that the Pittsburgh Pirates shouldn’t pursue an extension with Anderson. Overall, he has some pretty average ERA estimators. This includes a 3.92 xFIP, 4.08 SIERA, 3.83 xERA, and 4.10 DRA. In terms of the rest of the league where 100 is average and one point below means 1% above average, he has a 96 xFIP-, 92 DRA- and is in the 52nd percentile of xERA.
Anderson’s other expected stats also reflect a pitcher much closer to average than one who truly is dominant. His opponent xwOBA is .312, which is in the top 52nd percentile. He also has an opponent xBA of .246, a mark that is in the bottom 40th percentile. That’s a much higher mark than what opponents are currently hitting against him, with a .209 batting average. Meanwhile, Anderson’s opponent xSLG is in the 52nd percentile with a .399 compared to his actual mark of .311.
Plus, as easy it is to make a case this is Happ 2.0, you could also make the case that it could turn into Erik Bedard 2.0. Like Anderson, Bedard looked like a steal for the Pittsburgh Pirates through the first two months of the 2012 season. Bedard had a 3.12 ERA, 3.40 FIP and 3.76 xFIP through his first 52 innings of 2012. He kept opponents to a wOBA of just .306. Bedard also was effective and efficient, going at least 5 innings through 9 of his first 10 starts while giving up more than 3 runs just twice.
However, that effectiveness and efficiency went by the wayside once the weather heated up. From June until his release in late August, Bedard would surrender 52 earned runs in his next 73.2 innings, while seeing his opponent wOBA rise to .349, and FIP jump to 4.55.
All told, we’re looking at a small sample size with Anderson. He’s only pitched 41.1 innings. We’re just over 30 games into the 2021 season. A whole lot can change by the end of June, heck, even by the end of May.
If Anderson can continue pitching something like this for the next month or two, and show that it isn’t just a hot start fluke, then I think the Pirates may find it more valuable to extend Anderson rather than trading him. Unless a team is willing to part with a pretty notable prospect or package of prospects, they should hold onto him and extend him in late summer, or resign him to a 2-4 year contract after the season. Although it should be noted any free agent or extension talks in general may be put on hold until after a CBA is negotiated.
This would show two things. One that the front office is willing to open up the checkbook that Ben Cherington would promise to do when he sees the time is right. Two, it would show that the front office themselves sees that the window of opportunity is starting to crack open.
After all, the team could see a whole bunch of notable prospects arrive in the majors over the next two seasons. Miguel Yajure, Travis Swaggerty, Oneil Cruz, Liover Peguero, Roansy Contreras, Mason Martin and Eddy Yean are just a few of the noteworthy prospects that could be in the majors before the end of 2022.
While Anderson may not be a low-3 ERA guy, in the long run, I could see him put up some Happ-like seasons (mid-3 ERA, high-3 FIP), and be a veteran rotation anchor for a young Pirate squad looking to get back into contention within the next year or two.