Figuring out just what to do with Brett Anderson has been a bit of a tricky situation. Over his Major League career that has now spanned 5 years, Anderson has struggled mightily with his ability, or lack thereof, to stay healthy. It’s been a major problem as his ongoing arm issues ultimately led to him missing a year after Tommy John surgery, upon his return the arm issues ceased, only to give way to a myriad of other maladies. Whether it’s his back, his oblique, or his foot/ankle, there always seems to be something going on with him that’s keeping him off the mound. He made 30 starts his rookie season, and hasn’t gone past 19 in any season since.
The injury that sidelined him for the majority of the year this time around was completely unrelated to his past, and that is what has made it so frustrating. It took Anderson three months and then some to come back, and he’s been ineffective since his return. Perhaps it’s the fact that he’s been pitching out of the bullpen, a role he’s completely unfamiliar with. Starters are major creatures of habit, so it’s certainly possible having to speed up his warmup process is throwing him off. The problem there is that he was ineffective before the injury occurred in the first place.
The Athletics know that Anderson is an immensely talented pitcher, and he showed just how big an impact he can make down the stretch last season in September and in the Division Series. Many were hoping that he would come off this injury and have the same impact he did in 2012. So the question remains, how can the A’s best enhance the impact of Brett Anderson in 2013?
On an innings basis, inserting him into the starting rotation would seem to have the highest potential impact on the team. Stretching him out to be able to exceed 100 pitches though is an entirely different task. Then there’s the issue of who exactly would he replace in the rotation? If the A’s didn’t choose to run with a six man staff, Anderson would indeed force a starter out. A.J. Griffin or Dan Straily would be the likely candidates to shift over to the bullpen. Jarrod Parker and Bartolo Colon are the mainstays of the rotation, despite Colon’s recent inconsistency. Sonny Gray should stay in the rotation based on merit alone, but there does remain a question as to whether he’ll be on an innings limit.
Of course the A’s could choose to continue using Anderson in his current bullpen role, and he can have an impact for the A’s much like Tim Lincecum did for the San Francisco Giants last season on their run to the World Series. After his two Cy Young Awards, Lincecum lost his way during the regular season in 2012, and was ultimately replaced in the playoff rotation by Barry Zito. Lincecum was forced to work from the bullpen, where he flourished and was integral in their championship. Anderson hasn’t shown much in the way of effectiveness thus far, posting a 5.95 ERA in 39.1 innings pitched. He’s improved slightly though, posting a 5.23 ERA in 10.1 innings since being activated.
I like the idea of Anderson being used as something of a pitching utility guy, who can step into just about any role Bob Melvin needs him to and get the job done. If they choose to keep the likes of Griffin and Straily in the rotation, Anderson will have to be ready to step in at the first signs of struggle. It’s an out of the box idea, but pairing Anderson with either of them and having him ready to pitch as many as four or five innings. A weapon like Anderson, especially being a lefty paired with a right hander could throw off opposing hitters and force their managers to juggle their lineup to deal with a change of pace like this.
Anderson could be a difference maker for the Athletics, but it’s up to them to position him in the best possible place to succeed.