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Anderson’s career path has always been a bit conflicted. He was a starter in college at the University of Florida but became a closer out of necessity as that rotation was soon anchored by A.J. Puk and Logan Shore. Brady Singer was also on that 2016 team.
The Red Sox wanted to get him back to being a starter and when the Giants acquired him in the Eduardo Nunez deal back in 2017, it looked like the team still had some internal debate about his best path to the majors, with Brian Sabean perhaps being one of those people who felt he would make it to the big leagues faster if he started in the bullpen.
But Anderson didn’t wind up making his debut until the first year of the Farhan Era, and he began this past season in the rotation, debuting after Derek Holland and Dereck Rodriguez both thoroughly played themselves out of a rotation spot. He was, you know, pretty okay for a while there, but what hurt him is what hurt him in organizational evaluations: he had stuff, but it never quite played as a starter.
Doug interviewed him back in May before he got his call-up and even he knew what was up:
“Right now, maybe my numbers don’t show it, but working with the coaching staff this year so far, I’ve learned a tremendous amount from what I even came in with from Spring Training,” Anderson said.
“I feel like each time I go out, the next outing, I’ve learned something more. Whether it’s reading swings, whether it’s going into the 6th, going into the 7th, going through the lineup a third or fourth time, learning just how to use my pitches effectively. If i throw one pitch and see how a swing reacts on that, I can use that to my advantage and let me know in my back pocket, if I throw this pitch here, I might get that same exact swing.”
Anderson showed flashes of his ability as a starter, but those flashes weren’t what ultimately got him all the attention.
Role on the 2019 team
Anderson was slated to be the rookie starter who built confidence and learned from playing at the big league level, perhaps setting himself to be a back-end starter for 2020. Instead, he never had a scoreless start and his 6.0 K/9 would’ve been the fourth-worst in baseball over a full season.
As Doug noted in his interview:
Anderson’s fastball sits 91-94 and he also throws a changeup, a curveball, and a slider, with the slider generally being considered his strongest secondary pitch.
The Statcast data proved this with Anderson’s slider generating the most swings-and-misses (30.1% Whiff Rate) of his arsenal, while also being his put away pitch 19.8% of the time. His slider’s 2,649 rpm spin rate was 63rd out of 472 pitchers who threw the slider last year at least 250 times, a higher rate than Cole, Hader, Verlander, and Moronta.
But his fastball was also great, Statcast-wise, with his 2,495 rpm ranking 38th out of 587 (90th percentile). His fastball had more spin than Aroldis Chapman’s, Max Scherzer’s, Walker Buehler’s, just to name a few.
And yet, Anderson was not good as a starter and he lost his spot after an IL stint in August. It would take him six relief appearances before recording his first save opportunity, and along the way he racked up his first scoreless appearances of his major league career. That first save was a four-out save to preserve a 1-run lead against an aggressive Pirates team that had really taken it to the Giants in the series.
He’d get just one more save (three days later) and then get batted around like a cat’s toy over the final four innings of his season (6 hits, 6 earned runs, 3 walks, 4 strikeouts), so it’s safe to say that as good as he looked once he stopped having to face a batting order more than once, he didn’t look that much better. He lost a rotation spot and closer job in the same year.
Role on the 2020 team
Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija would make fantastic 4th and 5th starters on a good team, but otherwise, they’re penciled in as the 2020 Giants’ rotation anchors right now. The team does not have much starting pitching to speak of, even if you’re generous and include Tyler Beede in the mix . . . but, that doesn’t leave a path for Shaun Anderson at this point.
If he doesn’t begin the year in Triple-A again, there’s a very nice role waiting for him as a sort of swing-man or multi-inning reliever. He could, theoretically, be used as an opener, too, but he was also really bad (.919 OPS against) in the first inning of 2019. If the Giants have figured out how teams have hacked their signs (let’s just assume that’s what the problem was), maybe they’ll be better overall in the first inning and Anderson’s individual performance will change with the rest of the bunch.
He’s got some talent, of course, and he’s got options, which makes him extremely valuable from an organizational perspective. A full offseason with the organization’s new training staff and program could very well help him nail down a bullpen role of some kind for next season, and that’s not a bad thing. Prospects fall to the wayside and come back later to really help their team all the time — there is no linear development path.
On the one hand, he wasn’t acquired by Zaidi, but on the other hand, he checks a lot of boxes on the analytics side of the equation. If nothing else, Anderson presented talent that could either be harnessed for the major league roster at some point or in a trade down the line. He provided positive value (that +0.6 fWAR isn’t bad!). A high spin, decent velocity arm who makes the minimum and has options remaining is as close to the platonic ideal of a Farhan-level player. But the inconsistency doesn’t really suggest a clear role going forward, and uncertainty will always hurt that Farhan rating.
But wait — there’s more!
Since we’re here, let’s go through the rest of this random righty reliever contingent . . . you know, just to burn through the rest of these season reviews as quickly as possible. These are guys who made it on the roster either through offseason signings, trades, or waiver claims (mostly waiver claims). They were not an impressive lot. And yet, they were on the team for some reason.
Kyle Barraclough: 10 games, 8 IP, 2.25 ERA, 5.71 FIP, 11.3 K/9, 10.1 BB/9, -0.2 fWAR
Sam Coonrod: 33 games, 27.2 IP, 3.58 ERA, 5.24 FIP, 6.5 K/9, 4.9 BB/9 -0.2 fWAR
Enderson Franco: 5 games, 5.1 IP, 3.38 ERA, 4.71 FIP, 6.8 K/9, 1.7 BB/9, 0.0 fWAR
Jandel Gustave: 23 games, 24.1 IP, 1 save, 2.96 ERA, 3.71 FIP, 5.2 K/9, 3.3 BB/9, 0.2 fWAR
Burch Smith: 10 games, 8.2 IP, 2.08 ERA, 3.21 FIP, 6.2 K/9, 4.2 BB/9, 0.1 fWAR
Pat Venditte: 2 games, 3.1 IP, 16.20 ERA, 10.41 FIP, 5.4 K/9, 5.4 BB/9, -0.1 fWAR
Nick Vincent: 18 games, 1 start, 30.2 IP, 5.58 ERA, 5.30 FIP, 8.8 K/9, 2.3 BB/9, -0.3 fWAR
Roles on the 2019 team
If you know that the strength of your team lies in its bullpen and you know, therefore, that most of that strength will be depleted around the trade deadline, then grabbing as many lottery ticket arms as possible to find the next Sam Dyson doesn’t just “make sense” — it’s an imperative.
None of these guys were necessarily viewed as closers in waiting, but as the next seventh inning guy? A ROOGY? Yeah, they all had their potential uses. Nick Vincent, despite a sub-90 mph pitch repertoire, had been an opener before. He’s a high spin rate pitcher, too. Pat Venditte was the funky delivery switch-pitcher who was grotesquely terrible in a few appearances and, as Doug noted, whose potential role and skill set was duplicated and exceeded by Tyler Rogers.
Before the Giants took a look at Shaun Anderson in the closer’s role, Bruce Bochy tried out Jandel Gustave. It went well: Gustave preserved a 1-0 win in Los Angeles against the Dodgers. He had a 143 ERA+ in limited time despite a -.393 WPA.
Sam Coonrod had a 5-1 record and 118 ERA+ despite negative fWAR, which just goes to show that advanced statistics and relief pitchers don’t mix well.
Do you remember Enderson Franco’s five innings? Do you think the Giants are really that serious about Burch Smith?
Roles on the 2020 team
Barraclough, Venditte, and Vincent are already gone and the rest would seem to be vulnerable to roster churn, especially with the 40-man being full at the moment. But all of them have at least one major league option remaining, which gives the team some flexibility, and that’s all that matters to The Churn.
While there’s no doubt some of them will stay and distinguish themselves from time to time, some will stay and be bad, and others will go before Opening Day, the important thing is that they all have a little bit of talent and all project to be at least positive contributors if utilized effectively. But they’re not key figures in the team’s plans, either.
How Farhan were any of these guys?
Again, you get one whole Farhan just by landing on the roster. The extra half this bunch collected was because of the varying degrees of utility they provided: some key outs, an upgrade over the talent that was on the roster when Zaidi took over baseball ops, and major league options.
Major league relief pitchers are the sport of baseball’s Mr. Meseeks. They don’t live for very long and they only exist to serve the whims of a front office.