Brett Anderson: A Question of Health

Kelley L Cox-US PRESSWIRE

Brett Anderson is one of the top fantasy starting pitchers when healthy. Unfortunately, health is a very rare occurrence where Anderson is concerned. Can 2013 be the year he finally stays off the operating table?

Back in 2009, Brett Anderson broke in as a 21-year-old rookie and immediately showed why he was ranked as the seventh-best prospect prior to that season by Baseball America. Anderson threw 175.1 innings as a rookie, striking out 150 while walking 45. He saved his best work for the season's second half, though, posting a sparkling 3.48 ERA while striking out 86 batters in 88 innings. Most impressively, he only allowed seven home runs (after allowing 13 in the first half), a stinginess with the long ball that would subsequently become a trademark. Anderson's season-ending 4.06 ERA in '09 doesn't seem great at first glance, but all told, his season was impressive for a pitcher so young. It was easy to foresee him developing into a top tier fantasy option, especially since he'd be pitching in the pitcher-friendly Oakland Coliseum.

Fans, scouts, and fantheads alike settled in for Anderson's 2010 season, anticipating a breakout, but that's exactly when the injuries hit. While he pitched like a stud when he was able to take the mound, Anderson was limited to just 112.1 innings in his second year. He suffered from a variety of maladies, all stemming from the elbow, which is never, ever good news, especially not for a pitcher younger than 25 who is right in the middle of the injury nexus.

Sure enough, the A's worst nightmare came true in July of 2011, as Anderson finally decided to go under the knife and undergo Tommy John surgery. The treatment would put him out of commission for more than a year, as he didn't return until August of this past season. The year layoff hurt a lot of his keeper league owners, I'm sure, although he served as a nice year-end pickup in 2012 for those managers needing an extra pitching oomph to get them across the first place finish line.

Anderson pitched well upon his return in August, making six starts and posting a 2.57 ERA. He was then shut down for the last two weeks of the season before the A's brought him back to start Game Three of the ALDS, a game in which he shut out the Tigers on two hits over six innings. He certainly looked no worse for wear, and he appeared to be yet another Tommy John success story.

Anderson is slated to start the season as Oakland's number one starter and he presents an interesting case in fantasy leagues. As with any pitcher coming off of a major arm surgery, Anderson is full of question marks. First and foremost, even if he stays off the DL, will he be able to get through a full season without being gassed? Remember that he's reached 170 innings just the one time, and he's made just a combined 19 starts over the past two seasons. He wouldn't be the first pitcher to be worn down by a long season, and the A's will almost certainly keep a close eye on his workload. It's hard to see Anderson throwing more than 170-180 innings, and nearly impossible to envision him breaching 200.

Even with the post-injury concerns, I think he's a risk worth taking simply because of one factor: his ability to limit home runs. Anyone who has read me over the past few months knows that I'm a sucker for pitchers who keep the ball in the ballpark, and Anderson is extremely adept at this. To wit: he allowed just one gopher ball in 35 innings in 2012. While that ridiculously low rate almost certainly isn't sustainable, Anderson has morphed into a fairly extreme ground ball pitcher since his rookie season. Since hitters can't get the ball in the air against him, it means no big innings punctuated by game-changing home runs. He hasn't allowed a rate of more than one home run per nine innings since his rookie year.

Of course, this also means that Anderson is a bit dependent on his defense, and also that his strikeout rate has gone down. However, the A's had a terrific defensive unit in 2012 (third in Baseball Prospectus's Defensive Efficiency), and that doesn't figure to change with largely the same defensive unit returning in 2013. Perhaps more concerning to fantasy owners is that he is no longer truly an asset in the strikeout category, which limits his value.

With his ability to limit homers and thanks to pitching in a very friendly home park, Anderson projects to be a solid upper-mid-tier fantasy option. He'll help you in ERA, and should be an asset in WHIP. My only major concern is durability; once again, the A's will likely be very conservative with him and that will limit his innings. He isn't a player I would reach for, per se, as his upside is fairly limited even when healthy (again, his strikeout numbers aren't great), but he's a solid pick after the real studs have been taken.

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