It was a warm, clear July night in Boston back in 2009. John Smoltz was making his home debut for the Red Sox. Nomar Garciapara was making his first trip to Boston as an opponent since his seven-year tenure with them had ended about five years prior. The man lost in all of that, Brett Anderson. He was making just his 15th career start in hitter friendly Fenway Park. His first 14 starts probably hadn’t gone as he had hoped, but that was in the past. He was just a 21-year old kid, and he shouldn’t have to worry about his 5.45 ERA, as a matter of fact it was probably better that a future Hall of Famer was his opponent, so that there was no pressure on him to perform. No matter what he did it would be Smoltz’s first start for the Red Sox in Boston that would get all the attention.
Well, think again Brett. After tossing a two-hit shutout in front of the Fenway faithful, the baseball world saw how magnificent the young Oklahoman could be. He stifled hitter after hitter throughout his 111-pitch masterpiece that included nine strikeouts. How great of a feat was this? Well, no rookie had shutout the Red Sox in Boston since Jim Abbott did so in 1989. Even more impressive, no rookie had shutout them out there on two hits or less since Bo Belinksiâ in 1962.
After his wonderful performance against the Red Sox, Anderson’s ERA steadily declined from the aforementioned 5.45 to a solid 4.06 by seasons end. He was here to stay and his 30 starts (he missed only one) proved it.
The A’s believed he was ready for the show too, and why not? A team that often doesn’t throw money out to players had just signed Ben Sheets to a one-year, $10 million deal in the offseason (yes, it’s the year Sheets gave up 10 runs without retiring a Reds hitter in Spring Training and I’ve got the ticket stub to prove I was there). And they were ready to extend Anderson’s contract too, which shows how confident Billy Beane was in the young stud. He agreed to a four-year deal worth $12.5 million with team options for 2014 and 2015 worth $8 million and $12 million respectively.
“That’s a great deal for Oakland,” one executive said. “It’s such a good deal that he could miss a full season and it would still be a good value. He could miss a significant portion of time, and they’d still feel good about it.”
It was signed, sealed, and delivered on April 16, 2010; three starts into Anderson’s second season in the Bigs.
With the A’s having instilled confidence in him he was primed to deliver. In his fourth start of the year he gave up just one run over six innings to lower his season ERA to just 2.35. Then the unfortunate news struck. Brett was headed for the DL. A message that the A’s front office and fans would be hearing a lot of over the next few years.
A month later Anderson made his return and it seemed he hadn’t missed a beat with 5.2 innings of shutout ball. But, start the record player, two innings into his next start he was removed and subsequently placed on the disabled list.
This time it was a little bit of a lengthier stay, as he was on for almost two months. But, yet again, he returned and was the great pitcher he was before. He made all of his 13 scheduled starts through the end of the year with posted a sub-3.00 ERA in those starts. It looked like the A’s and Billy Beane had been right again in locking Anderson up long-term if he could continue to stay healthy.
The 2011 season rolled around and Anderson was pitching lights out. He made all six of his starts in April giving up just 13 runs in 39.2 innings. But it started going downhill from there.
Anderson made eight more starts, but his May ERA was an uncharacteristic 4.42 and his first June start wasn’t good either. After the doctors gave him a look, they thought six to eight weeks of rehab and he should be good to go. A few weeks later and Anderson wasn’t feeling any better. He went back to Dr. James Andrews who said that he did indeed need Tommy John surgery. The A’s greatest fear had become reality.
April 2012 rolled around and Anderson was still recovering. This was probably best for the A’s though right? They had another year left on his deal plus two more team options for 2014 and 2015 so giving Brett time to heal in a down year for the A’s was no problem. Well, throw the 100-loss predictions out the window and the A’s almost ran into a big problem.
It took 14 months for Brett Anderson to make it back out on a big league mound. But, it may have been worth the wait.
He gave up a run in his first inning back, but thanks to a caught stealing and a triple-play he faced just one over the minimum in six innings of work in his first start, a 4-1 victory over the Twins.
Three starts later Anderson had a miniscule 0.69 ERA and everyone, well mainly just A’s fans due to the lack of national media attention they were getting even during their stellar run at the playoffs, saw, once again, how great he could be.
Two starts later Anderson was pulled in the third inning. This time a strained right oblique. The A’s were losing their best pitcher from the last month right in the middle of their stretch. What were their chances at catching the Rangers now? Colon was just sidelined for 50 games with his PED suspension so it was up to five rookies to carry the A’s rotation.
And that they did, with Brett right alongside them. He was in the dugout for all of it. The guy didn’t know how to get away from baseball. His rehab, well that was going well too; it seemed like he went when the A’s went.
After the A’s dramatic Game 162 with the Rangers, Anderson said he was going to be ready for the playoffs. So now it was up to Melvin and the rest of the A’s coaching staff. To throw out a pitcher who hasn’t pitched in a month or so with one of the guys who got you there down the stretch?
It was a no-brainer for them.
Anderson’s heart and talent were undeniable. There was no way they couldn’t send him out there.
Game three rolled around and he was ready to go. All the pressure was on the A’s. Win or go home. And he didn’t let anyone down.
Six innings of two-hit shutout ball to keep the A’s alive. On a national stage he showed off his dynamic curveball and kept Tigers hitters off balance all night.
So what did his 2013 stretch run and playoff start earn him? An Opening Night start, duh. While he took the loss he pitched just like you would hope an ace would, seven innings giving up just two runs. His next start was even more terrific as he went six innings in Houston without giving up a run. But it was downhill from there.
Two starts later he only lasted one inning. He got injured again. This time his ankle. The A’s probably thought there was nothing else he could hurt, but he proved them wrong. He tried to play through it though. The competitor in him wouldn’t let him get sidelined again. Unfortunately that wasn’t the best move.
He made his next start but was ineffective against the Red Sox. He still wasn’t ready to rest and wouldn’t go back on the DL for a fifth time in just four seasons. Melvin held him out of his next start. But luck would have it the game went to extra innings. And then extra, extra innings. The A’s had just Jerry Blevins and Anderson left out in the bullpen. Brett knew they would need innings so he stepped up. He came in in the 13th inning and was able to go 5.1 innings giving up one run and keeping the game alive for the A’s just long enough for them to win it in the 19th.
Two days later he was one of three A’s players placed on the DL. He had saved the A’s bullpen and helped them to a win, but at what cost? His ankle acted up and he wasn’t going to be ready anytime soon.
Fast forward three months and we are just getting ready for the beginning of his rehab assignment. So where does that leave him? The A’s have struggled recently but their rotation still has a top five ERA in the AL. Yeah guys have struggled at times, but those same guys were the ones that brought the A’s to the postseason last year.
We of course still don’t know when Anderson will be ready, but should it matter?
I have been in love with Anderson since he came up from the minors but after his sub-par start to the year and a rotation that is getting it done much more often than not, I’m not sure where he finds a spot. The bullpen? Maybe. But I don’t see him as that one inning guy and you don’t like to save someone like him for long relief it’s almost a waste of his talent.
So Melvin and Beane will have some decisions to make with their roster. Who gets the nod? Anderson proved to be the right call last year and maybe he becomes part of a six-man rotation this year to let some guys get some extra. Maybe a guy gets dealt in a waiver deal for a desperately needed bat to wake the A’s offense up.
In a day where so many pitchers are making their debuts at such a young age, Anderson was at the beginning of that trend. He has been able to eat innings at almost six per outing over his career (which includes all of his early injury exits). He can strike guys out (seven per nine innings throughout his career). He doesn’t walk hitters (just 2.4 per nine over his career). And he’s got a strong ERA of 3.74. What more could you want out of your ace who is still just 25 years young and had a career bogged down by injuries?
In a game where some players are spoken about as “if only injuries hadn’t caught up to him” or “the best that never was,” Anderson could be put in that conversation, with one loophole. He’s just 25. He still has his best years ahead of him. He has a passion for the game unlike any other and won’t let his body hold him back, a mindset that could backfire but not any more than it has already.
In an A’s rotation that has been great all year, just as it was last year, only one guy was even mentioned on the Cy Young odds at the beginning of the year. Brett Anderson. Not Bartolo who is having a Cy Young like year (although who really could’ve predicted this). Not Jarrod Parker, who without an awful first six starts would be right at the top of many AL pitching leaderboards.
Anderson has proved he can be dazzling. And he has all but one thing he needs to be a great pitcher in this league for a long time. That one thing, just a little bit of luck in the health department.