Drew Anderson is earning a rare second chance at a big league career

Bless You Boys

The Tigers signed Drew Anderson to a minor league deal in January, and almost no one paid attention. Based on his showing so far this spring, that may have been a real oversight. Detroit offered the career journeyman an invite to big league camp, and the 30-year-old veteran has really popped in his limited exposure so far.

It’s unusual for a non-roster invitee to get a season preview, but this is an unusual case. He’s a different pitcher than we expected, and he could very well find himself in Comerica Park this summer.

Anderson made the improbable climb from 21st round draft pick to MLB pitcher in the Phillies organization, but he ran out of minor league options in 2019 and he was cut loose after the season. He gave it another run with the White Sox on a minor league deal in 2020 and the Rangers in 2021. While in Texas, he was given his longest run in the bigs, but that still just amounted to 22.0 innings and at 27 years old, he was clearly on the wrong side of the roster bubble.

Seeing a path to playing time in Japan, Anderson signed a two-year deal with the Hiroshima Toyo Carp following the 2021 season. Things went well for him, as they often do for fringy American pitchers with a decade of experience who take up a role in the NPB. He had spent his entire career as a starting pitcher, but he was used as a multi-inning pitcher without a clearly defined role by Hiroshima, both starting games and coming out of the pen.

Anderson was effective in 2022 and became deadly last year, with an ERA of just 2.20 in 45.0 innings spread over 21 games. His strikeout total isn’t impressive by American standards (he punched 39 guys in 2023) but Japanese coaches at every level put major emphasis on balls in play. Given the context of his competition, it’s impressive to get anywhere near the strikeout an inning mark.

Detroit signed Anderson with the intention to keep him in that hybrid role. In an excellent article from The Detroit News, Chris McCosky explained that the team brought him in with a different kind of change in mind.

Once under contract, Anderson came under the instruction of pitching coach Chris Fetter and, perhaps more importantly, biomechanics specialist and assistant pitching coach, Robin Lund. He spent the month between signing and taking the mound in camp strengthening his core, his legs, and instituting a mechanical adjustment the coaching staff had in mind. The purpose was simple, in theory. Anderson had reached 97 mph briefly in the past, but in recent years his fastball was sitting at a comfortably below average velocity. The Tigers thought they could help him recover that maximum velocity, and Anderson had little to lose in trying.

Early returns indicate that whatever Fetter and Lund had in mind did the trick. The fastball that averaged 92.3 mph in 2021 has been a whole new animal this spring. In Anderson’s Grapefruit League debut, he gassed it up to 98.5 mph. In his most recent outing, he averaged 96.3 mph, exactly four ticks higher than his old mark. Just as appealing was the above average induced vertical break on the fastball, a developing theme of spring camp for the ball club.

Even better, it looks like the extra velocity has unlocked a new level for Anderson’s breaking ball as well. Many pitchers see an improvement across the board once they start throwing harder, and it’s the best explanation I can come up with for how vastly different his slider is today from two years ago. With the Rangers, Statcast tracked the pitch with an average spin rate around 2300 rpm. In his two outings this year, that number has jumped to an average of 2800 rpm. It’s possible he made some of the adjustments with the Carp, but it’s the inter-related boost in spin and velo on the breaker that really takes it to a different level.

Of course, raw spin data doesn’t automatically equal a good pitch. It has to be accompanied by useful movement as well, and on that score we’ve also got good news. Anderson is seeing a spike in his slider’s movement on both planes as well. What was a slightly below average 37″ vertical and well below average 3.5″ horizontal break is now slightly above average 41″ vertical and roughly average 5.5″ horizontal break.

Of course, we can’t get ahead of ourselves. The sample sizes here are as tiny as they could possibly be, and while spin rate and break are relatively robust metrics, it remains to be seen if Anderson can maintain his new routine over the course of a season. Also, he’s been nagged with command issues throughout his career. The changes in his mechanics may finally alleviate that problem by making his delivery more efficient, but there could be an adjustment period and no guarantee it will all come together for him.

Based on that article at the Detroit News, it sounds like Anderson has bought into both the system Fetter and Lund cooked up for him and the Tigers’ support structure as a whole. If he isn’t ready to unveil his new look at the big league level by the time Opening Day rolls around, the team would have no qualms about letting him simmer in Triple-A for a while where he can completely assimilate the adjustments and iron out any kinks. Injury or underperformance will open an opportunity for him soon enough. The Tigers pitching staff is going to be really hard to crack on Opening Day, but there will plenty of opportunities this season if he can get the adjustments dialed in and sustain the higher quality stuff.

The fact that we can even discuss him making the roster out of camp is impressive, even if he’s on the outside looking in at the moment. The Tigers’ bullpen is pretty loaded and Anderson doesn’t really have a track record. He’s packing the kind of stuff to make a serious impact now, and if he can master it further Drew Anderson is going to get his shot.

Articles You May Like

Javier Báez to the 10-day IL, Ryan Kreidler recalled from Toledo
Wilkel Hernandez pitches well on a day of rain outs across the system
Tigers Notes: Baez, Kreidler, McKinstry, Flaherty
Detroit Free Press Voice Briefing Friday June 14, 2024
Trei Cruz powers SeaWolves over Altoona

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *