Time will tell if Tyler Anderson has been underrated his entire career, but he has certainly been overlooked.
With the prognosticators looking at the rest of the starting roation or focusing on the additions of Ian Desmond and Mike Dunn, Anderson has become one of the best kept secrets in MLB. But it’s easy to see how he manages to fly under the radar.
After spending three years with the Oregon Ducks — becoming the school’s all-time strikeout leader — the Rockies selected Anderson in the first round with the 20th overall selection of the 2011 MLB Draft. And with that came certain expectations.
Out of the gate, Anderson didn’t disappoint, pitching 120.1 innings at Single-A level, posting a 2.47 ERA and a 12-3 record. But it was always going to be an uphill battle for a prospect of Anderson’s profile. In addition being a bit older than his competition due to the three years spent in college, the lefty is a crafty one who has never been known for overpowering hitters. His 6.06 K/9 rate would keep him off the radars of those who subscribe to the school of thought that needs prospects to dominate in the strikeout in order to be considered a legitimate MLB candidate.
While Anderson would be kept in mind when discussing Rockies prospects, he was mostly lost among national lists. In 2013, after pitching 74.2 innings at High-A, Anderson experienced a stress fracture in his elbow which, when combined with his ballooning (though still decent) 3.25 ERA scared prospect evaluators even more.
But it was all put to rest in 2014. Or at least it should have been.
That season he bested fellow prospects Jon Gray and Eddie Butler on his way to winning the Texas League Pitcher of the Year. He posted a 1.98 ERA over 118.1 innings but somehow still managed to leave room for the naysayers. His career-high 3.04/9 walk rate was nearly a full walk higher than his two years prior. And even though he continued to show improvement each season, an 8.06 K/9 rate still places him well behind several flashier prospects, including two of his own teammates in Double-A.
Then the stress fracture flared up in spring training of 2015 which surprisingly ended up costing him an entire season. So instead of debuting that year as a 25-year-old — still a little behind schedule but not by much — Anderson had to wait one more trip around the sun before impressing in a short stint with Triple-A Albuquerque then making his long-awaited MLB debut.
And what a debut it was. Anderson was making up for lost time with each pitch. Nobody knew what to expect coming into the season. Anderson’s tumultuous path after three years of college combined with so many other emerging pitching prospects left him near the back of the minds of Rockies fans, if he entered them at all. Whenever his name was brought up, someone was quick to note, quite rightly, that you couldn’t count “count on” him. A 26-year-old rookie with an injury history?
Even after 118.1 innings of fantastic pitching at the highest level, questions remain. Sure, he posted a 3.54 ERA which, if he had pitched enough innings to qualify, would have been the fifth best ERA in a season in franchise history. And yes, he threw 17 quality starts against only three that were not (one of those because he was ejected early) while posting a 1.29 WHIP, which also would have been top five in club history if not for Jon Gray posting a 1.26 and claiming the fifth spot himself. And of course it’s encouraging for Rockies fans that Anderson’s walk rate of 2.20 BB/9 led the staff with Chad Bettis’ 2.85 BB/9 coming in second. In fact, Anderson walked batters at a lower rate than anyone who pitched at least 25 innings, narrowly edging out Adam Ottavino at 2.33 BB/9.
He displayed an advanced feel for timing, pitch selection, and all of the other mental aspect of pitching some of which feel almost like a lost art in today’s game. He also showed beyond any doubt that he isn’t afraid of anyone or anything on a baseball diamond.
But … you don’t have to squint too hard to see the injury history possibly lurking in the shadows. Even if he stays healthy the next few seasons, the wear and tear could limit his longevity. Beyond those concerns, all the normal things facing sophomore pitchers stalk just beyond the horizon. There’s a scouting report on him now, his endurance will be tested over the course of a full 162-game season, and while he has fared well at home, Coors Field has been known to test the patience and mental toughness of all who enter.
The old repeating critique has not yet been disproven; The Rockies still cannot count on Anderson. But at this point he has also shown to be a remarkably effective pitcher at every level when healthy. If he extends his 2016 numbers into a full season in 2017, that’s ace stuff.
Jon Gray’s strikeouts and pure stuff have rightfully been grabbing headlines. Tyler Chatwood and Chad Bettis bring experience and leadership that will be vital if the Rockies are to compete in 2017. And both Jeff Hoffman and German Marquez — and even really Kyle Freeland — come in with more prospect shine and pedigree based on the indicators that have proven most effective at evaluating talent.
But Anderson has proven one thing if nothing else in his career; He doesn’t give a damn about indicators. Even we at BSN Denver have used traditional methodology and solid baseball logic to predict that Anderson would have a drop-off in the second half of 2016. He didn’t. Just about everyone, including us, has been wrong about him at some point along the way. This doesn’t mean that we throw out everything we know. But it does mean that should Anderson end up anchoring the rotation, and not one of those other guys, no one should be especially surprised.
It’s still hard to say exactly how Tyler Anderson should be rated. But at this point, he absolutely should no longer be overlooked.