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Tyler Anderson’s rough 2017 shouldn’t diminish Rockies’ expectations

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Fans should remain as optimistic as ever about Anderson

Welcome to the 2017 edition of Ranking the Rockies, where we take a look back at the in-season contributions of every player to don the purple this past season. The goal wasn’t and isn’t to quibble with order. Instead, it’s to get a snapshot of a player along with a look forward. For that reason, we simply sorted by Baseball-Reference’s Wins Above Replacement (rWAR) and will start at the bottom and end up at the top.

No. 13: Tyler Anderson (1.3 rWAR)

Fans’ expectations were high for Tyler Anderson heading into 2017. In the previous year, he produced one of the very best rookie seasons by a pitcher in team history. Anderson had a 3.54 ERA, which would be a good mark playing for any team, but was even better because of the harsh pitching environment that is Coors Field. His adjusted ERA+ was 137, much better than what fellow rookie Jon Gray posted, and his 3.54 FIP suggested that his season wasn’t a product of good luck alone.

Anderson did it all with low-octane stuff. The lefty’s four-seam fastball averaged just 92 mph. But his excellent command limited walks, and his changeup generated enough whiffs to elevate his strikeout rate to almost eight per nine innings. Add in his surprising bulldog mentality from the mound, and there were a lot of reasons to expect the Anderson to be key to the Rockies’ 2017 success.

It didn’t turn out that way. Anderson got off to a terrible start, turning in a 7.71 ERA across six starts in April. He still limiting walks and striking batters out because his changeup was still working, but batters mashed against his four-seamer and cutter. The opposition slugged .600 against the former pitch and 1.037 against the latter. To make matters worse, Anderson relied far more heavily on his four-seam fastball than he did in any given month in 2016. He threw it 52% of the time in April, whereas his four-month high in 2016 was 46%, which he posted in September.

There could be a rhyme and reason for this sudden hittability. In early May, Anderson had a start pushed back due to inflammation in his left knee. He started wearing a knee brace after that. Still, he improved quite a bit in May. The hard contact against his four-seam and cutter normalized, and he lowered his ERA to 5.85 in five starts. But Anderson’s knee kept bothering him, and he ended went on the disabled list in early June.

Anderson returned and made two appearances in late June, one a start and one in relief, but it was quickly apparent that his knee wasn’t healthy. The Rockies put him back on the DL, and this time he underwent arthroscopic knee surgery. That kept him on the shelf until September.

Four September appearances made everyone forget about the unmet expectations. He was lights out. Anderson posted a 1.19 ERA in 2223 innings, and, more notably, he walked just three batters in those innings while striking out 18. While he was the beneficiary of batted ball luck as well, it was an excellent end to a tumultuous season.

2018 Outlook

Anderson’s 2017 was a season in three acts that, taken together, look like he took a big step backwards. But don’t be fooled. At every point of Anderson’s season—from his awful April to his mediocre May to his spectacular September—he maintained excellence in the two areas most predictive of future success: walks and strikeouts. Even when he was getting hit hard, Anderson didn’t hand out a lot of free passes, and he was still able to get a strikeout with effective changeup use. The outlier among his peripherals is one that should work to his advantage in 2018: 19.5% of the fly balls hit against Anderson ended up as home runs. While there may need to be a juiced ball adjustment at some point, that mark was still seven percentage points higher than it was in 2016.

The high expectations Anderson had heading into 2017 were there for a good reason, and there are a lot of good reasons that they should be there again in 2018.