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Rockies starter Tyler Anderson shines by inducing weak contact

The numbers portend a bright future for the lefty.

MLB: Colorado Rockies at Los Angeles Dodgers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Coming into 2016, you wouldn’t have been blamed for having forgotten about Tyler Anderson. Despite being the Rockies’ top pick in the 2011 draft, Anderson never appeared on a top-100 prospect list, and peaked at just No. 6 on the Rockies-only lists. Compounding it all was Anderson’s elbow injury: a stress fracture suffered in 2013 that refused to heal. He pitched through it for 118 Double-A innings in 2014, but then sat out the entire 2015 season to recover.

As the 2016 season approached, Anderson had all but disappeared from the top of Rockies prospect lists and had even fallen off the back of some lists altogether. Overshadowed by Jon Gray, Jeff Hoffman, Kyle Freeland, and others, it didn’t appear that the 26-year-old would have a likely place in future Rockies rotations.

After rehabbing across six starts between Modesto, Hartford, and Albuquerque, Tyler made his unexpectedly stellar debut on June 12th against the Padres. Finally at the major-league level, he did nothing but impress, staying in the rotation for the remainder of the season and leading the team in ERA.

Anderson’s statistical profile through his first 114 innings is compelling. After adjusting for Coors Field, his strikeout, walk, and groundball rates are all above-average. StatCorner’s xRA+ metric (think wRC+, but for pitchers) rates him as comparable to aces David Price, Johnny Cueto, and Kyle Hendricks.

Tyler Anderson Park-adjusted Stats

* IP Adj-K% Adj-BB% Adj-GB% Adj-FB% Adj-LD% SwS% xRA+
* IP Adj-K% Adj-BB% Adj-GB% Adj-FB% Adj-LD% SwS% xRA+
Tyler Anderson 114.1 23.1% 6.2% 48.7% 18.5% 22.7% 10.8% 122
League Average - 20.7% 8.4% 44.9% 20.5% 26.2% 9.7% 100
Matthew Carruth’s StatCorner

Where Tyler truly shines is as the King of Soft Contact. He allowed the lowest average exit-velocity of any starting pitcher in baseball. Again: Tyler Anderson was the best pitcher in baseball at preventing hard contact. Batters hit the ball at an average of just 85.1 mph. For comparison, shortstop Erick Aybar averaged the same 85.1 mph mark as a batter, and he hit just .243 with a .320 slugging percentage (.077 isolated power). That’s a ton of weakly hit baseballs.

Furthermore, despite being a groundball pitcher, it’s on flyballs and line-drives where Anderson stands out most: his 87.7 mph mark on those types was 2 mph better than any other starting pitcher. Coors Field is the most flyball-friendly park in baseball: “medium-strength” flyballs at ~90 mph are outs in almost every ballpark, but at Coors they frequently become home runs (see this deep analysis by Tony Blengino).

Over at FanGraphs, former Brewers and Mariners analytics-guru Tony Blengino publishes his extensive “Quality of Contact” reports for both hitters and pitchers. By combining a player’s rates of contact types with the average exit velocity for each, he estimates a player’s “deserved” level of production on balls-in-play. This is a much more advanced method than simply mentally adjusting a player’s BABIP against a line-drive rate.

When Blengino analyzed Anderson, his methodology awarded him with a 76 Adjusted-Contact score (where 100 is average and lower is better). This put him in a virtual tie with Kyle Hendricks for best in the National League. When combined with his walk and strikeout rates, he received a 71 True-ERA- score (100 average, lower better), which ranked fourth in the league, tied with Noah Syndergaard and behind only Hendricks, Clayton Kershaw, and Max Scherzer.

Anderson might be viewed as a mid-rotation starter, but in 2016 he pitched like a legitimate ace. Not bad for a guy who started the season in High-A. Now, far from being an afterthought but still relatively unknown to the wider baseball community, he has a chance to put up a full-season of bat-beguiling, barrel-dodging pitching as a member of the Opening Day Rockies staff. While Jon Gray might stand at the front of the rotation, don’t be too surprised if Tyler Anderson out-pitches him (and everyone else) in 2017.