Braves: A closer look at Ian Anderson’s debut

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Our own Chase Irle already provided a recap of perhaps one of the most impressive performances by a Braves’ player so far during the 2020 season.

As 22-year-old Ian Anderson walked off the mound after six strong innings to earn his very first big league win on Wednesday evening, fans throughout Braves Country were beside themselves with excitement. 

This kid appears to be something special. And Anderson’s gem in Game 1 of Wednesday’s doubleheader versus the Yankees couldn’t have come at a better time. So with the first-time jitters out of the way and his debut now complete, let’s dive into Anderson’s six-inning outing from yesterday. 

If you missed the game and haven’t checked out the box score yet, the right-handed prospect struck out six, walked two, and even carried a no-hitter into the 6th inning (until Luke Voit drove a solo homer over the right-field wall). Voit’s homer was the only blemish of the day for Anderson as he became the first Brave to pitch more than 3.2 innings of no-hit ball in his MLB debut since the franchise was moved to Atlanta in 1966. Atlanta won Game 1 on Wednesday, 5-1, in seven innings.

But back to Anderson’s outing…

Overall, the former third-overall pick was efficient. Those six frames required right at 90 pitches (55 strikes), and honestly, Anderson looked as if he could have lasted a couple more innings. Throughout the entire outing, the Yankees lineup never surpassed three balls-in-play in a single frame, and of New York’s 32 overall swings, 17 of them resulted in swings-and-misses (a whiff-rate of 32%). And when Anderson wasn’t punching out Yankees batters, he was frequently generating softly-hit groundouts. Of the nine balls put in play by the Bombers, that resulted in an out, seven of them were grounders, compared to just two flyouts. That’s the type of work that almost always results in a strong start, considering balls in the dirt rarely do much damage (especially when the bases are routinely empty). 

And though the effectiveness of Anderson’s repertoire varies a bit depending on which scouting report you go with, for some, the success of his changeup Wednesday may have been a surprise. The offspeed was one of his better offerings during the start, and Anderson went to it quite often against the Yankees, throwing 35 of them altogether. 

New York couldn’t do much with it either, as 44% of the lineup’s swings versus the pitch resulted in a swing-and-miss (the highest whiff rate of any pitch he threw during the outing). And perhaps just as impressive was how Anderson leaned on his offspeed even when behind in the count. 

He never had to deal with a 3-0 count during the outing, but in his 3-1 or 2-1 situations Wednesday, Anderson primarily went with the offspeed. His ability to throw the fastball, changeup, and curveball in any count is something that usually takes time; however, Anderson seems to wield the confidence already to feature all three. That sort of unpredictability will no doubt help him early on in his big league career. 

So far, though, it appears that versus lefties is when he turns to that deadly changeup, and judging by Wednesday’s approach, it looks as if Anderson’s goal is to bury the pitch as much as possible. 

 Although, whether he meant to leave it up this high in the zone or not, Anderson had Brett Gardner waving uncontrollably at this offspeed pitch, shown below…

 But I believe this next clip is what Anderson is trying to do consistently with his changeup. It starts in the lower portion of the zone and then… BAM… that sudden break at the very last second. When he’s spinning it like this, nine times out of ten, the pitch will be unhittable…

Then there was Anderson’s fastball — a four-seamer that averaged 94 mph and topped out at 96 against the Yankees. As expected, he commanded it nicely on Wednesday, even though opposing batters were doing a decent job timing it (only two whiffs, out of 13 swings). Anderson threw his 4-seamer more than any pitch during his debut, totaling 40 fastballs. Though the Yankees did an excellent job of making contact, the Braves’ right-hander managed 11 called-strikes with the pitch (for comparison, New York’s Gerrit Cole also recorded 11 called-strikes with his heater on Wednesday).

It’s already evident that Anderson prefers to feature his fastball more when facing right-handed batters, shown by the fact that he went with the four-seamer twice as much as any other offering against righties, mostly keeping the pitch near the outside corner of the zone. 

So all-in-all Anderson already has a pretty effective strategy when it comes to getting big league batters out: paint his mid-90s mph fastball on the corners and bury the changeup, while every so often spinning a breaking ball to keep them honest. It seems reasonable to believe that if Anderson can continue to do that at a consistent rate, he should flourish in the majors. Hell, even the homer he surrendered to Luke Voit in the 6th inning wasn’t necessarily a bad pitch…

 Anderson just couldn’t get his four-seamer far enough outside against the right-handed Voit to prevent him from barreling up the pitch. And it was only a solo shot anyways, with the Braves sporting a four-run lead.

 For Atlanta, the fact that Anderson not only pitched well, but even tossed a quality-start, should perhaps cause a reevaluation of the team’s starting rotation, and how they go about filling it as the season turns over to the second-half. This organization has several other top-tier prospects that deserve a look. If Anderson was able to outduel Cole and the Yankees in his MLB debut, it makes you wonder what guys like Tucker Davidson, Kyle Muller, or even someone like Patrick Weigel could do if given the opportunity.

I’m not saying either of those three should receive a start anytime soon, but maybe it’s time to start getting a little more aggressive with these guys who are practically dominating in the high-minors (or was when they were playing). Perhaps they can also pitch well in the majors?

Either way, Wednesday was all-around a damn good day for the Braves. Two wins, a series sweep against one of the better teams in the league, and a near-perfect debut for the organization’s top pitching prospect. These are the type of days that can build momentum for a team, and with how bad the Braves’ rotation has been in 2020, there’s nothing they need more than a 180-degree flip by their starting staff. Who knew all it took was giving Anderson the ball for Game 1 of a doubleheader against the slugging Yankees? Hopefully, this is just the start of something special for the now-major leaguer. 

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