Braves: Ian Anderson deserves more Rookie of the Year hype

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Amazingly, a crazy 2020 season is actually about to end. In two weeks, the playoffs will begin, and hardware will be handed out by the end of October. I already wrote about Freddie Freeman getting looked over for the MVP, while Max Fried has an excellent shot at the NL Cy Young. However, I believe that another Brave is being snubbed for an award that nobody seems to be talking about.

Now, if you read the title, you already know where this is going. The 3rd overall pick in 2016 has been absolutely brilliant to watch since being called up on August 25th. He outdueled Gerrit Cole in his debut, handing him his first loss in 28 starts. Anderson has gone six innings in all of his outings except one, allowing two earned runs or less (and he’s only allowed two once). 

His last start may have been his most impressive. Anderson went seven innings against Washington’s $140 million man Patrick Corbin. The rookie allowed one hit, no runs, and struck out nine Nats. That was only his fourth career start. In those four outings, Anderson’s looked as impressive as a rookie can:

 

Anderson 2020: 22.0 IP, 3-0, 1.64 ERA, 27 K, .91 WHIP, 1.2 WAR

 

Is this sustainable? Probably not. However, what has stood out the most about Anderson doesn’t show up in the box score. 

The 22-year-old looks like someone that has been at it for seven years. Unlike other Atlanta prospects we’ve seen, he has been attacking hitters and working out of trouble. When he gets down 3-1 or 3-0, he’s been able to pitch out of the jam multiple times instead of issuing an easy free pass. I think that’s been a big part of his success. He comes with a gameplan on the mound, trusts his stuff, and attacks at all times. 

Anderson not giving out walks like candy on Halloween has been refreshing — anyone who has watched this team can agree about that. Regression will come as other organization’s develop a better scouting report on him. However, even when it arrives, his mentality should keep him moving forward. 

What really interests me about Anderson is that it typically took him a little to adjust to each new level. He would get roughed up a little, figure it out, and start dominating. That hasn’t been the case at the highest level. Anderson has shown up to the park every five days and made professionals look like child’s play. 

I have to credit Brian Snitker here; he’s let Anderson go. His lowest pitch count in 2020 has been 83, and he reached 99 in the start mentioned above against Washington. We’ve seen Snitker be quick to pull prospects and not let them throw, but Anderson has given no reason to be treated like the guys before him.

Even though the numbers are impressive, let’s dive into some context. On August 3rd, Atlanta’s World Series hopes were all but destroyed when Mike Soroka tore his Achilles tendon on a freak non-contact injury. Since then, outside of Max Fried, Atlanta’s rotation has been a revolving door. Robbie Erlin, Tommy Milone, and Josh Tomlin have attempted to act as a band-aid — with very minimal success.

Even though it’s only a 60 game season, the Braves have one of the worst rotations ever for a first-place team. After Soroka and before Anderson, Fried was literally the only arm the team could depend on outside of the bullpen. Ian Anderson was called up after only 24.2 AAA innings, where he posted a 6.57 ERA. 

Many fans were concerned if he would struggle like other prospects that have been promoted lately, but Anderson has answered the bell and been an X-Factor — and frankly, he’s must-see TV. Atlanta’s elite offense and bullpen will carry them to the postseason, but Anderson starting in a playoff game feels inevitable. He’ll have to continue to be that X-Factor if the Braves want to advance.

So let’s talk about the award. I understand why Anderson isn’t really being considered; he has a tiny sample size. However, isn’t that true about pretty much everyone this season? Dustin May has been excellent, but he’s only made five more starts and thrown 19.2 innings more than Anderson. Jake Cronenworth has been a cool story, and he’s currently the front-runner in the NL. He’s been used as a relief pitcher, but he’s been hitting like crazy while filling in at 2nd base for Slam Diego, posting a .934 OPS after going bananas in August — 16 extra-base hits and 17 RBIs.

Like May, though, Cronenworth’s sample size isn’t huge. He or May will likely win, and as of now — I think Cronenworth deserves it. I just think it’s crazy that Anderson isn’t currently top-five in odds to win. He has been far superior to names ahead of him like David Peterson, Mauricio Dubon, and Alec Bohm. With one or two more dominant starts, the entire outlook of the race could change. 

Ian Anderson stepping in and stabilizing the rotation for the second seed in the NL after their ace was lost for the year cannot be understated. The numbers are eye-popping, but what Anderson has been for the team is invaluable. 

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