Braves: Is it time to find a replacement for Ian Anderson in the rotation?

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Coming into the season, Ian Anderson had done nothing but produce results at the highest level. He burst onto the scene out of necessity during the COVID-shortened 2020 campaign and posted a 1.95 ERA over his first six starts. His success continued into the playoffs, too, where he tossed 15.2 scoreless innings in three starts before finally giving up a couple of runs to the Dodgers in Game 7 of the NLCS.

The numbers in Anderson’s first stint with the big-league club were always unsustainable, but he followed it up with a very productive season last year, recording a 3.58 ERA over 24 starts. And once again, Anderson was lights out in the postseason, allowing just three earned runs over 17 innings. But while the numbers in his first two years with the Braves were impressive, it always felt like some of it was a bit of fool’s gold.

Anderson’s fastball/changeup combination is as effective as any in the majors. But few starting pitchers can have sustained success with just two pitches. Eventually, teams are going to catch up. In year two, we saw it when he faced teams the third time through the order. That’s been a root issue for him again this year, but it also feels like guys who have seen him several times are also picking up on his stuff much better.

Anderson must find a reliable third pitch. He is throwing his curveball nearly 20% of the time, but the spin on the pitch is in the bottom 1% of the league, leading to it being ineffective. Opponents are hitting .265 on the offering so far this year with a slugging percentage of .510.¬†All of this has resulted in a 5.33 ERA on the season, which is bloated in part to a miserable outing last night against the Phillies in which he only made it through two innings and gave up seven earned runs. You can chalk up a start every once in a while to a pitcher not having it, but Anderson hasn’t had it all season, and it’s time for the Braves to evaluate their options.

Some people’s first thought might be Mike Soroka, and he could be a candidate in the near future. But right now, he’s yet to even start his rehab stint in the minors. It will be at least another month before he returns to Atlanta, and even that may be hopeful thinking. The Braves need answers now; thankfully, they have the perfect option to turn to waiting in Gwinnett.

As I wrote about a few days ago, Kyle Muller has lit up Gwinnett ever since being sent back down after a dismal outing against the Rangers. In June, the southpaw had a 1.87 ERA and 0.77 WHIP over 33.2 innings. But most impressively, Muller has 43 strikeouts compared to just six walks. Like most talented young arms, his issue has always been control. He was able to mask it in the minors, but nobody can get away with walking 5+ batters every nine innings in the majors. If Muller can throw strikes, he’s ready for Atlanta, and his last six starts have been very promising in that regard.

No move has been made yet, but it shouldn’t shock anyone if Muller is held out of his next start in Gwinnett and takes Anderson’s spot in the rotation. If it doesn’t happen this time around, it surely is on the horizon if Anderson doesn’t show some signs of improvement in his next outing. The next question is, what do the Braves do with Anderson once they replace him in the rotation? The bullpen is an option, but I’m not ready to give up on him as a starter so early in his career. A trip to Gwinnett makes sense, where hopefully, he can work out the kinks and become more confident in a third offering.

Photo: Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire

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