Brett Anderson improved, but should his salary?

Coming into the 2015, pitcher Brett Anderson was a bit of an unproven commodity. Sure, he had seasons where he was worth over two wins, but they were long in the past.

Anderson hadn’t thrown over 100 innings since his 2.5 WAR season in 2010. Then, in 2015 with the Los Angeles Dodgers, he did.

In 180.1 innings this season–a career high for the southpaw–Anderson was worth a laudable 1.7 WAR 3.68 ERA and 3.94 FIP. It might not have been as good as his most valuable season in 2009 with the Oakland Athletics, but no question about it, he’ll take it.

In each of the past four seasons, Anderson pitched in less than 50 innings for two different teams. Broken bones, sprains, spasms and of course, Tommy John surgery caused him to miss hundreds of games, resulting in many teams giving up hope on the once promising arm.

It caught some by surprise then, this year, that the Dodgers were willing to give him a chance with a one year, $10 million deal. Sure, it was the Dodgers, they have plenty of money to throw around, but you don’t have to throw it around for the sake of it.

But they did, and, according to Fangraphs, they were the beneficiary of a good deal as Anderson was worth approximately $13.9 million.

But now he is a free agent so, at the age of 27, what does market hold for him this time? This is somewhat uncharted territory. Sure, he’s only 27–an age most would revel in as they enter free agency–but he’s also missed nearly as many games as he’s started.

Since returning from TJ, Anderson definitely doesn’t have the velocity he once had. It has steadily declined from 93.50 mph in 2013 to 91.80 today. That doesn’t mean everything, it just means that Anderson has become a new pitcher.

Compared to his 2009 self, Anderson is much less a strikeout pitcher while exhibiting most of the same command. However, the big difference for Anderson seems to be his enhanced ability to induce weak contact as this season he posted a career low in hard contact rate with a reciprocal career high in soft contact rate.

The other manifest difference for Anderson is the way he’s getting his outs. As mentioned, he’s not striking out batters the way he had when he broke into the league. Instead, he’s getting them via the groundout. In 2015, Anderson had a career high of 66.3 per cent of his balls in play come in the form of ground balls compared to his career mark of 58.4 per cent.

According to Brooks Baseball, a possible explanation for the increased groundballs could be found in his pitch usage. In 2008 through 2010, Anderson used his sinker less than 10 per cent of the time while heavily relying on his four-seam fastball, which exhibited more velocity.

Throughout his career, he’s always relied on his slider for about 20 per cent of his pitches, but in his rebirth this season, the pitch he relied on most was his aforementioned sinker. He even mixed in his off-speed offerings, throwing a curveball, slider or changeup with 47.28 per cent of his pitches.

While generating the most groundballs per ball in play, Anderson’s sinker also has the second lowest batting average of his offerings.

Normally in a career year, you’d think he’s not worth the money.That you should hold out and make him do this again. But Anderson’s appears to be no fluke. Fangraphs Steamer projection system has Anderson at 2.1 WAR next season, which would make him worth $17.2 million on the open market.

Is he worth that and potentially over multiple years? We’ll see. At 27, a club may be interested in a two-year deal in the neighbourhood of $25-$30 million but they may also go the route of a one-year deal. No one can tell.

A deal could come in almost any form this year for Anderson. With his rebuild in 2015, he should be happy this is a conversation at all.