There’s something about Tyler Anderson that gives me hope.
Not so much for the 2021 season. I’m still not ready to move beyond projecting this team as a 70-ish win team over the long-haul. I’m still chalking them up as “more fun to watch than we expected”.
There’s something about Anderson that reminds me of the last time the Pirates were showing some real progress toward being contenders. They are starting to look like they know what they’re doing on the pitching side of the game again.
In a game of power, power, power pitchers with sharp, spinning, spiking breaking pitches, a finesse guy is, well, a poor team’s version of exactly what you want?
Take a look at this breakdown of Anderson by Eno Sarris:
This overlay won’t be as impressive as some, but the Stuff+ (106) Tyler Anderson is putting up is comparable to Jose Berrios, Yusei Kikuchi & Max Fried (all 105) & he has great command (112), he’s good. Above-average ride, a good cutter, & a straight change may not wow by eyes. pic.twitter.com/vb9e0klUni
— Eno Sarris (@enosarris) April 27, 2021
The Pirates had the most success under Ray Searage when they were identifying hidden gems, getting them used to development off of video, and letting Searage get them back to their best selves.
I could go into a whole article about what was working and wasn’t working once guys got to Searage. But, I’d rather focus on how they got to Searage.
Two of the most crushing moves the Pirates were dealt after the 2015 season were the losses of Marc DelPiano and Jim Benedict to the Miami Marlins. Benedict did lead to Trevor Williams, and some brief irrational fear that Richard Mitchell was going to be the next breakout prospect that we all missed.
Those two played a big role in the MLB Advanced Scouting process, keeping tabs on what to expect from upcoming opponents for the Pirates. Whoever the Pirates are playing one or two series from now, the advanced scouts are probably watching right now. Or, at least that’s how it was in 2015, which seems like a lifetime ago. Hell, 2019 seems like a lifetime ago.
During that process, the advanced scouts will identify players that the team might want to take a chance on. DelPiano was most noted for identifying Russell Martin, A.J. Burnett, and Jason Grilli. I can’t imagine the 2013-15 Pirates contending without those guys. Benedict did a lot of special project style overhaul work to the likes of Charlie Morton, Jeff Locke, and other pitchers who were essential to that 2013-15 run.
Again, I could do another article on the approach to pitching during that time, and maybe that’s tomorrow.
The Pirates were still identifying talent after these two left, but you could see a decline. I’m sure a lot of that decline was due to the poaching of Mike Fitzgerald, who was a quantitative analyst at a time when that wasn’t commonplace for all teams to have. The Diamondbacks hired Fitzgerald at the end of 2016.
From September 2015, when Benedict and DelPiano left, to the end of 2016, when Fitzgerald was hired away, the Pirates essentially had their MLB scouting system decimated, and in the worst ways for a small market franchise. This would have been a perfect time to restructure and take a new approach. They kept pretty much the same approach while the league was restructuring around them, and ended up well behind league trends by the end of Neal Huntington’s tenure.
I don’t want to project much from Anderson’s very limited start to the season to say that this will continue. However, if you look around the league, we’re well beyond the point where having a 97 MPH fastball is special. We’re also well beyond the point where the fastball is the primary pitch, and each additional pitch is thrown in succession down the list.
Today’s pitcher has two groups of pitches.
Group A mostly includes the fastball, thrown to location with control, and ideally with some movement that can be commanded.
Group B includes any and every tipsy, turvy, toppling, pitch that can be tunneled off the path from the pitches in Group A.
We used to scout pitchers sorting by Group A, then filtering by Group B.
Because velocity couldn’t be taught.
Except, we’re now in an age where it can.
And we’re now in an age where velocity is no longer special.
Special is 90 MPH with control and command, while leading the way in Group B pitches.
I guess what I’m saying is, if I’m a small market team, I always want to be going the contrarian route to the league, because it gives you a different look from everyone else on every single night, which is a built-in advantage. Tyler Anderson is that.
Another way of saying that would be that, in today’s game, I’d take Jack Leiter over Kumar Rocker, since Leiter’s Group B pitches are much more valuable than Rocker’s Group A fastball.
Overall, what I’m saying is that it’s very encouraging to see the Pirates getting back in the atmosphere of league trends, possibly to the point where they’re closer to landing on solid ground than we all give them credit for.