The surging Oakland Athletics are about to receive a big boost. Brett Anderson’s rehab assignment comes to an end on Monday, and he’s expected to rejoin the team. Anderson has shown a lot of promise throughout his career, and was a popular fantasy sleeper when he was healthy. With Anderson coming back just in time for the fantasy playoffs, he’s probably going to be a popular free-agent pickup in many leagues. But it’s unclear how much of an impact he’ll make immediately.
Anderson’s return is likely to push one of the A’s rookies out of the rotation. The most likely candidate to go is Dan Straily, who has been fine, but has only thrown 17.0 innings. It would be tough for the team to part with Tommy Milone or Jarrod Parker, as both have been effective this season. And it seems unlikely that Anderson will return as a reliever. He was able to throw 96 pitches during his last minor-league start, proving that he has to stamina to go 100+ pitches.
Anderson has been clocked at 93 mph during his rehab stint, which is normal for him. In 2011, his fastball averaged about 91.5 mph, but in the two years prior, his fastball was about 92.6 mph. He’s also reportedly been able to throw his breaking pitches. In a 40-pitch bullpen session on Saturday, Anderson looked pretty good. Manager Bob Melvin has very complementary of the way Anderson threw, according to the San Francisco Chronicle’s Susan Slusser.
The other question is how well Anderson will perform if he’s thrust back into a starting role. Anderson has been pretty average on his rehab assignment. In five Triple-A starts, Anderson’s 4.63 ERA matches his 4.66 FIP. Home runs have been a problem for Anderson during those starts. His 1.54 HR/9 is much higher than his 0.82 career rate. The good thing is that his peripherals have been pretty solid. Anderson has struck out 18.2% of batters in Triple-A, which is slightly better than his rates in the majors the last two seasons. That’s good, since his strikeout rate could drop slightly once he faces major league hitters. The other promising factor is his walk rate. Anderson has always had strong walk rates, and that seems to be the case again this season. Anderson has walked just 5.1% of hitters in his Triple-A starts. That’s obviously a great sign, as command is typically the last thing to return for players coming off Tommy John surgery.
Still, it would be foolish to think Anderson is 100%. While his peripherals look good, there’s some reason to be concerned about his poor FIP and high home run rate this season. And while his command looks solid, there’s a decent chance he’ll have some struggles. The fact that Oakland has waited so long to activate Anderson could also be a reason for concern. They’ve waited until the last possible second to make a decision on whether he should rejoin the team. And since they are surprising in contention, it’s worrisome that they didn’t want him to come up sooner. Perhaps they don’t feel completely comfortable with his performances yet. Or perhaps they are just playing it safe.
Anderson definitely has a trace record of success, which should make him a desirable pickup. But since owners don’t really know what they’ll get from him, picking him up now is taking a risk. The smart option would be to let Anderson make a start or two before deciding to pull the trigger. But considering his history, there’s a good chance you’ll have to pick him up now if you want him.
Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.