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Fishy or For Real: Nick Anderson

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The new Marlins bullpen piece has the wipe-out stuff to be a successful major leaguer, but is his recent inconsistency a cause for concern?

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On this installment of Fishy or For Real, we’ll take a look at Marlins rookie reliever Nick Anderson. Acquired in an under-the-radar offseason trade with the Minnesota Twins, the 6-foot-5 right-hander won a major league bullpen spot this spring training and has already earned Don Mattingly’s trust in high-leverage situations.

What should be expected of him moving forward?

Photo by Joseph Guzy/Miami Marlins

After a quick glance at Anderson’s traditional stats, it’s easy to label him “Fishy.” Even including his awesome extra-inning relief in Tuesday’s win, he has a mediocre 4.95 earned run average with four home runs allowed, the most of any healthy Marlins reliever.

But remove two particular outings from the equation—5/4 vs. ATL & 5/17 vs. NYM—tells a much different story.

Nick Anderson with Marlins

With/Without W L ERA IP H ER HR BB SO WHIP
With/Without W L ERA IP H ER HR BB SO WHIP
2019 (with 2 outings) 0 1 5.50 18 19 11 4 7 33 1.44
2019 (w/o 2 outings) 0 0 1.68 16.1 12 3 2 5 31 1.06
Stats updated entering May 21

The Case Against Sustainability (“Fishy”)

Lack of a third pitch

Anderson has been relying exclusively on his four-seam fastball and curveball to put batters away.

In many cases, such a limited arsenal makes a pitcher too predictable to succeed at the major league level. If Anderson struggles to throw his curve for strikes, hitters will be able to sit back and swing away at the fastball. The lack of a third pitch puts enormous pressure on him to be consistent with both options.

Baseball Savant

That being said, it helps that Anderson uses the pitches in similar proportions (53.9% fastballs, 46.1% curves). The willingness to throw either pitch in any situation means that opponents are frequently guessing incorrectly.

Rookie Status

Going into 2019 without any Major League experience actually works toward Anderson’s advantage. Most opponents have never faced him at any level and most clubs don’t yet have a good scouting report on him.

However, if Anderson plans to stay in the majors, hitters will gain familiarity with him. Clubs can gradually build a better scouting report on his pitching tendencies and how to counter them. This may already be the case as the aforementioned bad outings represent two of his last seven outings.

Rolling batting average against Anderson in 2019
Baseball Savant

The Case for Sustainability (“For Real”)

Pure stuff

Peripheral stats for the 28-year-old are excellent.

Anderson has struck out 17.1 batters per nine innings while only walking 3.6 per nine. His strikeout-to-walk ratio ranks second on the Fish only behind ace Caleb Smith.

Relative to the rest of Major League Baseball, his 41.3 K% is in top 1%. On the other hand, when Anderson gets hit, he’s getting hit hard—his barrel rate against of 15.4% is bottom 3% in the league.

Add into those metrics his FIP of 3.24—a stat that attempts to remove the variability of defense—and that further supports the notion that those two bad outings were isolated incidents.

Pitchability

Four-seam fastball—Nick Anderson primarily throws his fastball as a get-ahead pitch to start the at-bat. He is generally around the plate with it, throwing it in the strike zone 62% of the time and for a swing and miss 22% of the time. Add his fastball velocity that ranks in the 88th percentile and you’ve got the perfect set up for the curve.

Curveball—Anderson only throws it in the zone 38.6% of the time, but that appears to be by design. This is Anderson’s put-away pitch. Batters are chasing and missing Anderson’s curve out of the zone 75.6% of the time and striking out on that pitch 56.3% of the time!

Most of Anderson’s curves thrown outside of the zone have garnered swing and misses from opposing hitters.
Baseball Savant

For Real?...Probably

All in all, the positives (metrics) and negatives (recent regression) will likely all level out with a full big league season. Anderson may not return to the sub-2.00 ERA he had an April, but I don’t believe it’ll stay as high as it currently is, either. He has had a solid track record as a reliever at all MiLB levels.

As a rookie with great stuff, Anderson will have his learning curve innings, but the Marlins will generally be able to rely on him. After grinding away in independent leagues earlier in his career, the hard work is paying off.