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Brian Anderson: Sophomore struggles or emerging star?

Anderson looked to be easily the best overall player on the Marlins heading into this season. Despite some offensive struggles in the first half, he is currently on pace to be even more productive than he was in 2018.

Brian Anderson throws across the diamond to retire Brian Dozier.
Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

Brian Anderson’s rookie year in 2018 was one to remember. Breaking onto the big stage and posting incredible numbers with a slash line of .273/.357/.400 to go along with 11 home runs and 65 RBIs, Anderson received a tremendous amount of praise. He was a strong candidate to take home the NL Rookie of the Year award, ultimately finishing fourth in the balloting.

However, with great performance comes great expectations. Anderson set a high bar for himself to overcome heading into the 2019 season. After a slow start to the year offensively, there has been a serious lack of attention devoted to his progress.

Why? Is it fair to say that the rising star has fallen from grace?

In this article, not only will we argue that Brian Anderson’s early struggles should be all but a distant memory as we draw ever closer to the All-Star break, but also that he may actually be better in 2019 once the regular season concludes.

New York Mets v Miami Marlins
Brian Anderson clubs a seventh-inning double during a home game against the New York Mets on May 17, 2019.
Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

2019 Stats: 295 AB, .247/.331/.403, 10 HR, 34 RBI, .735 OPS, 21.1 K%, 9.1 BB%

The “Struggles” At The Plate

Batting Average

It goes without saying that Anderson has gotten off to a far slower start with the bat in 2019 than he did in 2018. During the first half of his rookie season, Anderson held a slash line of .288/.363/.429. Fans hoped to see linear growth in those categories, not regression.

Are his current numbers really all that mediocre? For a player with Anderson’s potential, it may seem that way, but what many may overlook about his rookie year as a whole is that his second half was significantly less productive than the first.

Despite finishing the 2018 regular season with a solid average of .273, his second half saw him hit a rough patch at the plate. Anderson hit .245 following the All-Star break with only three home runs and 16 RBIs. Even accounting for the large difference of at-bats between the first and second half (166) and projecting Anderson’s home run and RBI totals proportionally, the drop-off cannot be ignored.

Brian Anderson’s monthly splits in 2018 display a dominant first half followed by a weaker second half
Baseball Savant

His apparent “struggles” at the plate right now at age 26 are not as drastic as they have been made out to be.

If we look at Anderson’s monthly splits for this season, his performance in May sticks out like a sore thumb. During the month of April, Anderson hit at a .272 clip and, up to this point, his batting average in June is comparable at .283. While these two months—at least in terms of batting average—have been his third and fourth best ones at the plate throughout his short career, Anderson’s monthly batting average of .219 in May is also the poorest of his career.

Brian Anderson’s monthly splits in 2019 highlight two very productive offensive months and one particularly poor one to begin the season.
Baseball Savant

A lot of Anderson’s 2019 season has been skewed by his one poor month at the plate. Regardless, he has played an above-average season overall.

Better Than You Think, And Maybe Still Getting Better

Hard Hit% and Barrel%

The slight drop in batting average for Anderson appears to be more due to chance than anything else.

A hard hit is classified by Statcast as a batted ball with an exit velocity of 95 miles per hour or above. Therefore, hard hit rate is the player’s percentage of batted balls that meets this criteria. In the case of Brian Anderson, his hard hit rate ranks in the top 10 percent in all of baseball; it currently stands at 48.4%, which is 14% higher than the league average and 6.0% percent higher than Anderson’s own mark set in 2018.

Not to be confused with the hard hit rate despite being quite similar to it, the barrel rate takes both exit velocity and launch angle into account. Statistically, a barrel is defined as a batted ball that exceeds an exit velocity of 98 miles per hour that is also hit at a launch angle between 26 and 30 degrees. Anderson has increased his 2018 barrel rate of 5.8% to 7.7% in 2019—this rate is far higher than the MLB average of 6.3%.

Brian Anderson’s Exit Velocity Histogram shows a greater number of his batted balls to be classified as hard hits.
Baseball Savant

Why is this important?

Since Anderson’s ability to consistently hit the ball hard, and at a high altitude, has reached a climax in his young career, his slight drop in batting average during the 2019 season should not be taken too seriously and, in many ways, can simply be due to unfortunate ball placement off the bat and the differentiating dimensions of MLB ballparks.

The Power Surge

Essentially piggybacking on Brian Anderson’s increased barrel rate has been the emergence of his power in 2019. Where his batting average has faltered, the home runs have picked up the slack, and Anderson has already slugged a team-leading 10 home runs in the first half of the season. Currently just one homer shy of his career high, it is very possible that Anderson can at least double his current total by the end of the regular season.

Interestingly enough, eight of those home runs and all of his 16 doubles have come when he hits either third or fourth in the order. On a team with a short supply of power, Anderson has a much-needed skill set that will shine through more throughout the rest of the season.

On-Base Plus Slugging (OPS)

An encouraging thing to note about Anderson in 2019 is that, despite his lower batting average, his OPS of .735 this season is up to par with last season’s mark of .757. While his on-base percentage would obviously be lower due to a drop in batting average, it still rests comfortably at .331 and his slugging percentage of .403 is up from last year’s mark of .400.

Consistent Plate Discipline

A commonality between all offensive slumps, regardless of the player, is a negative shift in plate discipline that results in more strikeouts, less bases on balls, or both. For Brian Anderson, given the consistency of his plate discipline all season long, it may even be called to question whether he was ever in a slump at all.

In 2019, despite increasing 1.8% from what it was last year, Anderson’s strikeout rate of 21.1% remains below the league average of 21.5%, and his walk rate of 9.1% is above the league average of 8.3%.

An Already Great Defense Has Improved

Whether it has been his cannon of an arm or the flashy plays he can make with the leather, Anderson has been nothing short of a great defender for the Marlins. In 2018, Anderson’s defense in the outfield was nearly perfect, committing only one error in 176 total chances. In a small sample size of outfield play in 2019 spanning only 20 games, Anderson has seen the same success and has yet to commit an error in 39 total chances.

However, his defense in the hot corner was a little spottier. Throughout 71 games at third in 2018, Anderson committed eight errors in 137 total chances, resulting in a fielding percentage of .942.

This season, despite playing fewer games at third, Anderson has already surpassed the amount of total chances he held in 2018 by 21. In 158 total chances, Anderson has committed only four errors to give him a fielding percentage of .975 at third base, and has turned nearly twice as many double plays in the process.

While the batting average may be underwhelming for the Marlins young third baseman, Brian Anderson has by no means “struggled” in 2019. Given that most of his offensive statistics are very similar to—or better than—they were last year, we are watching Anderson emerge as a long-term building block for Miami, regardless of the bump in the road he encountered offensively during the month of May. He is the team leader in home runs, RBIs, slugging percentage, on-base plus slugging percentage, hits, and walks among qualifying players.

As he continues to ride a successful month at the plate in June, his batting average and raw production continue to trend upward. That will hopefully continue during the second half.

Marlins fans have nothing to worry about: Brian Anderson is just fine.