When the Blue Jays signed Robbie Ray, he was considered to have exceptional stuff but never realized his potential. The rest, as they say, is history. Have the Jays found another similar diamond in the rough?
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Stop me if you’ve heard this one. The Blue Jays acquire a pitcher after an 8-year ERA season. Boy Scouts agree that the pitcher has some great stuff, but he never got it all together one way or another. The Jays bet a little Pete walker magic could help the young man realize his considerable untapped potential.
Am i talking Robbie ray, at the 2020 commercial deadline? Or Shaun Anderson, who was recently acquired on waivers from the San Diego Padres?
No, I’m not predicting a Cy Young for Anderson in 2022. But listen to me.
“Bigg Shaun” was drafted by Boston in the third round of the 2016 Entry Draft. In his freshman year at the University of Florida, throwing in relief, he had a .97 ERA with 13 saves (leading the SEC), an 11.7 K / 9, and he was part of the US first all-star team. Traded to the Giants in 2017, he pitched as a starter in the minors and on his MLB debut with San Francisco in 2019 where he pitched 96 innings (16 starts and a few relief appearances) for a 5.44 ERA (5 , 86 xERA). San Francisco converted him to a relief role in 2020, where his fastball gained 2 mph to 95 mph, touching 97. In 2021, he was suspended four times and each time he was recovered, resulting in passes. with Minnesota, Texas, Baltimore and San Diego. It was claimed by the Jays on waivers on November 19.
So why should we care about an under-the-radar override pickup with a career MLB ERA of 5.75?
The first clue can be found in his 2021, which has traveled a lot. Yes, he was lifted four times – but in each case another team jumped in to claim him. So they clearly saw the benefit.
And what exactly does this benefit look like? Let’s compare Shaun’s pitch repertoire with that of another pitcher, using Fangraphs notes:
Shaun has 5 MLB caliber fields, which is crazy. Of these, three are already level 55 (the average in mlb is 50). And his fastball and slider – both already higher – have a rating of 60 on the upside. Of his five throws, four are as good or better than pitcher X. (For reference, Nate Pearson has two grade 50 or better locations and Alek manoah at three)
Launcher X is Houston Astros SP Luis Garcia, who was a finalist for Rookie of the Year and is considered one of the league’s rising young stars.
So how can such a paragon have an ERA of 8.49 in 2021? Digging deeper gives some interesting information. Shaun’s opponents batting average on in-play balls (BABIP) was 0.375 – significantly higher than the league average of 0.293. And his left-based percentage of 45% was well below the league average of 72%. All of this comes with some bad luck, which is supported by its much lower xERA of 4.96. So if he had just a “normal chance”, without any further improvement, Shaun could be a perfectly cromulent # 5 starter.
But there may still be room for improvement. When Ray first came to the Jays, he averaged one walks per set and had a first strike percentage of 46% (well below the MLB average of 60%). One of the first things the Jays did was encourage him to attack the zone more, with the result that his F-Strike% rose to 62% with the Jays in 2020 and 2021. The BB / 9 d ‘Anderson was 4.63 in 2021 – not bad radius level, but still bad. And Anderson’s F-Strike% was 55% below average. Is it possible that the Jays could compensate for Anderson’s command issues by making him attack the area more, drawing on his strengths?
Of course, it might seem that if that was the case, Anderson’s problem would have been resolved long before now. But Ray was in the majors for seven years before his epiphany in 2021. So it sometimes takes a while for things to ‘click’.
The bottom line
Acquiring a struggling pitcher and hoping for a breakthrough is always a gamble. But what would the ideal pitcher look like to make such a bet? He would have at least three slots, so he has a good start (Shaun has 5), exceptional stuff (Shaun has three 55 slots) and he would be relatively young (Shaun will launch 2022 at 27) with a lot of the Team control is left in case he * makes * a breakthrough (Shaun is a free agent in 2027).
A balanced pitch portfolio should be built around reliable top notch starters. But it should also involve few high-risk, high-return investments. Shaun Anderson could very well fit this role.
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A fan of the Jays since the pre-series, Jim’s biggest regret in baseball is that he didn’t play with his buddies on April 7, 1977. But hearing “Fanfare For The Common Man” played from a rooftop on October 24, 1992 l ‘ helped redeem himself.