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Yankees Potential Free Agent Target: Tyler Anderson

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Despite uninspiring fastball velocity, the crafty lefty consistently sits toward the top of the league in terms of weak contact.

MLB: Game One-San Diego Padres at San Francisco Giants Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

After weeks of non-movement to begin the offseason, business picked up steadily in the New Year. The top players mostly got paid their worth, while many others inked deals that refuted the assumption of a particularly depressed free agent market following the shortened season. Now with training camp rapidly approaching, only a handful of impact players remain unsigned.

With James Paxton’s return to Seattle on a one-year deal, the starting pitching market has dwindled to Jake Odorizzi, Taijuan Walker, and an assortment of veterans and borderline fifth starter types. Given their self-imposed budget, it is unlikely the Yankees will pursue any but the latter of those options. One player that falls into that group who may interest the Yankees is Tyler Anderson.

Anderson began his career with the Rockies, with whom he pitched his first four big league seasons. He was a slightly below-average starter in Colorado, and saw much of his time in the Mile High City interrupted by injury. He threw 176 innings across 32 starts in 2018, but this was bookended by two seasons of less than 100 innings including just 20.2 innings pitched in 2019.

Surprisingly, Anderson was the second-most valuable pitcher in 2020 out of the remaining free agent starting pitchers, with his 0.8 fWAR coming in behind Rick Porcello’s 1.7. He finished the season 4-3 with a 4.37 ERA, 4.36 FIP, 5.93 xFIP, and 41 strikeouts in 59.2 innings. He is mainly a three-pitch pitcher, throwing the four-seamer about 40 percent, the changeup about 33 percent, and a cutter about 18 percent, with a curve and sinker sporadically mixed in. Anderson has always been a finesse pitcher, with the fastball hovering around 90 and topping out at 92 mph.

Think of him as a CC Sabathia or Andy Pettitte at the end of their careers. Because of the deficit in velocity, Anderson has to rely on deceit and trickery to stay effective, varying the speed of his delivery à la Johnny Cueto. My colleague Josh recently extolled the virtues of having varied release points among one’s starting rotation, and Anderson would bring yet another look to the Yankees’ staff.

Like with many other finesse pitchers, Anderson is adept at generating weak quality of contact, consistently sitting in the top quartile league-wide in hard hit rate and exit velocity throughout his career. He helped his own cause by escaping from Colorado, and saw his home run rate cut in half last season with the Giants.

The flip side is that, as a finesse pitcher, his margin for error is a lot smaller. He worryingly became more of a fly ball pitcher in San Francisco, whose cavernous outfield is much more forgiving than the cramped confines of Yankee Stadium. Anderson’s average launch angle increased by roughly ten degrees relative to his previous career average, and he correspondingly saw his ground ball rate drop by thirteen points while his line drive and fly ball rates both climbed. On top of this, Anderson’s strikeout rate fell from a career average of about 22 percent to 15.8 percent in 2020. He would need flip this trend and keep the ball out of the air if he is to have any chance in the Bronx.

It is hard to believe, but spring training is less than two weeks away. Despite the rotation having a high amount of uncertainty, the Yankees seem more likely to stick with their in-house youngsters than pursue a marginal starter like Anderson. Still, there is always a need in Yankee Stadium for lefty pitchers who limit hard contact, so it is not out of the realm of possibility that Anderson winds up in pinstripes.

UPDATE:

Well, now it is. Anderson will be a Buc in 2021.