SF Giants Post-Prospect Prospects:
#8 RHP Shaun Anderson
Acquired: Trade (2017, via BOS)
Future Value: 35+
Career MLB Stats: 41 G, 106.1 IP, 5.42 ERA, 5.08 FIP, 4.1 BB/9, 6.9 K/9
Shaun Anderson would have probably entered the season as a 40-grade player. Especially after his strong performance against the Athletics in the Giants warmup games. However, the 25-year old righty has continued to be marred by inconsistencies.
Anderson was a third-round pick by the Boston Red Sox in 2016 out of the University of Florida. For the Gators, Anderson served as the closer on an absolutely loaded pitching staff. Most scouts thought he had a chance to start at the next level and the Red Sox gave him the chance to do that. The Giants acquired him at the deadline the following year alongside prospect Gregory Santos for infielder Eduardo Nunez.
After flying through the lower levels of the minors, Anderson didn’t miss a beat against the tougher competition he faced in 2018. Between Double-A and Triple-A, Anderson posted a 3.69 ERA and 1.23 WHIP with 127 strikeouts in 141.1 innings between Double-A and Triple-A.
Anderson started out last year back at Triple-A and after a strong start to the season, finally received his first big-league call-up.
Working in the Giants starting rotation, Anderson struggled to put it all together. In 16 starts, Anderson averaged just over 5 innings an appearance but was consistently overwhelmed by MLB hitters. Batters hit .297/.357/.470 off of Anderson and belted 12 home runs across Anderson’s 82.2 innings of work.
Eventually, the Giants shifted him to the bullpen, where some scouts had long speculated he’d end up anyway. A lot of his peripherals moved in the right direction but still left a good amount to be desired. His strikeout rate spiked to over 10 K/9 and his home run rate was cut in half. With that said, he also walked 7 guys in just 13.1 innings and finished the season with an even higher ERA out of the pen (6.08) than he had as a starter (5.33).
In such a small sample size, it was easy to scoff at Anderson’s high bullpen ERA as a symptom of some bad luck. The spike in walks was obviously concerning, but something that didn’t seem like too big of a deal given his propensity to avoid free passes over the rest of his career.
Working exclusively out of the bullpen this year, it’s been more of the same. Aside from Anderson’s controversial faceoffs with Mike Trout, many of the same issues have reared their head in 2020. This season, before he was optioned to the alternate site, Anderson completed 10.1 innings, struck out 11 batters, but walked 11, and allowed 3 home runs. His inability to limit baserunners or the longball leaves him with a 5.23 ERA and that’s considered lucky according to FIP (7.99), xFIP (6.31), and xERA (5.86).
Anderson still generated whiffs at a rate equivalent to the 86th percentile in the league this season, per Baseball Savant, but ultimately has been hit hard whenever his opponents connected. That’s to be expected with the substantial lack of horizontal movement on most of his pitches. Generally speaking, straighter pitchers give you less room for error. Without even league-average command, hitters are making Anderson pay.
Out of the pen, which still seems like his best path to contributing, Anderson has relied almost entirely on his 4-seam fastball and slider. While both have above-average velocity (fastball averages 94.3 mph and slider averages 88.4 mph), he’s severely cut his changeup usage out of the pen. His changeup, at best, may only be a 50-grade pitch but it would seem like a useful change of place to prevent hitters from sitting on his fastball. In both 2018 and 2019, Anderson’s changeup invoked the softest contact and lowest slugging percentage against of any of his offerings.
At the moment, his control remains the largest impediment to sticking in the bigs. I’m still pretty bullish on his potential to get there given his performance as a starter. A short-term increase in changeup usage should help work around the straightness of his fastball and allow his best pitch (slider) to work as a truly putaway pitch. If he can combine his stuff out of the bullpen with his control as a starter, he’s probably a high-leverage guy.