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Ian Anderson needs to find himself as Marlins come to town

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The Braves will get another look at Miami’s Rookie of the Year candidate, Trevor Rogers

MLB: JUL 01 Mets at Braves Photo by David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

To say that Ian Anderson acclimated to the majors quite well after being called up on August 26, 2020, would be an understatement. Anderson put up 1.1 fWAR in just six starts in his debut season, followed that up with a silly 21 ERA-/51 FIP-/92 xFIP- line in four playoff starts, and then picked up mostly where he left off in 2021, with an 85 xFIP- through his first 17 starts of the year. (By comparison, his 2020 xFIP- through six starts was 78.) But, since July 11, things have entered a bit of a tailspin for the Braves’ rookie right-hander. On that day, Anderson had the worst start of his budding career, as the Marlins got to him for four runs in just 2 13 innings, drawing five walks, striking out four times, and popping a homer to boot. After departing the game, injury was added to insult, as Anderson was placed on the Injured List with shoulder inflammation.

Seven weeks later, after a few rehab starts, Anderson returned to the Atlanta rotation. His first outing was bizarre: 5 23 scoreless innings versus the Giants, but with two walks and zero strikeouts. By xFIP, it was the second-worst start of his career to date, behind only the one that saw him go on the shelf. A few days after that, Anderson made his rotation turn at Coors Field, and it was a disaster: three innings, four runs, two homers, four walks, and again, zero strikeouts. If you’re keeping track: Anderson’s three worst outings of his career have come in his last three starts. In short, he needs to find himself, and fast.

It’s hard to pinpoint any one thing as being Anderson’s issue over these outings, because everything has gone in the wrong direction. Command has been the obvious culprit, but it isn’t just one command issue.

  • A healthy, functional Anderson generally fills up the middle-to-upper part of the zone with his fastball. Since returning, he often pulls his fastball to the glove side, and when he doesn’t, it dropping to the lower part of the zone happens as well.
  • Anderson’s changeup is normally thrown in the lower part of the zone, or below it. Since returning from injury, it’s been pretty much belt-high consistently, and drifting armside as well.
  • Anderson’s curveball location is similar to that of his changeup, but a little higher, as he sometimes spins in a get-me-over one for an early strike or surprise strikeout. The curveball command’s been a tragedy over these last two starts, as it’ll go pretty much anywhere but in the zone, and has a weird tendency to hang in the upper part of the zone (but perhaps fortunately, drifting armside too much for hitters to do anything with).

I don’t know if there’s still some residual pain, or the inflammation resulted in mechanical problems from bad habits, or something else. I do know that this isn’t the same Ian Anderson that we saw last year and most of this year, and that he and the Braves are going to be in trouble if the same issues and lack of strikeouts persist. The Marlins are coming to town — given that his identity crisis started when he was in Miami, it would be fitting if Anderson snapped back to himself tonight.

Speaking of the Marlins, well, they’re still the Marlins. They’ve won four of their last five series and are 4-3 so far in September, but it was a tough summer in Miami, with a 31-49 record across June, July, and August. The Marlins come into this game as a bottom-five offense and a bottom-10 position player unit, and they’ve gotten slightly worse in this regard after trading Starling Marte and Adam Duvall at the Trade Deadline. One place the Marlins haven’t scuffled, though, has been the front part of their rotation. While injuries have forced Miami to dig deep and give 40 starts to nine players with below-replacement starting performances, their top four have compiled 10 fWAR in about 450 innings, a shockingly good pace for a four-man crew.

One of those superlative performers has been Trevor Rogers, who may have been a shoo-in for NL Rookie of the Year if not for a lengthy family emergency-related absence that interrupted his season. (At this point, it seems like Jonathan India has surpassed him, but I guess there’s a teensy bit of time for things to reverse course.) Rogers is kind of the reverse of Anderson — he also came up for a handful of starts in 2020 and pitched okay (xFIP much better than ERA or FIP), but then broke out in impressive fashion this year. He carries a 64/67/86 line into this game, with that FIP good for 3.2 fWAR. He’s 25th in the majors among pitchers in fWAR, and everyone ahead of him on the list except Jacob deGrom has more innings than Rogers.

With that said, though, Rogers has also faded a bit lately. His last four starts, dating back to July 10 (man, the parallels with Anderson are racking up) have been mediocre, with no more than five innings or four strikeouts in any of those outings, at least two walks in each, and two earned runs in each as well. This will also be just his second start back from missing that month of action, and his first outing after returning was his worst by FIP, and second-worst by xFIP, of the season.

This series is the final one between these two teams in 2021, and both Anderson and Rogers have factored into the season series, which the Braves lead 9-7, pretty substantially at this point. Rogers gave up three runs in four innings to the Braves in a loss in July, and two runs in five innings in a walkoff Braves win in April. Anderson actually started against Rogers in that April game and yielded three tallies in five frames, and as mentioned, had one of his worst starts ever on July 11 in Miami.

Game Info

Miami Marlins @ Atlanta Braves

Friday, September 10, 2021

7:20 pm EDT

Truist Park, Atlanta, GA

TV: Bally Sports Southeast

Radio: 680 AM/93.7 FM The Fan, WNNX 100.5, Braves Radio Network, La Mejor 1600/1460/1130 AM

XM Radio: Ch. 187