By Jason Wojciechowski on August 20, 2012 at 7:50 PM
Sorry for gettin' a bit ill and thus not having the energy even to watch baseball, much less blog.
Brett Anderson is back! The Round Mound of ... Balls on the Ground? Anyway, Brett Anderson, who apparently isn't so round anymore, having lost a substantial amount of weight during his rehab, will pitch for the A's on Tuesday against the Twins in the Coliseum, which is just about the best welcome back from Tommy John surgery that a guy can ask for, especially since two of the three best hitters (two of the three good hitters, I should say) are left-handed themselves (Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, though Josh Willingham is certainly a threat against lefties).
The list of post–Tommy John questions will be, as always, lengthy, and they'll be magnified by the A's spot in the wild-card chase, because each question will be paired with "and would the A's be better off with Dan Straily"?
The things I'm curious about in particular:
Pitch-selection. There's conventional wisdom that says that throwing sliders is harder on your elbow than throwing other pitches, all else equal. (And of course all else is never equal, but bear with me.) I don't recall what state the research is in, what the doctors and the people who've studied biomechanics have said. (They've probably disagreed.) I do know that a lot of people consider it noncoincidental that Brett Anderson's would have Tommy John surgery after having a slider percentage that jumps off the page at you. What will be interesting is to see whether Anderson himself and/or the A's appear to put any stock in this as expressed through his pitch selection. If the fastballs and the slider appear to be of approximately the same relative quality compared to before the surgery (and that's no given — a year off is a long time to work on things) but he's throwing a lot more fastballs, then maybe that'll indicate a conscious effort not to throw as many sliders. (Or maybe it won't. Maybe it'll just indicate that he feels his slider is rusty and he'll have to work at getting it back. It's not going to be easy to tease out all the causes from all the effects.)
Velocity. Pitchers do often come back from Tommy John surgery with better velocity after having conditioned and rehabbed (and sometimes after having pitched for a while on a jacked-up elbow before finally going under the knife), and Anderson is, as I noted above, apparently in much better physical condition than he's been in the past. If this adds up to extra velocity for him, that could be a real boon considering that he was already a fairly hard thrower (for a lefty starter, anyway) to begin with.
Command. Pitchers also often come back without the full touch, the full ability to put a pitch right where they want it, when they want it, and with the perfect amount of spin. Sometimes this means walks from missing the zone, sometimes it means hard hits from catching too much plate. Either way, we shouldn't expect old "future Cy Young contender if he puts it all together" Brett Anderson to make an appearance right away.
Of course, like I said, it's the Coliseum and it's the Twins, so we can certainly hope for such a thing without being foolish. We just can't expect it.
Defense, mobility, athleticism. This one is particular to Anderson, though in theory it shouldn't be. I've said it twice already that he's lost a lot of weight and gotten into better physical shape than we've ever known him to be. Anderson, of course, has been famously (among A's fans, anyway) bumbling around the mound, tripping over his own feet, literally falling down from time to time. It's possible he's just weirdly uncoordinated in that aspect of the game, but it's also possible that his newfound svelte shape will help him be a more effective defender, less apt to eat grass while fielding a simple bunt.
Stamina. Is he going to run out of steam at 90 pitches? How is that going to play into Bob Melvin's handling of the bullpen, a group that has been overworked at certain points of this season?
Management protectiveness. Even if Anderson is not visibly out of steam early, will he be pulled early anyway? What's the plan with regard to how stressful a situation the A's will put his arm in early in the comeback? We won't know for sure, of course, and it'll be particularly hard to know if he pitches well, but it'll be fun to try to glean knowledge from the on-field expressions of the plan.
Dan Straily gets sent back to Sacramento for his troubles. He pitched fine in his three games, not blowing the league away and forcing the A's hand, but not bombing out, either. I mean, he gave up four homers in seventeen innings, but one would imagine that won't happen every time, and he still struck out 12 while walking just four. Plus, he only gave up two runs to hitters who had not just taken him yard, for whatever that's work.
He'll be back. Maybe not in a substantial role this year (baseba'al willing, actually, because it'll mean the A's didn't need him), but next year for sure.
Anthony Recker, though, might never be back. He was designated for assignment to make room for Anderson on the 40-man roster, which makes him a backup catcher who turns 29 next week and who has a .201 TAv in the major leagues. That's only in 58 plate appearances, of course, but that's information, too. It's not like the A's had Greg Myers backing up Kurt Suzuki back when Recker was 25 or 26. It was Landon Powell who he couldn't push out of a job. That says plenty.