Up until a few weeks ago, Brett Anderson had perhaps some of the most impressive pitching stats to come out of the California League in several years. His May 1st performance against Visalia included 10 strikeouts and 0 walks in 7 innings of work, and it looked like Anderson was well on his way to a quick promotion to AA. But then something happened and Anderson went on to allow 19 runs in his next 11 innings, including a start on May 18th against San Jose that ended after he gave up 8 runs on 7 hits in just 0.1 innings.
So, the question on everyone's mind (especially Billy Beane's) is, "What happened?"
Looking at the numbers, it's kind of difficult to determine exactly went wrong. I've searched for comments from the A's or from Anderson himself, but haven't come up with much. After his last rough outing, Anderson simply said, "It's tough, because sometimes it's timely hitting and sometimes it's luck." A few websites have reported that Anderson is suffering from a sore thumb on his pitching hand and will not make another start until the soreness goes away, and milb.com currenlty has him on the 7-Day DL list. Not having first hand knowledge of the situation, I can't speculate how serious the injury is, or even if it's real (maybe the A's wanted to reduce the effect the past few starts would have on Anderson's psyche, so they told him he was injured?...). However, I think the numbers give us a decent amount of information with which to work with, and I agree with Anderson: sometimes it's timely hitting and sometimes it's luck.
Anderson has started 9 games in 2008, six of which lasted 6 innings or more. One start lasted 4.2 innings, and two starts -- both against San Jose -- lasted 2.1 innings total. During his 7 starts that lasted 4 innings or more, Anderson gave up a combined 33 hits and and 14 earned runs. During those two starts against San Jose, Anderson gave up 16 hits, and 14 earned runs. Seven of the 16 hits were ground balls, and 3 errors were committed by his teammates. Looking at just those numbers alone, I would have to speculate that 7 of the 14 earned runs against San Jose were out Anderson's control, and had little to do with his actual level of pitching talent.
But there's more. In May, Anderson's K%, and BB% have all been in line with his April numbers, and his GB% is only slightly lower than his career average. It seems that his location, movement, and approach have not significantly changed, but the results have. In April, his BABIP was .312, while in May it skyrocketed up to .382. By contrast, Anderson's teammate Trevor Cahill has a BABIP of .269. Cahill has also only faced San Jose once this year, giving up 8 earned runs in 5 innings, after giving up 10 earned runs in his previous 50 innings pitched.
To put things in perspective, San Jose is only 1 of 3 teams in the California League that has a record over .500, and is the only team with a record over .600. On the San Jose roster, there is only 1 position player born after 1986, while there are 8 players born in or before 1984. Anderson was born in 1988, so that puts him and any other young California League pitcher at a considerable disadvantage to the tune of about 3-4 years. San Jose also has the highest batting average of any California League team, the second highest OPS, ranks first in OBP, second in total bases, first in hits, first in runs, first in RBIs, and second in stolen bases. They are essentially an offensive power house and have destroyed just about every Cal League pitcher out there.
Given that his current peripheral stats are in line with his career numbers, if Anderson gets a start in the near future against any team that is not San Jose, and the thumb "injury" is cleared up, there's no reason to believe that he will not return to being a dominant starter like he was in April. As long as his BABIP drops back down to the .300 level, and he maintains his superb control, he should be well on his way to AA by mid-summer.