There's no doubt in my mind that those who have not read other articles of mine will likely see the title of this article and dismiss me as an A's fan with a pretty distorted view of baseball.
Of course, I am an A's fan, but whatever team Brett Anderson is on, I'll sure think highly of him.
The notion that Brett Anderson, who will be just 22 years old during the 2010 season and is coming off a rookie year where he posted a good-not-great 4.06 ERA, has a legitimate chance of being the best starting pitcher in baseball in 2010 may seem far-fetched.
I'm not going to pretend he has an extremely high chance. It's maybe five to 10 percent, in my opinion.
But still, given how many pitchers have a chance to be "the best," a chance of greater than one or two percent is fairly impressive.
Now, why would I expect such great things from Anderson so soon, other than the fact that I like the guy and his team?
I've got three reasons.
STATISTICS AND LUCK
Brett Anderson was unlucky in 2009.
His .317 BABIP was higher than the average despite a stellar 15.1 percent line drive rate, and he only stranded 67 percent of runners. He actually "deserved" to have a .291 BABIP, based on his batted balls against, which means that instead of allowing 180 hits in about 175 innings, he "deserved" to allow 165 hits in about 180 innings.
Strand rates typically wind up at 70 to 75 percent, so since Anderson stranded fewer runners than that, he was slightly unlucky there as well.
Anderson's FIP (3.69), xFIP (3.61), tRA (3.39), and True ERA (3.31) all concur that he pitched better than his ERA indicates. His True ERA was tied for third-best among starting pitchers in 2009 with Jon Lester. Only Jake Peavy (3.19) and Tim Lincecum (3.15) posted better True ERA figures.
Even if Anderson doesn't improve next year and posts a 3.31 True ERA again, the improvement of the A's defense (full seasons of Cliff Pennington and Daric Barton; the addition of Coco Crisp) should lead his luck to swing in the other direction and could easily bring his actual ERA down to sub-3.00 levels.
IMPROVEMENT DURING 2009
What's truly remarkable about Anderson's great year is that he wasn't pitching well early in the season. He posted a 4.64 ERA with average peripherals across the board prior to the All-Star Break, but all of his peripherals drastically improved and he posted a 3.48 ERA after the break.
Therefore, his season as a whole may not accurately represent where Anderson is now, which is how well he pitched in his last 15 to 20 starts. In April and May, his strikeout rate was only about half what it was for the rest of the season, for example.
It's very possible that Anderson settled in around June or July and won't regress to his April/May levels of performance at all in 2010. That would mean that he's likely to outperform his 3.31 True ERA from 2009.
AGE AND BREAKOUT POSSIBILITY
Anderson's been a top prospect for years, and as I just mentioned, he certainly "broke out" in a sense in June 2009. Given that he turns just 22 in March, he certainly is likely to have more improvement in store, and now that he's comfortable in the majors and used to the long season and MLB routine, there's a possibility he tops even his post-ASB performance of 2009 next year.
The same likely can't be said of Peavy, who is almost 29 now and is leaving Petco Park for US Cellular Field, or Lincecum, who will be 26 in June and is likely peaking. It's a fairly likely possibility that Peavy regresses a bit, Lincecum stays put around a 3.15 True ERA, and Lester doesn't improve as much as Anderson does in 2010.
That could lead to Anderson jumping over Lester, Peavy, and Lincecum and becoming the best starter in baseball, unless someone jumps him, and there's no obvious candidate that I see to do that.
Anderson's bad luck of 2009 is likely to even out or swing in the other direction in 2010 due to defensive improvements in Oakland. Since he was one of the best starters in baseball in 2009, that luck swing, combined with some improvement than can be expected of Anderson, could make him 2010's top starter.
Again, I'm not saying he will be 2010's top starter—just a five to 10 percent chance or so—but don't be surprised.