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Big League Stew

We’re Going Streaking! Brett Anderson shines early and often

Alex Remington
Big League Stew

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Big League Stew goes through the quad and into the gymnasium to look at some of the hottest players in baseball and their chances of keeping it going.

Brett Anderson, Oakland Athletics

The Naked Truth: 2-1, 1.56 ERA, 34 2/3 IP, 2.01 FIP, 1.01 WHIP, 6.75 K/BB

Having a nice little Saturday: Brett Anderson is the best pitcher on what is arguably the best pitching staff in baseball. The A's lead the majors with a 2.66 ERA, and while some of that is thanks to the cavernous Oakland Coliseum, the lion's share of the credit goes to their brilliant starting rotation, all of which is 27 and under: Anderson (23), Trevor Cahill (23), Gio Gonzalez (25), Brandon McCarthy (27), and Mr. Perfect himself, Dallas Braden (27).

Cahill broke out last year with an improbably spectacular season, and Anderson appears to be in the midst of his own breakout this season, yielding just three extra base hits, four walks, and six earned runs through his first five starts of the season.  The A's offense, however, has been so bad that Anderson has only gotten two wins. (His only loss of the season came on April 8, when he allowed just two runs in a complete game, and the A's lost 2-1 to Carl Pavano.)

You're my boy, Blue!: The most eye-popping thing about Anderson is his impeccable control. Through his first two big league seasons, Anderson averaged 2.0 walks per nine innings, a spectacular rate. This year, he has cut that in half. He may not be that pinpoint with his control all year, but his impeccable components suggest that his miniscule ERA is no fluke —  his K/BB is second in baseball behind only Cliff Lee, and his FIP is third in baseball behind only Matt Garza (!) and Roy Halladay. {YSP:MORE}

Another key to his success is his ability to prevent home runs. Anderson hasn't yielded a homer all year, and only gave up six through 112 1/3 innings last year. Going back to the minors, he always had very low home run rates, and the stadium in Oakland just contributes further. He's actually the most extreme groundball pitcher on the staff, though his teammate Cahill is better known as the team's resident sinkerballer. Right now, an insane 68 percent of balls in play off Anderson are ground balls. That will probably dial back to a percentage between 55 and 60 — it was 55 percent last year, compared to Cahill's 56 percent. But Anderson strikes more batters out than Cahill, walks fewer batters, and he also allows fewer homers. Cahill's a fine pitcher, but Anderson's the ace.

Think KFC will still be open?: You betcha ... if he's healthy. Though it was otherwise a brilliant season, Brett Anderson went on the DL two separate times last year with elbow problems. He hasn't had surgery yet, but "yet" may be the operative word. Everything he's done on the field so far marks him as a dominating pitcher, even though his 91-mile an hour fastball doesn't appear to be a dominating pitch. His pinpoint control and ability to induce ground balls and miss bats mark him as a potentially elite pitcher. Fans just have to hope that his elbow will co-operate — and that his offense will figure out how to score a few runs.

What other players are currently streaking?

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Matt Holliday, St. Louis Cardinals .433/.542/.672, 3 HR, 16 RBI, 13 BB/13 K
Matt Holliday's mega-contract is the elephant in the room whenever people talk about the Cardinals' ability to re-sign Albert Pujols. But he's also an incredible player in his own right. Since 2007, Holliday is third or fourth in baseball in WAR. (Depending on whether you go by the version of WAR on Fangraphs or Baseball-Reference, Holliday is definitely behind only Albert Pujols and Chase Utley, and Joe Mauer is either just ahead of him or a little behind him.) Holliday hits for a high average with 30-home run power, takes his share of walks, and doesn't strike out as much as many power hitters.

This year, he's getting absurdly lucky on BABIP — his .510 BABIP is 159 points higher than his career mark — so that batting average will eventually come tumbling down. But the elevated BABIP is largely due to a much-increased line drive rate, which is a good sign that his BABIP won't tumble too far, and his walk rate is much higher than it was last year, which means that he's helping make his own luck by controlling the strike zone. Holliday has never hit over .340, and that occurred in the friendly confines of Coors Field, but it's a cinch that he'll end the year above .300, and likely well above it. He's a hell of a hitter.

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Michael Pineda, Seattle Mariners 4-1, 2.01 ERA, 31 1/3 IP, 2.28 FIP, 1.09 WHIP, 2.50 K/BB
After he made a strong showing in spring training, the Seattle Mariners made the controversial decision to promote their top pitching prospect, 22-year old Michael Pineda, to the starting rotation. They thought he was ready, but they didn't think he'd be the best player on the team. Not only is he leading the team in WAR (Fangraphs has him tied with Felix Hernandez), but the kid also has the fastest average fastball in the major leagues, a mile and a half stiffer than David Price's average offering. His control hasn't been perfect, but his 3.4 BB/9 isn't bad considering that he's striking out nearly a batter an inning; nearly one-fifth of his strikes have been swinging strikes, which is terrific. He's benefited from a relatively low BABIP, .268, but it's too soon into his major league career to be able to definitively predict that will rise.

More importantly, like Brett Anderson, he's benefited from not yet having allowed a single homer. Unlike Anderson, though, he's a flyball pitcher, and while Safeco will undoubtedly continue to help him keep balls in the pbark, sooner or later he will groove a few. That's why his 3.82 xFIP is so much higher than his 2.28 FIP -- but Safeco will help ensure that his ERA remains below his xFIP. Like so many previous Mariners pitching prospects, though, the greatest risk to Pineda isn't homers, it's arm injury from having been promoted early. King Felix was the first to break the hex, and the M's have announced that they'll monitor Pineda's innings closely to prevent any hint of what happened to Ryan Anderson and others. There's no shame in babying him. He's a devastating talent.

Josh Tomlin, Cleveland Indians 4-0, 2.45 ERA, 33 IP, 4.75 FIP, 0.91 WHIP, 2.25 K/BB
Winner of the Doug Fister Memorial Award for guys who come out of nowhere, Josh Tomlin has been a beneficiary of the same rabbit's foot that has blessed the rest of the first-place Cleveland Indians. His 5-0 teammate Justin Masterson is the putative ace of the staff,  but Josh Tomlin might be the most anonymous star on the team. Unfortunately, there's some reason for that anonymity, as the FIP suggests: he just doesn't strike anyone out, and he's homer-prone. (Here's a gut check: in 2010, the strikeout-allergic Zach Duke averaged more strikeouts per nine innings than Josh Tomlin did, and Tomlin's striking out even fewer people in 2011.) He's mainly succeeding thanks to a .179 BABIP — that's 99 points lower than his BABIP last year, when he posted a 4.56 ERA. Going into the season, Fangraphs' David Golebiewski wrote, "there's little upside with this 26-year-old soft-tosser." Sadly, despite the wonderful start, that's still true. Like the Indians' playoff hopes, there just isn't much chance for Tomlin's success to continue.

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