Unfortunately, it’s largely been a downhill slide for Ian Anderson since his MLB debut season. His brief debut season and postseason were brilliant, followed by a solid sophomore season with some postseason magic and an unfortunate shoulder injury. His third season in 2022 was a struggle, involving some time in the minors, and this all set the table for what was a very short 2023 season.
The Braves drafted Anderson third overall in the 2016 MLB Draft. Despite the underslot bonus, he was a promising prep arm from New York.
What were the expectations?
Coming off of a rough 2022 that saw him battle injuries, ineffectiveness, and a demotion to the minors, Anderson headed into the 2023 season expected to compete for a spot in the Opening Day rotation. Given his career to date, it seemed like he should’ve had an inside track, as a 96 career xFIP- suggested he could probably pitch like a fourth starter even if nothing improved.
Even if projected to only be healthy for about 90 innings, Anderson was projected to generate around 1 WAR in that span, which is a decent-enough rate.
Anderson played a key role in a surprising Spring Training development, where both he and Bryce Elder were optioned in mid-March, paving the way for an Opening Day rotation that included both Jared Shuster and Dylan Dodd.
While Elder ended up ascending to the rotation and playing a key role for the Braves, Anderson had one disastrous start at Triple-A where he retired two of the nine batters he faced, and then promptly hit the shelf in a way that rapidly necessitated Tommy John Surgery. That was it for Anderson’s unfortunate 2023 season.
What went right?
The only thing good that can be said about Anderson’s 2023 is that he struck out nine batters over his eight innings of work across Spring Training and Triple-A. The rest of his season didn’t really materialize, but when it did, it was pretty nasty, as he was potentially pitching hurt in those 2/3rds of an inning at Triple-A.
What went wrong?
Essentially everything. At the top level, he had one bad Triple-A start and then went down with Tommy John Surgery. Even if you want to read into Spring Training stats, then it appeared that Anderson had not shaken his 2022 struggles, as he issued more than a walk per inning and allowed five home runs in eight frames.
Injury timelines can vary from player to player, especially for major surgeries, so there’s a lot of uncertainty. Still, Anderson’s timetable seemingly suggests a return sometime in 2024.
Of course, there are a lot of questions surrounding Anderson’s recovery and eventual effectiveness. The best-case scenario for the Braves is going to involve him coming back healthy to pitch the way he did before the shoulder injury derailed him in 2022. If that takes all of 2024 and gives him a way to make the rotation in 2025, then so be it. He still projects as something like a fourth starter that could stay healthy enough to pitch 80 innings or so when he returns, but that’s a very centralized estimate that takes into account all sorts of possible paths for him going forward.