The Giants aren’t winning, and right now it’s because of their starting pitching. Next week, maybe the coin will flip from Madness Caused By Bad Pitching back to Madness Caused By Bad Hitting, but as things stand today, the rotation is in shambles and the Giants are losing games because of it.
Enter Shaun Anderson. Anderson, who will make his first major league start today, came into the season as a consensus top 5 prospect for the Giants, and certainly the Giants prospect most ready to contribute to the major league team. And while one Giants pitcher has publicly criticized the front office’s direction, to Anderson, their goals are clear.
“Bottom line is you gotta win games. Whether it’s the new regime that’s coming in or the old one, it comes down to winning baseball games,” Anderson told me on Saturday, a few hours before Derek Holland’s comments. “I think [the front office is] doing a great job of finding ways to win and making decisions to help win. I think right now it’s all about winning and I respect that and I want to continue to win and hopefully help the club win as soon as I can.”
Shaun Anderson was drafted in the third round by the Red Sox out of the University of Florida in 2016. Anderson had been a reliever for all three years at Florida, only starting one game. His stock skyrocketed during the 2016 season, when he recorded a 0.97 ERA and tied a then-team record with 13 saves. But before the 2016 draft, he let interested teams know that he wanted to be a starter.
“I was a starter in high school and the summer leagues, and I wanted to give it a shot,” Anderson said. “That’s where I felt comfortable. So I told them right off the bat, I want to be a starter.”
Boston respected Anderson’s decision and put him in the rotation, first with the Lowell Spinners in short-season ball in 2016, and then in 2017 with the Greenville Drive in the Sally League and the high-A Salem Red Sox. But his time with the Sox wouldn’t last long. The Red Sox had an Eduardo Nuñez-shaped hole in their team and the Giants happened to have a spare Eduardo Nuñez, and so Nuñez shipped up to Boston, and Anderson and Gregory Santos came over in return.
Being traded wasn’t really on Anderson’s mind. He was in his first full season in the minors, and in his own words, “I never really knew how the system worked.” But one night at midnight, he got a call from the Red Sox telling him he was headed across the country because he’d been traded, and then a couple minutes later he got another call from Bobby Evans and Yeshayah Goldfarb welcoming him to the Giants.
“I looked at it with an open mind. It was a great opportunity for me. I’d never been to California,” he said. He had made a lot of friends with the Red Sox, and felt like he had really just gotten to know everyone over there, but in his mind, coming over to the Giants was “just like coming into Spring Training for the first time with the Red Sox. It’s gonna be the same with the Giants and I get to expand my range of people I get to know. I was looking forward to seeing a new set of coaching staff and seeing a new set of guys that I could [get to know].”
With the Giants, Anderson has moved up quickly: He was in San Jose for the last month of 2017, then started 2018 in Richmond and got a midseason promotion to Sacramento, almost made his first major league start, and up until today, had been with the River Cats ever since.
While he hasn’t had eye popping numbers at any of his minor league stops, Anderson did maintain solid production as he moved up the organizational ladder. That in itself is a sign of improvement: a 3.50 ERA means more in AA than high-A because you’re facing tougher competition.
“Right now, maybe my numbers don’t show it, but working with the coaching staff this year so far, I’ve learned a tremendous amount from what I even came in with from Spring Training,” Anderson said.
“I feel like each time I go out, the next outing, I’ve learned something more. Whether it’s reading swings, whether it’s going into the 6th, going into the 7th, going through the lineup a third or fourth time, learning just how to use my pitches effectively. If i throw one pitch and see how a swing reacts on that, I can use that to my advantage and let me know in my back pocket, if I throw this pitch here, I might get that same exact swing.”
That education has brought Shaun Anderson to the big leagues. Anderson’s fastball sits 91-94 and he also throws a changeup, a curveball, and a slider, with the slider generally being considered his strongest secondary pitch.
In AAA this year, he’s getting more strikeouts than he has as a professional, and he has a career high ground ball rate too. With the juiced major league ball being used in AAA for the first time, Anderson’s had to learn how to minimize its impact.
“With these new baseballs, the ball flies more,” he said. “You’re gonna have the inflated numbers, but you learn how to pitch and you learn how to throw the ball down and you learn how to focus on getting a ground ball and not getting those long pop flies that can go out.”
Today won’t be Anderson’s first game pitching at Oracle Park — he pitched an exhibition game in the Bay Bridge Series in March, which he describes as an “awesome experience,” citing Buster Posey, the defense, the coaching staff, and the “tremendous” ballpark. His goal for that game was to “maybe get a win and start the team on a good note,” but in the long run, the more important thing was to get experience pitching on that field with a major league team behind him.
Just making the major leagues is an accomplishment, but that’s not the real goal. “When I do go up there, I want to be able to stay,” Anderson said. He cited the work he’s done recently with River Cats pitching coach Steve Kline and roving Giants instructor Ryan Vogelsong in giving him the mindset he needs to succeed.
“Learning how to throw to hitters and learning how to trust my stuff and go deep into games, so when it comes to the fact ... When i get that call, that I do stay up and not have to come back down. Just learning how to win, like I said. You gotta win games. If you win games, you’re gonna stay up there.”