Atlanta Braves 2024 season preview: When will Ian Anderson return?

The 2020 season was a mess, but the Atlanta Braves found a couple of building blocks amid the rubble of that season, and none were more impressive than right-hander Ian Anderson. Since that postseason, Anderson’s struggled with injuries and is still looking to get back to Atlanta.
Atlanta Braves pitcher Ian Anderson hopes to return to the club my mid-year.
Atlanta Braves pitcher Ian Anderson hopes to return to the club my mid-year. / Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

After finishing seventh in voting for the 2020 NL Rookie of the Year Award, Anderson started 2021, pitching to a 3.27 ERA – 3.39 FIP – in 17 starts through July 6, but he left his next start with a sore shoulder. He went on the 10-day five days later and didn’t return until August 29. Unsurprisingly, he struggled on his return and ended the year with a still respectable 3.58 ERA.

Anderson Struggles

Anderson struggled with location from the start of the 2022 season and was never able to replicate his work in 2021. The Braves sent him to Gwinnett on August 14 to figure things out, and it looked like he was on his way back when he threw five strong innings in his first game for the Stripers. However, his next three starts didn’t go well, and he finished the season on the IL with an oblique strain.

He started the 2023 season with the Stripers but left his first start after giving up four runs on four hits that included three home runs, and left the game after recording only two outs. A week later, the Atlanta Braves announced that he required UCL surgery.

Limiting factors for a speedy return to success 

Anderson’s unlikely to return before the All-Star break, and while he’s worked on his mechanics and made adjustments, he hasn’t pitched in a meaningful inning in a year.

Anderson’s best pitch is his changeup, its 106.5 Stuff+ made it the only pitch in his arsenal with a Stuff+ over the league-average of 100 at the start of 2023. A changeup is only effective if it’s located well and the pitcher has another pitch to keep batters from waiting on him to throw them a cookie.

Stuff+ called Anderson’s four-seam fastball (73.9), curve (68.3), and sinker (60.2) well below league-average pitches because he wasn’t using them well enough to keep batters honest. His numbers were worse going into 2023 because he’d been carrying an injury, but even at his peak, only his changeup was a plus pitch. However, he located it well and mixed his pitches enough to keep batters guessing.

What will we see from Anderson in 2024?

The TLDR answer is there’s no way to know. If, as Anderson suggests, he’s back sometime around mid-year, he’ll struggle with either location or velocity as most pitchers do their first year back.

Since Anderson needs both to regain the success he had in 2020-2021, 2024 is a roll of the dice. The Braves may not bring him up until the end of the year and could choose to ease him back into the fire. I think he’ll throw 20-30 innings max and pitch to around a 4.50 ERA.

That’s a wrap

It’s impossible not to root for a player like Anderson. He’s intelligent, knows his strengths, and, when healthy, pitches to them. At his best, he’s much like Bryce Elder; neither player has eye-watering stuff, but when they locate well, batters struggle to connect.

We know that GM Alex Anthopoulos doesn’t pay much attention to pitch counts, so he could call on Anderson at any time. However, he’s also not afraid to resist the temptation to call a pitcher up too early so that when called, he has a better chance of succeeding when called up. Hopefully, the rotation avoids injury and pitches so well Anderson can take his time.

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