The White Sox Fulcrum: Tim Anderson
The White Sox will look to Tim Anderson to be a leader on and off the field in 2020, and it is of utmost importance that the performance matches the personality.
So there’s been an interesting amount of rhetoric on the interwebs the last few weeks from Twins fans that claim to not be worried about the White Sox. We’ve seen individuals go out of their way to list out of all the things they aren’t concerned about repeatedly, which is obviously something you do when you aren’t concerned. One central point that is repeatedly brought up is none other than “TA7,” Tim Anderson. We’ve seen countless tweets talking about how Timmy is going to come crashing down to earth in 2020 and that his batting title last season was nothing more than an aberration.
Here’s the thing about Timmy, I think in many ways he is the fulcrum to the 2020 season for the White Sox. If he is able to build off the success he had at the plate last year (with an almost certain pullback in terms of BABIP and BA) while simply cleaning up the careless defensive miscues, the Sox will have an extremely valuable player. He is positioning himself to be one of the faces of the franchise with his expressive personality and swagger coupled with the genuinely good work he does in the community. Anderson is the type of player baseball that could benefit from having a spotlight on more consistently. The issue is, the performance has to catch up with the rest of the package.
I feel fairly certain Tim won’t hit .335 this season or have a .357 OBP that was buoyed by an unsustainable, yes it’s unsustainable, .399 BABIP. But that isn’t to say he can’t still be a valuable player with the bat. At this point, we know what he is from an offensive profile standpoint. He’s a guy that’s a free swinger, who is allergic to walks but has 20/20 potential with a unique combination of elite baserunning skills and power. No, he should not be hitting leadoff for this team; if you’re thinking it, stop immediately. Even with his season in 2019 that was elevated due to the aforementioned .399 BABIP, he still owns a career .303 OBP. I don’t care how fast he is, he doesn’t get on base enough to be hitting in front of the big boys, so drop it.
This isn’t to say that Tim isn’t the type of player that won’t sport a higher than league-average BABIP with a level of consistency. In fact, his career BABIP is .345 heading into 2020, so it stands to reason that he will be toward the top of the league in this category again — just not at .399, which will drag down his total numbers offensively. If Tim is able to see his SLG% remain elevated similar to what it was in 2019 (.508), again, the Sox will have a useful offensive player. Perhaps new hitting coach Frank Menechino will be able to help Anderson fully unearth the power potential in his swing to keep that slugging percentage trending upward from his career .435 mark.
I think the biggest question mark for TA7 remains with the glove. He led all of baseball in errors last year with 26 despite only playing 122 games. Now, I know errors are not the end all be all measure of defensive quality, but leading the league is problematic no matter how deep you analyze the numbers. With the offseason acquisitions of “Diamond” Dallas Keuchel and Gio Gonzalez (assuming he actually pitches in a regular-season game for the Sox this time), the Sox added two pitchers that place an emphasis on contact, particularly on the ground. This is where Anderson’s ability to convert those balls into outs is paramount.
Looking at some of the advanced defensive numbers, Anderson was -9 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) and -1 Outs Above Average (OAA) in 2019. TA has seen tremendous volatility from year-to-year with his defensive numbers. It is pretty well understood now that players that have superior defensive range can rack up more errors because, well, they can get to balls that others can’t. There’s a guy going into the Hall of Fame this year that was consistently in the middle of the pack in terms of errors annually, which was amazing considering if a ball was more than six inches to his left he couldn’t get to it (I hope he doesn’t have to move that way to get to the podium in July). But it illustrates the point that errors aren’t always indicative of defensive quality. Circling back to my original point, however, you simply can’t lead the league in errors with a pitching staff that is heavily reliant on contact.
The Sox will look to Anderson to be a leader on and off the field in 2020, and it is of utmost importance that the performance matches the personality. We know he has freakish athleticism and tools and that he hasn’t been playing baseball for much of his life, but it is simply time for him to put together a full season of quality at-bats and sound glove work.
From my perspective, the defensive side of the ball is the more pressing need. For the first time in a long time, the Sox will have a balanced lineup and firepower that will keep them in games. So if Anderson is able to stabilize his defensive work, it will provide a tremendous boost to a pitching staff that has a high level of volatility and simply cannot afford to have to pitch over consistent defensive miscues.
I know everyone in White Sox nation is pulling for TA7 and he seems to genuinely want to be a great player, but it’s time for him to show it. Consistent play from Anderson in 2020 could be one of the deciding factors in this team’s fate. If he is able to play close to his ceiling, it will go a long way in terms of helping the Sox overcome their projections.