Sometimes even the most ardent baseball fans can be wrong about a player. Consider this a mea culpa as it relates to White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson.
At various points in 2017 and 2018, I questioned whether Timmy would be the shortstop on this team when they were ready to break open the contention window. I questioned whether he could stay at shortstop, I questioned whether he could hit enough to be a regular, and I questioned whether he should hit at the top of the order (more on that topic later) because he doesn't take enough pitches and get on base with enough frequency. Nothing makes me happier than to be wrong in this instance.
Tim Anderson is, in many ways, the heart and soul of this White Sox team. I've said on many podcasts that he's the straw that stirs this drink.
He is the emotional leader of this team, and it's been on full display over the last two seasons when he has had short IL stints for minor injuries. His absence has been palpable and in those cases has left us to say to ourselves, "TA can't get back soon enough."
If you would've told me this in 2017, I would've said you're crazy. Hell, I may have even said around that time that I wouldn't be surprised if he got the Starlin Castro treatment and was traded when this team was ready to get serious about contending. Feel free to call me the village idiot, I earned it with this one.
If you listen to Sox On Tap postgame shows with any regularity, you know that I frequently espouse the high-level baseball IQ that TA has. I continue to marvel at this because, as I've eluded to in a number of cases, this is a guy that didn't play baseball full-time until he was 16 years old.
It's been on full display in a number of cases this season, whether it's angling his body away from a tag while trying to steal a base, throwing behind a runner to prevent runs from scoring, or understanding situational hitting and how pitchers are trying to attack him from at-bat to at-bat. The development and baseball intelligence he continues to show is something I never thought I would be writing about, but here we are.
One of the greatest criticisms of Tim Anderson since his arrival has been his aggressive plate approach, particularly his inability to draw walks with regularity. I will admit, again, I fell victim to this trap and it was a leading reason why I was concerned about him hitting at the top of the order.
The last two seasons have shown something, however. We can all agree Tim Anderson doesn't get into the batter's box to draw walks, he gets in the box to inflict damage on the baseball. Particularly, when he is ahead in counts. When Timmy has the count in his favor, he takes out that aggression on the baseball and does so with a ferocity that is not matched by any of his peers at the shortstop position.
You might say, sure, being ahead in the count he should be a better hitter than vice versa, but the fact is Timmy has been better than his peers since his career turned the corner heading into the 2019 season.
*Data encompasses PA ahead in the count since 2019*
As you see from the data above, when Tim gets ahead in counts he does more damage than any of the cherry-picked "top" shortstops in the game. Granted, TA has the fewest plate appearances of any player listed in these situations and that is simply a function of his overall aggressive plate approach. It's fascinating to see the disparity in performance in these isolated circumstances when comparing TA to Francisco Lindor, a player who just signed a contract for over $300 million, and Corey Seager, another player looking at a huge payday this winter.
Now, it would behoove Tim to get himself in these more favorable counts with a greater frequency, but at this juncture in his career, I think it's time to simply accept the plate approach for what it is. And if I'm being honest, I want TA to continue to be aggressive when he gets himself into these counts. His understanding of pitch sequencing and scouting reports has improved immensely as he has gained experience at the Major League level, and it has allowed him to turn into a hitter that makes pitchers pay when they fall behind him in the count.
Keep Doing What You're Doing
So it's time for all the talk about Tim Anderson being more selective and taking more walks to take a back seat. Anderson gets into the batter's box looking to put himself into hitters counts so he can put a "whoopin'" on baseballs, not draw walks.
If the walks come, that's nice, but under no circumstances at this point should Tim scale back the aggressiveness when he is in control of the plate appearance. He has shown that he is one of the best in baseball in these circumstances, and if the White Sox are to win the American League Central and, hopefully a World Series, they need Tim Anderson to continue being a force at the top of the lineup.
As a fan, it's nice to be wrong about a player sometimes when it works in the team's favor. Tim Anderson is one of those players I have been wrong about in a number of circumstances. There is no more doubting Tim Anderson for me, he's the real deal.
He continues to evolve as a player and seemingly improves in some phase of the game each year. He has proven to be a complete player. He has shown to be one of the best at his position with the bat and his high-level IQ on the bases. Even his defense has improved here in 2021, making him a triple threat. As Tim Anderson goes, so go the White Sox.