When the then-22-year-old Tim Anderson was called up to the White Sox from Charlotte in 2016, there was a lot to be excited about. It wasn’t long before Anderson was immediately putting together a more than respectable season at the plate, on the base paths, and on defense. He seemed to instantly fit the mold of a true major league player with the ability to provide multi-dimensional value.
The White Sox hadn’t been known for the quality of minor-league players funneling their way through the system at the time, so it was a pleasant surprise to see how well he performed while getting his feet wet on the major-league level.
However, it’s a bit of an understatement to say Tim Anderson’s 2017 was a letdown for White Sox fans. Those who hadn’t been paying close attention to the White Sox may be tempted to suggest that this performance dip came from the added pressure of signing a six-year contract extension less than 100 games into his career, but many White Sox fans will tell you it’s likely a product of something else.
As many White Sox fans know, Anderson spent most of the season grieving after the loss of his long-time friend, Branden Moss, who died on May 7, 2017. He was already having a rough season up to that point, and his production didn’t get much better during the ensuing months. It’s likely very difficult for fans to understand the impact this has on a professional athlete’s performance on the field, especially when the player is very shy, reserved player who often keeps his thoughts bottled up. Baseball aside, this is a sensitive subject, and some folks are able to move on from traumatic experiences more easily than others. Anderson eventually had to seek the help of a counselor to assist him through the grieving process, so it seems like he was having a rougher time than fans were speculating. Plus, mere speculations probably can’t come close to gauging the true emotional impact of this event.
As the 2017 season continued, Anderson certainly didn’t seem like himself as a person or as a player. As a player, the rest of the first half of the season was littered with defensive miscues and poor plate discipline. By the time the All-Star break rolled around, an argument could have been made that he had the worst first half of any MLB shortstop.
Although this was frightening, the back half of his season seemed to turn around his trajectory. The defense seemed to slowly work its way back into place and the explosive power started to reappear. Many fans semi-jokingly like to give credit to the benches-clearing incident with Marcus Stroman on August 1, where the two went back and forth both on the field and on Twitter shortly after the game. It’s been suggested that this may have been what lit a fire under Anderson, as it was the beginning of a seven-week stretch in which he batted .318/.335/.532 including 13 doubles, three triples, and eight home runs. This stretch also included a September in which Anderson went 9-for-9 in stolen bases.
It seems like 2017 was mixed bag for the sophomore shortstop. So, what should be expected heading into the 2018 season?
Though the back half of the 2017 version of Tim Anderson flashed a lot of the freakish natural athleticism and explosiveness that closely resembled the 2016 version of Tim Anderson, there’s unfortunately still a lot to be concerned about.
The bulk of the negative (and justified) criticism comes from his poor plate discipline. His 2.1 percent walk rate was last among 349 players with 200 or more plate appearances in 2017, and he hasn’t shown any signs of improvement in that department. This is partially a result of falling behind in the count very quickly – Anderson was down 0-2 in 161 of his 606 plate appearances in 2017, which led all MLB players.
This takes away from his ability to get on-base and it takes away from the potential value he can add as an effective base-runner. Many players with low walk rates are forced overcome this inability to take walks with high-average hitting or well-above-average power (such as fellow shortstops Paul DeJong and Didi Gregorius) in order to maintain at least average offensive productivity. While Anderson is capable of being a decent average hitter with decent power, it hasn’t shown to be enough to overcome his poor plate discipline in the long run. If he’s ever going to be a productive player offensively, he will need to be more selective moving forward.
In addition to his issues at the plate, Anderson’s defense also saw a lot of criticism in 2017, a season in which he committed a league-leading 28 errors. Now, it’s worth noting that errors aren’t everything when evaluating a player’s defense. Part of the process of committing errors involves getting to the ball in the first place, and Anderson has excellent range. Plus, even the best MLB shortstops will often end up with a hefty amount of errors over the course of a season relative to players at other positions, mostly because of the volume of baseballs hit in that direction.
It’s also worth noting that only six of those 28 errors came after July 16, so even though 28 is a bunch, it’s not a reason to frantically panic. Anderson is still capable of providing a lot of value defensively, as illustrated by his excellent 2016 and his previously-mentioned range. Some fans have even suggested that center field would be an even better fit for him, as many other players with similar physical attributes have proven to be excellent defensively at that position.
Many fans have also hatched the idea of a potential Manny Machado signing prior to the 2019 season. Machado is very capable of playing both third base and shortstop, but it’s been rumored that he’d prefer to play shortstop moving forward. For now, the thought of Machado in a White Sox uniform is a little outlandish, but if it’s actually what happens, moving Anderson to center field would open the door to a situation for him at a position that Anderson currently occupies (assuming the White Sox outfield isn’t fully blocked at that point).
One of the wonderful aspects of Anderson as a player is his ability to run the bases, specifically his ability to steal bases. He’s one of the fastest overall players in baseball and one of the more efficient base-runners in baseball. As Owen Schoenfeld of The Loop Sports suggested in this piece, the White Sox have under-utilized their speed advantages with multiple players, and Anderson is definitely one of those players. After going 10-for-12 (83 percent) in 2016 and 15-for-16 (94 percent) in 2017, Anderson has proven to have the ability to provide positive value from his ability to steal bases.
It can be a very frustrating experience to watch as a player with so much obvious potential struggles his way through the beginning of his career. 2017 was a difficult season for Tim Anderson, but the now-24-year-old still has a lot of seemingly untapped upside, and 2018 sets up to be a very telling year for the third-year shortstop.