It’s never good to stake a prospect’s chances of sticking on exceptionalism, but we had to dare to dream with Tim Anderson.
We knew his plate discipline was a problem, with the kind of walk-to-strikeout chasm that kills careers. But we knew his plate coverage and bat-to-ball skills were a plus. We also knew that offensive and/or defensive setbacks at a new level didn’t rattle him, and he showed an uncanny aptitude to make his brand of baseball work after weathering initial struggles.
It’s a hard case to make to skeptics, that he could improve against the best of the best despite an incredibly shaky foundation to his approach. Plenty of prospects come to the majors with similar profiles and raves about confidence, bringing to mind the Mike Tyson quote about everybody having a plan ‘til they get punched in the mouth. We had a sense that Anderson was different, but so was the sound of Dayan Viciedo’s contact, and his approach didn’t work enough to even be a feasible DH.
Fortunately, we didn’t have to make the case — we just get to see if he can justify the idea that his intangibles can hold up until they’re reflected by tangibles.
His game against Cleveland on Wednesday is the kind that will solidify his standing.
First, he hit a massive two-run blast off the left-field foul pole, turning on Carlos Carrasco's 93 mph in a way we don’t often see from White Sox hitters.
This is why exit velocity is rewarding. Here’s a homer that only traveled 394 feet, but it qualifies as a rocket at 108 mph.
Just as impressive was his ninth-inning walk against Cody Allen. It’s not just that Anderson drew a walk -- more on that in a bit — but he actually took ball four twice. He got hosed on a 3-1 Cody Allen fastball out of the zone, but the bad call didn’t cause him to expand the zone on his own. When Allen tried another fastball below the knees, Anderson laid off.
It’s possible Anderson laid off because he anticipated Allen’s knuckle-curve, and any heater in the zone would’ve been an easy strike three looking. The skepticism is warranted.
However, the skepticism may have to be ratcheted down a peg or two in short order. Anderson is starting to earn some benefit of the doubt when it comes to the strike zone. While he extended his hitting streak to 10 games on Wednesday, he also created his first walking streak, too, giving him six bases on balls over 14 games in August (13 starts). To put it another way:
- June: 1.1% BB, 31.8% K
- July: 0.9% BB, 26.6% K
- August: 9.3% BB, 27.8% K
As a result, he’s starting to see some separation in his triple-slash line. At .273/.296/.424, it’s not eye-popping, yet it’s adequate for the times because of plays like this one he made in the eighth inning.
(Anderson also has the same OBP as Todd Frazier, which is great for Anderson and bad for Frazier.)
It’s not luck, either. Anderson has started laying off some of the junk that’s being thrown his way. Look at the swing rates from Brooks before August (left) and this month:
There’s still room for improvement, but Anderson seems to have made the first step by laying off the junkiest of the junk, and especially with two strikes. When you filter those charts for two-strike counts, Anderson had been swinging at two-thirds of the low/away pitches he’d seen through July. In August, he’s cut that rate nearly in half.
As long as Anderson shows that he’s tightened up the expanded version of his strike zone, we’ll probably see pitchers tighten up next by making their chase pitches a little more tempting. That’s good news (more potential pitches in the zone) and bad news (more demanding of his eye), but at least it resembles a battle now.
Anderson is never going to be a walk monster, but when you see him turn around a Carrasco fastball inside that effortlessly, you can see why he's comfortable with a big plate. He doesn't need to abide by a traditional strike zone to be successful -- he just needs to wrestle it down to his terms. It looks like that process has finally started in earnest.