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Deep Dive: shortstop edition, part 3

Tim Anderson: his past, present and future with the White Sox

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Kansas City Royals
The Big Payback: Tim Anderson, with a bWAR of 2.5, was one of the White Sox best values of 2018.
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

“Deep Dive” focuses on the depth of each position in the White Sox organization. Each position will be a four-part series:

“Deep Dive” focuses on the depth of each position in the White Sox organization. Each position will be a four-part series:

  1. Depth in the lower levels (Dominican through Kannapolis)
  2. Depth in the higher levels (Winston-Salem through Charlotte)
  3. Under the Radar-type detail on one of the White Sox players at that position
  4. Free-agent options at that position, plus sneak peeks into available players in the upcoming 2019 MLB Draft.

This article delves into the career of Tim Anderson through 2017, his most recent season with the White Sox, and what his future looks like in the Sox organization.

Tim Anderson — how did he get here?

Anderson, a native of Tuscaloosa, Ala., was a fairly unheralded prep star. As a result, he opted to play shortstop for East Central CC (Decatur, Miss.); while there, he certainly made a name for himself. In two years totaling 332 at-bats, Anderson slashed .434/.505/.708, with 14 homers, 82 RBIs, and an impeccable 71-of-75 stolen bases. His sophomore season particularly drew the attention of scouts, as he managed to slash .495/.568/.879 in 182 at-bats, with 18 doubles, 11 triples, 10 homers, 45 RBIs, 41-of-45 stolen bases, 17 walks (7.98%), 14 HBP, and just 12 strikeouts (5.63%). It’s no wonder, then, that the White Sox nabbed him with the 17th overall pick in the first round of the 2013 MLB Draft.

As was the case for top White Sox prospects at the time, Anderson was rushed to the majors fairly quickly. With that said, he did seem to force the issue in the minors by slashing .301/.339/.426 over 331 games, with a 62 doubles, 26 triples, 19 homers, 127 RBIs, 94-of-120 stolen bases, 64 walks (3.41%) and 332 strikeouts (26.05%) encompassing 1,372 at-bats. Other than the lack of walks, Anderson showed enough to earn a promotion on June 20, 2016.

Anderson’s rookie season was better than expected, as he slashed .283/.302/.432, with 22 doubles, six doubles nine homers, 30 RBIs, and 10-of-12 stolen bases. Anderson signed a contract extension the following March for six years (plus option years afterward) and $25 million, eschewing his arbitration years and first two years of eligible free agency. At the time of the deal, it was the richest-ever baseball contract for a player with less than one year of service.

Other than signing the contract, 2017 was a rough year for Anderson. Although he still showed flashes of 2016, he struggled across the board by hitting .257/.276/.402, with 26 doubles, four triples, 17 homers, 56 RBIs, just 13 walks (2.15%) and 162 strikeouts (26.73%) while also committing 28 errors in the field. On the bright side, he was successful in 15-of-16 stolen base attempts. To be fair, Anderson had a lot of things on his mind, primarily the loss of his best friend Branden Moss, who was shot and killed in May while trying to help the victim of a fight outside a bar in Tuscaloosa. Throw in undisclosed family issues and trying to validate his record-breaking extension (not to mention the added media scrutiny), and Anderson encountered the perfect storm.

Anderson with the White Sox in 2018

Anderson needed to bounce back in 2018, and for the most part, he did. Although his average fell to .240, his OBP and SLG improved to .281 and .406, respectively. His plate discipline still wasn’t good, but it did improve significantly, as Anderson increased his walks to 30 (4.95%) and decreased his strikeouts to 149 (24.59%). He set career highs with 28 doubles, 20 homers and 26 stolen bases, becoming the first White Sox shortstop ever in the 20-20 club. Defensively, he reduced his errors from 28 to 20, while often making highlight-reel plays.

Anderson’s bWAR for 2018 was 2.5; using the FanGraphs estimate of $7.7MM for each WAR and his $1 million salary for the year, his actual net value for the White Sox in 2018 was $18.25 million.

Interestingly enough, Anderson’s drop in average wasn’t attributable to off-speed pitches. Against fastballs last year, Anderson slashed .252/.298/.422, a decrease from the previous year’s line of .295/.320/.500. He improved his batting average from .211 in 2017 to .224 this year against anything other than fastballs. My theory is that he may be caught in-between: He’s expecting off-speed pitches, and when he gets the express, he can’t get to it time. Anderson still needs to avoid pitches below the zone, as he whiffed 55% of the time when pitchers went there with two strikes. Unsurprisingly, Anderson performed well against southpaws (slashing .282/313.474) while struggling against righties (.224/.269/.380).

What does the future have in store for Anderson in a White Sox uniform?

Barring any trade or free agent acquisition of shortstop, Anderson seems safe to stick at his natural position of shortstop. There is a minute possibility that Nick Madrigal could play shortstop when he’s ready for the majors as early as 2020, but I don’t believe he’d have the arm to play there a full season. In that respect, teammate Yoan Moncada would be the likelier to move away from second base to accommodate Madrigal. In the unexpected situation Anderson had to move, he’d certainly have the athleticism and arm to play center field, or even third base.

Anderson made much progress in 2018, but still more needs to be done. If he can continue to reduce his errors, improve his plate discipline, lay off pitches below the zone, and be more aggressive against fastballs, it wouldn’t be surprising to see this 25-year-old be a White Sox the representative in next year’s All-Star Game.