Last August 25-27, MLB and the Players Association inaugurated the first-ever Players Weekend. Players Weekend was designed to allow every player to make custom designs to their bats, gloves, and most notably, the names on the back of their jerseys.
Some of the game’s best and brightest took part in the festivities, displaying their own custom nicknames. New York Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge had the phrase “All Rise” written on the back of his jersey, while Seattle Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager had “Corey’s Brother” on his back, in a nod to the popularity of his brother, who plays for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson took a different and more heartfelt approach to the matter. Anderson chose to represent the passing of his late friend Branden Moss by having “B. Moss” spelled out across his back. Anderson’s decision to do that opened up the hearts and minds of all fans across baseball, as we all mourned alongside Tim during those three summer night games.
Sadly, Moss passed away last season after being shot while attempting to help an assault victim.
Anderson and Moss had been friends since they attended Hillcrest High School in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Anderson was a basketball and baseball star at Hillcrest, while Moss played football, and athletics kept their relationship close. Anderson said Moss was “always smiling,” and that is how he remembers the loss of his late close friend. The relationship between the two had been so close that Anderson is the godfather to Moss’s now two-year old daughter. Devastated and heartbroken, Anderson dedicated himself to playing out the rest of his 2017 season in memory of Moss.
At the time of Moss’s death, Anderson was dealing with his own on-the-field issues. Just 28 games into the season, Anderson was hitting .210 with two home runs, six RBI and 31 strikeouts. He claimed that his off-the-field issues dealing with the murder of his friend were not going to deter his focus from improving on the field.
At first, that did not seem to ring true, as Anderson was failing to capitalize on the strong rookie campaign that netted him a six-year, $25 million deal. But by season’s end, Anderson had collected himself. His first half (.240/.263/.369) to second half (.276/.292/.440) slashes didn’t show remarkable improvement, but his production in August and September sure did. Anderson his half (13 of 26) of his doubles in the final two months of the season and eight of his 17 homers in the same span. His August OPS was .772, and in September it jumped to .814.
There were still holes in Anderson’s game, to say the least. He went on to lead all A.L. shortstops (and all A.L. players) in errors (28), his average dropped 26 points (.283 in ’16, .257 in ’17), and his Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) went from six in ’16 to -8 in ’17.
Anderson has all the makings of a budding star in the league. He’s electric on the basepaths, provides surprising power from the shortstop position and most notably has range to both his right and left.
When you watch Anderson play, it can be frustrating in the best way possible. As you’re sitting at home watching him make an Alexei Ramirez-like play from the short grass in left field, you feel like you are watching an All-Star in motion. Sadly that quickly becomes erased when you see Anderson’s poor plate discipline (.289 career OBP), above-average strikeout rate (28% career) and his inability to make a consistently good throw over to first base. Even with all of that being said, Anderson knows he has the heart and God-given ability to be one of the best shortstops in all of baseball.
Every late January in Chicago, White Sox fans are rejuvenated about the start of the upcoming season as Sox Fest hits in full force. A few days prior to the Fest, Anderson had tweeted through his Twitter handle “Revenge18” to prove to Sox fans and to himself that he can overcome the adversity he dealt with in 2017. When asked about his struggles, Anderson, as he always does, responded to the question in a positive light: “I’m so excited to be able to get a new perspective on things. I understand the game more, and I had a chance to mature a little bit more this offseason and get to know myself more, while learning a lot of things from this past season.”
It seems as though Anderson has already began to put pen to paper. In spring training, Anderson slashed .293/.305/.448, with a homer and nine RBI in 58 at-bats. According to Baseball-Reference, Anderson is projected to hit .271/.303/.430 with 16 homers and 52 RBI in 2018.
Two quick notes: Clearly spring training numbers don’t mean much outside of determining roster spots, and projections are usually determined by the mean for the player’s career at that point. Is Anderson’s projected lookout accurate? Without a doubt. But as usual, projections don’t provide anything eye-popping. But entering his age-25 season, Anderson will be step into the prime of his career. It wouldn’t be a shock if Anderson blew down the doors of his career averages.
Off the field, it seems as though Anderson has turned his pain into play. Regardless, Anderson continues to pay tribute to Moss through his multiple social media accounts. The 2018 season will be more than just another year on the calendar for the Sox shortstop. This will be Anderson’s year of triumphs over tragedies, strength over weakness and redemption over regret.
We all have a front-row seat to observe Anderson’s greatness. It’s time to sit back, relax, and strap it down as his bounce-back season is about to unfold.