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Deep Dive: Tim Anderson’s Past, Present and Future with the White Sox

The shortstop and team heartbeat enjoyed arguably his best season in 2021. What will he do for an encore?

MLB: Game One-Chicago White Sox at Cleveland Indians
Tim Anderson posted a 4.6 bWAR in 2021 — the best of his six-year career to date.
Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

“Deep Dive” focuses on the depth of each position in the Chicago White Sox organization. Each position is broken into five parts:

  1. Depth in the rookie levels (Dominican through Great Falls)
  2. Depth in A-ball (Kannapolis and Winston-Salem)
  3. Depth in the higher levels (Birmingham and Charlotte)
  4. Under the Radar-type detail on a White Sox player
  5. Free agent options

This post goes into detail on Tim Anderson’s history with the Sox through 2020, a look at his 2021 season, and briefly illumine the other shortstop options on the White Sox roster.


Tim Anderson — how did he get here?

A prep basketball point guard who led his team to an Alabama state championship, Anderson also played baseball but lost playing time to a knee injury and his basketball commitments. Undrafted out of high school, he went to East Central CC (Decatur, Miss.) to focus on baseball, and started to come on in the summer Jayhawk League in 2012. During Anderson’s sophomore season with East Central, he slashed an impressive .495/.568/.879 in 53 games with 18 doubles, 11 triples, 10 homers, 45 RBIs, 41-of-45 stolen bases, 17 walks and 12 strikeouts. He steadily climbed draft boards all spring in 2013 before the White Sox drafted him 17th overall that summer.

After receiving a signing bonus of $2.164 million, Anderson bypassed the AZL squad and Great Falls and began his minor league career with Kannapolis. He played for Winston-Salem and Birmingham in 2014, spent the full 2015 season with Birmingham (slashing .312/.350/.429) and began 2016 with Charlotte by hitting .304/.325/.409 in 57 games with 10 doubles, four homers and 11 stolen bases. After veteran Jimmy Rollins struggled in the first two months of that season, Anderson was promoted to the White Sox on June 10.

Anderson actually had a slightly better OPS (.738) in his 99-game rookie campaign than he enjoyed in Charlotte. That year, he slashed .283/.306/.432 with 22 doubles, six triples, nine homers, 30 RBIs, 10 stolen bases, 13 walks (3.0%) and 117 strikeouts (27.1%). He also exhibited good range, while limiting his errors to 14. As a result of his efforts, Anderson finished seventh in the 2016 AL Rookie of the Year voting.

The 2017 season saw Anderson hit a bit of a sophomore slump, as many of his numbers fell. In 146 games spanning 587 at-bats, he slashed .257/.276/.402 with 26 doubles, four triples, 17 homers, 15 stolen bases, 13 walks (2.1%) and 162 strikeouts (26.7%). Like he would do in the next two seasons, TA led all AL shortstops in errors (28). However, he showed enough promise to warrant an early extension — one that will keep him with the White Sox through 2024.

For multiple reasons, the 2018 season was arguably Anderson’s most difficult to date. Trying to cope from the death of his best friend, and perhaps trying to do too much in an attempt to justify his extension, Anderson got off to a horrific start from which he never truly recovered. For the year, he slashed .240/.281/.406 with 28 doubles, three triples, 20 homers, 64 RBIs, 30-of-32 stolen bases, 30 walks (5.0%), 149 strikeouts (24.6%) and 20 errors. While most of the slashing numbers declined, Anderson did attain career highs in homers, RBIs, stolen bases and walks while joining the 20-20 club.

In a turnaround, Anderson enjoyed arguably his best season to date in 2019, winning the batting title and slashing .335/.357/.508 with a career-high 32 doubles, 18 homers, 56 RBIs, 17 stolen bases, 15 walks (2.9%), 109 strikeouts and 129 OPS. If not for missing basically the entire month of July that year, he likely would’ve attained career highs in homers, RBIs and perhaps even stolen bases.

Due to the pandemic, Anderson played in only 49 games during the 2020 season. He did make the most of it, though, as he slashed .322/.357/.529 with 11 doubles, 10 homers, 10 walks (4.5%), 50 strikeouts (22.6%) and a career-best 141 wRC+. He also posted a 2.3 bWAR, which would be the equivalent of 6.2 (which would have been his career best) in a normal season.

Tim Anderson’s 2021

Anderson, suffice it to say, enjoyed another great season — an All-Star caliber one at that! In 123 games spanning 527 at-bats, he slashed .309/.338/.469 with 29 doubles, two triples, 17 homers, 61 RBIs, 18 stolen bases, 22 walks (4.0%), 119 strikeouts (26.3%) and 106 OPS. As usual, his batting average was greatly abetted by a particularly loud BABIP (.372). One would think that with such a great BABIP that Anderson’s exit velocity would be off the charts; however, at 89.6 mph it only ranked in the top 55 percentile, so it does appear Anderson hit with a significant amount of good fortune. But then again, hitting the ball on the ground 56% of the time is perhaps a good recipe for success thanks to his above-average speed.

Now, let’s look a little closer at his splits. Anderson hit southpaws slightly better, at .319/.343/.486, than against righties (.306/.336/.463). Whether hitting with nobody on (.294/.319/.470) or with runners in scoring position (.302/.342/.443), it didn’t really matter, as TA performed eerily similar no matter the situation. Anderson did his most damage as a table-setter, as he slashed .394/.413/.590 when hitting with nobody out. Also, in contrast with much of the team in 2021, he actually performed better in day games (.340/.368/.510) than under the lights (.291/.319/.443). Most fans (this writer included) are understandably frustrated with Anderson’s low walk totals, but he was luminescent when ahead in the count as he slashed .381/.477/.540 in such circumstances. Anderson did encounter a great degree of luck in 2021, so it seems he’ll be in for some regression in 2022. Of course, year-in and year-out, Anderson has defeated the law of averages and continued to surpass expectations.

Despite this year’s slash line of .309/.338/.469, his expected slash line per Baseball Savant was only .274/.320/.431. With that said, most fans could probably live even with those lesser numbers from their young shortstop. There is some hope, however, for Anderson’s ability to hit for a high average, as he he was less pull-happy in 2021 (31.1%, which is 5.5% less than his career average). Versus fastballs, he slashed .330/.373/.495 while he fared marginally better against off-speed pitches .323/.367/.532. Anderson did somewhat struggle, however, against breaking pitches (.271/.288/.387).

Thanks in part to reducing his error total to 10, Anderson attained his third-highest defensive WAR this year (0.8) per Baseball-Reference, trailing only his 2018 and 2016 campaigns. Thanks to his offensive and defensive contributions, he attained a career-best 4.6 bWAR. With his range and exemplary work ethic, Anderson has worked at becoming an above-average defender. He’s still only 28, so it’s easy to envision continued success over the next few years.

Anderson is more than mere bWAR, however: He is the vocal leader of the team and considered by many to be the face of the franchise. He’s come through in big moments — hitting the game-winning homer in the Field of Dreams game, and hitting .485 in two years of postseason play. He also does a lot of off-the field charity work that’s helped the community at large. Considering that each WAR point is worth approximately $7.7 million per FanGraphs on the free agent market, and Anderson earned just $7.25 million in 2021, he provided the White Sox with an incredible $28.17 million value. That’s not even mentioning all the intangibles he brings to the table.

What does the future have in store for Anderson and the White Sox at shortstop?

Because of the extension Anderson signed prior to the 2018 season, he will be earning $9.5 million in 2022. The White Sox have club options on Anderson for the next two years ($12.5 million and $14 million, respectively), so Anderson should continue to be a fixture in the lineup for at least the next three years. Anderson’s swagger, which can rub some baseball purists the wrong way, actually helps give the team a personality and identity that at times seemed lacking during these trying years of the rebuild. Thus far, Anderson’s been arguably the most productive first round pick for the White Sox in quite some time, as thanks to his terrific 2019, he now owns a career bWAR of 16.8. At times, it seems Anderson is just scratching the surface, as he appears capable of a 30-30 season or two down the road provided he stays healthy. Perhaps because he plays the game hard, staying healthy has indeed been an issue at times for Anderson, as evidenced by his missing 39 games this year.

In case Anderson should miss time next year, who’d be available to fill in for him? Leury García could be an option, but he may end up on another club next year as he’s now a free agent for the first time in his career. Danny Mendick is also available and wields a solid glove, but his offense is subpar. Romy González enjoyed a cup of coffee this year with the White Sox, but like García, is extremely versatile and can play a multitude of positions. Other options in the system could include Yolbert Sánchez as early as next year, while guys like Lenyn Sosa and José Rodríguez could be available in a pinch late next year depending upon how they fare at Birmingham and/or Charlotte.

Of course, the team could select a proven reserve shortstop next year via trade or free agency. Speaking of which, the free agent options who primarily played shortstop this year will be featured in the next Deep Dive.