It was an April to forget for the Chicago White Sox offense.
Based on OPS+ (100 is average), the White Sox finished April with as many above-average hitters (two) as the 3-19 Cincinnati Reds. Andrew Vaughn (176) and Tim Anderson (153) earned the high marks.
At the top of the lineup, Anderson has done his best to at least give the White Sox chances to drive him home. His scorching April has been lost in the mix of otherwise poor team performances at the plate. Granted, a 72 at-bat sample size is just a fraction of a 162-game output, but TA’s consistency (a .333/.351/.528 slash line with three home runs and eight RBIs) has at least provided a few highlights. His nine multi-hit games in 18 tries has given plenty of chances to the top of the lineup to break out of its slump, too.
That small sample size could foreshadow a career year for the All-Star shortstop, though.
With a .333 batting average, Anderson has never made better contact, especially outside of the zone. His chase rate has significantly increased (46.4%), but so has his contact rate outside of the strike zone (70.6%). Entering Sunday, Anderson had seven hits on pitches outside of the strike zone.
It’s a vital improvement, if Anderson continues to chase pitches with his aggressive approach. When he’s making contact as often as he was in April, it results in a 14.5% strikeout rate, overtaking May 2019 as his new best mark.
There’s an obvious clear benefit to just simply putting the ball in play, especially since Anderson doesn’t draw walks.
A big part of Anderson’s success has been jumping on fastballs. He’s crushing the heater this season, recording a .364 average and .758 slugging percentage. All three of his home runs, and four of his five doubles have come against the fastball.
However, teams are starting to adjust by throwing Anderson a fastball a career-low 48.6% of the time. Instead, pitchers are using breaking pitches 44% of the time against him, and while his .258 average and .290 slugging percentage don’t inspire too much confidence, Anderson’s underlying numbers show he should eventually expect results.
Compare his April to just a couple of years ago in 2020, when he had a .282 batting average and career-best .506 slugging percentage against the pitch. Anderson’s numbers suggest he’s never been better against breaking stuff.
It’s more than putting the bat on the ball, though. It’s also about his renewed power. In April, he posted the best single month xSLG (.585) of his career. It ranks in the 90th percentile in baseball this year, indicating that Anderson’s power swing from 2020 could have returned for the long run.
The free-swinging Anderson (one walk, 1.4 walk percentage) elevates the ball (career-high 9° launch angle) and has a 43.9% hard-hit rate. His ground ball rate is down to 47.4% this season after hovering at 56% both of the past two years, while Anderson is hitting fly balls (28.1%) and line drives (24.6%) as often as ever in his career.
Before 2021, Anderson had three months with a hard-hit rate at 40% or more. He’s reached that mark in five of his last seven months of baseball, but now the hard contact is turning into extra-base hits. His .528 slugging percentage is a .059-point increase from last season when he slugged .469, the lowest mark since his 2019 breakout campaign. It’s clear Anderson’s approach targets a certain part of the strike zone, and he’s been able to execute the plan thus far.
It’d be easy to say eventually Anderson’s BABIP luck will catch up to him, but people have been saying that since 2019, and he keeps competing for batting titles and making All-Star games. Besides, Anderson’s .333 BABIP is his lowest since 2018.
Anderson needs to stay consistent with his approach and not try to force his way onto base to ignite a struggling offense by expanding his zone even more. He’s clearly done a good job so far.
His contact on pitches outside of the strike zone certainly could fall back to the 56% mark he’s shown over the past three seasons, and maybe better production against breaking pitches never becomes reality. It has only been a month of baseball, after all.
Or, one of the best hitters in baseball could have unlocked a few new tools at the plate.