It’s no secret that defensively Tim Anderson is a below-average shortstop — not absolutely horrible, but not good, either. The weakness in the field was easier to overlook, though, when he was hitting well and infusing spirit in the White Sox. Unfortunately, neither of those positives apply this year.
While it’s easy to see that TA is a step below most major league shortstops of the 2020s, and a couple of flights of stairs below Francisco Lindor or Carlos Correa or a few others, the question here is how he stacks up historically among those who held the position for several years for the Sox. In case you think that buys Tim a break, well, shortstop is one of the positions of greatest defensive strength for the White Sox over the years — at least three of the greatest defensive shortstops of all time plied their trades on the South Side.
Admittedly, doing the comparison this year is a bit of kicking a man while he’s down, but that’s what fans are for.
To make the comparison, we’re going to use RTot, Baseball-Reference’s equivalent to UZR or TZR, a total zone compendium of all defensive stats available into one value. There are some newer analyses that may be different or more comprehensive, like Defensive Runs Saved or FanGraphs’ DEF, but those stats don’t go back far enough to make many comparisons. B-R says it is able to properly tabulate RTot going back about 70 years based on available data, and they’re the experts, so we’ll take their word for it.
Those who only played the position a year or two aren’t included. Let us begin.
Tim Anderson (2016-present)
In eight seasons, TA has had only two where his RTot was positive, and then only barely, with a +2 in 2016 and +1 in 2018. Every other season has been negative, usually decidedly so.
Other than the current season and the shortened 2020, Tim’s best year was a -6. In his 28-error year of 2017, he came in at -13. Even with only 12 errors in 2022 he scored a -10, perhaps because in years with fewer errors he tends to have shown less range.
All told, for eight seasons or parts thereof, Anderson comes to a whopping -42. Maybe saying “not absolutely horrible” was a tad generous. He does not fare well in White Sox history.
Alexei Ramírez (2008-15)
Alexei had a split defensive run with the White Sox. From 2008 to 2012, he was positive every year, but then turned negative the last three years. His best RTot was +11 n 2012, his worst -7 in 2014.
Those scores pretty much reflect the eye test. Part of Alexei’s talent and value was his love for the game, which showed constantly, but his emotions ran the other way the last two seasons because of the deaths, first, of a close family member and then in 2015 on Minnie Miñoso, who was his hero and whose number he wore that season.
Alexei also turned gun-shy toward the end, not of the ball but of other players. After several collisions chasing fly balls he took to veering off too early, and after several crashes at second base, he would sometimes matador throws as a runner was sliding in. Those things had to hurt his score.
Ramirez ended up with a +10 for eight White Sox seasons, dragged down by the final three.
Juan Uribe (2004-08)
The only White Sox shortstop since George Davis in 1906 to sport a championship ring (if they got rings in 1906), Uribe wasn’t flashy — it’s hard to be flashy at short when you weigh 245 — but brought to mind words like “steady” and “reliable.”
His best RTot year with the Sox was the championship year of 2005, when he scored +11. His only negative was a -2 in 2007. Final tally with the Sox, just part of a long career with numerous teams, was +12 for five seasons.
José Valentín (2000-04)
Valentín might not come to mind when thinking of solid-D White Sox shortstops, but the numbers say he was extremely good, not just at short but at several other positions as well. His shortstop numbers topped out at +13 in 2003, the only year he played there exclusively. Next came a +10 in 2000.
Valentín’s Sox shortstop D came in a solid +36 over five years.
Ozzie Guillén (1985-97)
White Sox fans today may think of Ozzie as the manager of the 2005 team or the funny guy in the postgame show, but before he took to managing Guillén was one heck of a shortstop.
In 1987, Ozzie’s RTot was +28, the highest of any Sox shortstop ever — and, yes, that includes Hall-of-Famers. That was between +21 in 1986 and +22 in 1988. As often happens, Ozzie trailed off in later years, going -14 in 1996 and -18 in 1997, his age-32 and -33 seasons.
In 13 seasons, Guillén totaled +96 despite the -32 the last two years. Before those, he was averaging a higher RTot than — yes, really — Luis Aparicio.
Bucky Dent (1973-76)
Dent was a really unusual case. With the White Sox, he was defensively terrible. All four seasons were negative, adding up to a -21, an average just as bad as Anderson’s, and the only other player to handle short for more than two years to run in the red.
Then Dent got traded to the Yankees, immediately becoming a defensive wizard, with RTot scores of +12, then +17, then +22. Maybe the Yankees employ coaches or something.
Luis Aparicio (1956-62, 1968-70)
On to the Hall of Fame, andthe man who reinvented the shortstop position and held a patent on the skill set until Ozzie Smith reinvented the reinvention. Around his trades with Baltimore and before going to Boston, Little Louie topped out at +27 RTot in 1960 and never ran a negative with the Sox (White Sox, that is, he did run negative with the Red ones at the end of his career). No wonder Luis has nine Gold Gloves.
For the decade, Aparicio totaled +109 RTot, a Sox record, of course, and an average not met by anyone with more than a three-year stretch with the team. Turns out the man he was traded for was no slouch, either.
Ron Hansen (1963-69)
Hansen came to the White Sox with Hoyt Wilhelm and Dave Nicholson for Aparicio and Al Smith in an extraordinarily good trade by GM Ed Short, and covered shortstop until Little Louie came back in 1968. Hansen was outstanding defensively, with a +25 RTot in 1963 and +27 a year later, though he did slip to a -1 in ’66.
Hansen’s +65 at short in seven years was a feat, given he ceded the position to Aparicio for all but a few games in 1968 and 1969.
Chico Carrasquel (1950-55)
For tabulation purposes, we’re only including 1953-55, because RTot doesn’t go back any further, but those were three incredible years ... +18 RTot, +20, +9. That’s +47 in three years, an average even better than Aparicio’s. Carrasquel was Rookie of the Year runner-up in 1950, and an All-Star every year with the White Sox except 1952.
The most notable shortstop before then was, of course, Hall-of-Famer Luke Appling. Unfortunately, none of the zone rating systems goes back to his career. He played shortstop nearly his entire career, which stretched into his 40s. That speaks to the dearth of talent the White Sox had in Appling’s era, but in spite of gaudy error totals implies a competent, not brilliant, fielder — likely average, or a shade worse.
In the RTot years, the only White Sox shortstop who was as defensively-challenged as Anderson was Bucky Dent, and Dent got suddenly not just better, but downright excellent immediately upon being traded.
There are rumors Tim will be on the trading block if things don’t improve in the next month (or the AAAL Central doesn’t get even worse), and he doesn’t seem concerned. Maybe he’s seen what happened with Dent or simply figures a change of venue will aid him as well, which is quite possible.
Anderson does say he rates shortstop money, though, but unless he starts hitting again, teams may not agree.