Getting greedy: Tim Anderson led the league with a .335 average in 2019. Is he in store for a better year in 2020?
“Deep Dive” focuses on the depth of each position in the Chicago White Sox organization. Each position is broken into a five-part series:
- Depth in the rookie levels (Dominican through Great Falls)
- Depth in A-ball (Kannapolis and Winston-Salem)
- Depth in the higher levels (Birmingham and Charlotte)
- Under the Radar-type detail on one of the White Sox players at that position
- Free agent options at that position
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 career. 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 the 2016 season 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 that year, 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, he 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 the 2024 season.
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 reaching the 20-20 club.
With the White Sox in 2019
Anderson, suffice it to say, enjoyed the best season of his career in 2019. Over 123 games spanning 498 at-bats, he slashed .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, he likely would have also attained career highs in homers, RBIs and perhaps stolen bases. Of course, his league-leading batting average was greatly aided by an incredibly high .399 BABIP, which ranked second in the majors behind only teammate Yoán Moncada (.406). One would think that with such a great BABIP that Anderson’s exit velocity would be off the charts; however, it (88.3 mph) ranked only 168th in the majors, so it does appear Anderson hit with a significant amount of good fortune.
Now, let’s dig a little closer at his splits. Anderson actually hit slightly better versus righties this year (.339/.360/.514) than against southpaws (.326/.351/.493). Anderson did his most damage as a table-setter, as he slashed .394/.413/.590 when hitting with nobody out. To take that one step further, when actually leading off an inning, Anderson slashed .455/.470/.714 in 112 at-bats. Also, in contrast with much of the team in 2019, he actually performed a bit better in day games (.356/.378/.510) than under the lights (.322/.344/.507). 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 .404/.473/.658 in such circumstances. As alluded earlier, Anderson did encounter a great degree of luck in 2019, so it seems he’ll be in for some regression in 2020. Despite this year’s slash line of .335/.357/.508, his expected slash line per Baseball Savant was only .294/.328/.461. With that said, most fans could probably live with those 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 2019 (32.7%, eight percent less than his career average).
Despite Anderson’s defense being essentially a wash thanks to his league-high error total, he still managed to post a career-high 4.0 bWAR for 2019. He’s certainly got the range and arm to be an above-average defender, so if he could limit his miscues somewhat, Anderson should be a positive factor on defense going forward. He’s still only 26, so it’s easy to envision improvement with additional maturity. Thus, even if he takes a step back offensively, it’s hoped that his defense could take up the slack and continue giving him a 4-plus bWAR in each of the next few years. Considering that each WAR point is worth approximately $7.7 million per FanGraphs on the free agent market, and Anderson earned just $1.4 million in 2019, he provided the White Sox with an incredible $29.4 million value.
What does the future have in store?
Because of the extension Anderson signed prior to the 2018 season, he will be earning $4 million in 2020, with his salary climbing up to $9.5 million by 2022. The White Sox have club options on Anderson for the next two years, so Anderson should continue to be a fixture in the lineup for the next five years. Anderson’s swagger, which can rub some baseball purists the wrong way, actually helps give the team a personality and identity that has at times been 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 in the double digits. 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.
With continued offensive production and improved defensive play, Anderson’s swagger and enthusiasm could make him one of the faces of the Sox organization for years to come. With that said, concerns about his defense have led some people to believe his future lies either in center or right field. However, barring a blockbuster trade for someone like Francisco Lindor or an unexpected free-agent signing like Didi Gregorius, it seems most likely he’ll remain the South Side’s starting shortstop for the foreseeable future.