This Weekend in White Sox History

We’ll always have Kansas City: Matt Davidson made a BIG impression on the Royals to start 2018. (@MLBTradeRumors)


March 28, 1981
The Sox dealt pitcher Ken Kravec to the Cubs for pitcher Dennis Lamp. Over the next three seasons Lamp would do everything for the club … start, pitch long relief, close games. He’d toss a one-hitter against Milwaukee on August 25, losing his no-hitter in the ninth inning when Robin Yount blooped a double. Lamp would then lead the “Winnin’ Ugly” 1983 Western Division champion White Sox with 15 saves.


March 29, 2018
The earliest Opening Day in history at that time turned out to be a record-setting day for the White Sox, who blasted Kansas City, 14-7. The Sox tied the record for most Opening Day home runs by hitting six at Kauffman Stadium. (The 1988 Mets also hit six, against the Montreal Expos.) Matt Davidson became the fourth player in history to hammer three home runs on Opening Day, as he went 3-for-4 with four runs scored and five RBIs. Tim Anderson had two home runs and drove in three, with José Abreu hitting the other home run. Yolmer Sánchez also drove in three for the White Sox.

The White Sox drop their simulated home opener, 5-2

What could have been: Luis Robert grabs his first major league hit during the simulated Opening Day game against the Kansas City Royals. (@WhiteSox)


Whether an actual baseball game is played or not, South Side Hit Pen is here for you!

As many of you know, today was supposed to be the long-awaited White Sox home opener. Unfortunately, life happens. Fortunately, Strat-O-Matic is helping baseball nation out by simulating the 2020 games, day by day. Yes, they even remembered to include the Sox! As all of baseball should know, this team is the team to watch for the foreseeable future.

On this overcast, 40-degree day, your Chicago White Sox were anticipated to send out this interesting lineup formation:

  1. Yoán Moncada 3B
  2. Yasmani Grandal C
  3. Eloy Jiménez LF
  4. Edwin Encrnación DH
  5. José Abreu 1B
  6. Tim Anderson SS
  7. Nomar Mozara RF
  8. Yol- … I mean … Leury García 2B
  9. Luis Robert CF

Personally, I would have flip-flopped Eloy and Abreu, as one of many rearrangements to this lineup.

And of course, Lucas Giolito was given the first start of the year by the Sox’s pitching staff! However, Giolito would go on to pitch only five innings, where he gave up four runs on six hits, three walks, and a long ball. On the bright side, he did theoretically throw eight strikeouts, which we absolutely love to see!

As for the White Sox offense, it wasn’t too shabby. Every starting player had a hit besides the beloved Grandal. So, what does that mean? It means LUIS ROBERT SNAGGED HIS FIRST MAJOR LEAGUE HIT IN HIS FIRST BIG LEAGUE GAME! The arrow points up for Robert! The newcomer Mazara even hit a long ball! (The Sox won the trade.)

As for our *favorite* AL Central team, Danny Duffy earned the win in his first start of the year. He went 5 ⅔ innings, giving up only two runs off of eight hits while only striking two batters out. My #SoxMath brain is pointing out that the arithmetic seems a little off there, but I’ll let Duffy and the Royals have this victory; besides, the Sox are going to take the remaining games against Kansas City, anyway.

Kansas City’s offense compiled five runs off of nine hits, including two home runs. Can confirm no bat flips were initiated by the Royals. Can also confirm TA7 is waiting for Brad Keller for his first homer and bat flip of the year.

Even though the situation isn’t what we all anticipated come today, I hope you are all doing your part to stay safe! Real-life baseball games will be here before you know it, and our brilliant SSHP staff will have all of your game threads, game recaps, Six Packs, and many more fun articles that accompany actual games being played!

Baseball bracketology: 2020 White Sox’s Final Four, Cinderellas, Upsets, and Bubble Watch

 


Selection Sunday has now come and gone, with gone being the operative word, as the entire Men’s and Women’s NCAA Basketball Tournaments were outright canceled due to the global pandemic known as COVID-19.

Pair that with the fact that Major League Baseball’s Opening Day now has no definitive start date, with the initial two-week being delay usurped by the CDC’s recommendation to not conduct nationwide gatherings of more than 50 people for at least eight weeks. That would make the soonest that Opening Day could theoretically happen May 11.

My “bracket” is a little dubious on that date being a reality, but you never know. With all that said, with everyone self-quarantined, working from home, running to the stores with more raw speed than Adam Engel, and finding themselves with more free time than ever, we all could use a respite and also a way to fill the void.

From where I sit behind my keyboard, there’s no better way to do that than fill the vacuum of both no baseball and no March Madness with one composite article.

This clocks in at just more than 4,500 words, but we all have some free time on our hands and we have an itch for White Sox baseball, March Madness, and sports in general. And if not sports, then even text on a screen about sports. So this is broken into sections. Read it in full, or parse it out, consume it in bits, and wash your hands for 20 seconds with hot water for each hot take in-between sections (especially after the Upset section, as you may need to cleanse). We don’t have sports, but we have the game of words and through that we can have some strange version of White Sox March Madness –– in a real world that currently doesn’t have either.

With that said, I’m going to lay out my picks for the Chicago White Sox’s Final Four –– a core of players that will be the most valuable in 2020 –– who may surprise (Cinderellas) or underperform (Upsets), projected regression that may not happen, (think the annual trendy expert upset pick), and outline which prospects will see the big lights this season (“on the bubble”).


I tried my hand at a similar piece over at another publication back in 2016. Like any bracket, I had my share of red (losses), but also some notable prognostications in the green (wins) as well.

My Final Four consisted of Chris Sale, José Abreu, Todd Frazier and Jose Quintana.

Sale made it to the final weekend, turning in an 3.34 ERA All-Star season and setting career highs in wins (17) and innings pitched (226 ⅔) that may have been driven by his league-leading six complete games. He’d ultimately finish fifth in Cy Young voting and notch MVP votes despite being on a non-playoff team. 

Abreu got bounced after the Sweet 16. He had a decent enough year, but it took a potent second half to bounce back from a fairly dreadful first two months to salvage his season. He failed to hit the 30-home run mark or make the All-Star team but still ripped 100 RBIs for his fourth straight season and finished with a respectable .820 OPS.

Frazier didn’t make it out of the Sweet 16, either. He made a lot of shots –– 40 home runs, to be exact –– but overall did not live up to expectations or his seed line. His final line was .225/.302/.464, with clear shortfalls in average and OBP. He was worth 2.8 fWAR, which fell short of a projected four-win season.

Quintana, my outside Final Four pick, delivered in earnest. He joined Chris Sale at the All-Star game, put together a 3.20 ERA over 200-plus innings, got a 10th place Cy Young vote and had what to date has been the best season of his career.

I also identified two Cinderellas: Adam Eaton and Carlos Rodón.

Eaton surely did not disappoint. He actually edged Sale and led the 2016 White Sox in fWAR with a 5.9 mark. He got on base at a .362 clip, swiped 14 bags, but most importantly flashed an absurd glove after a position shift to right field –– propped up by an arm that could hit triple-digits on release and nail runners like clockwork. He also led the AL in triples and garnered a 19th-place MVP vote at years end.

Rodón didn’t quite have a “breakout” year, but he did have what unfortunately remains the best season of his White Sox career thus far by racketing up 168 innings over 28 starts while posting playable numbers in a 4.04 ERA and 9.2 K/9 in what was really his first big-league season as a full-time starter.

For upsets, I thought Adam LaRoche would be downed by a back injury. It turns out he got “upset” by something entirely different: His 14 year-old son Drake LaRoche not being allowed in the clubhouse. This set off what was quite truly an international firestorm when he retired over the matter, and it oddly sparked a broader discussion about the place of children in the workplace. You can’t make this stuff up, and no my bracket did not have the details –– only that he’d have an early exit.

I had Jacob Turner upsetting John Danks for a rotation spot, predicting that the White Sox would actually eat Danks’ contract midseason in the midst of contention, a bold call considering the conventional Jerry Reinsdorf behavior. I was dead wrong about Turner, who was absolutely atrocious during just two starts and 24 ⅔ innings pitched in a starter/bullpen hybrid role. Turn down the backlight on your screen so as not to burn your eyes when you read about his 6.57 ERA, near 2.000 WHIP, and a 5.8 BB/9 to just 6.6 K/9. Chicago did release and eat the rest of Danks’ $15.75 million salary in May, so this pick was mixed.

My two players on the bubble, Tim Anderson and Carson Fulmer, both made it to the majors, so there’s that.

Now that I’ve proven at least a modicum of credibility in my baseball bracketology, here’s a similar exercise for 2020. It is going to be semi-challenging given the uncertainty of baseball this season and how disrupted conditioning and a late and shortened season may impact performance and sample sizes, but here goes.


Final Four

C Yasmani Grandal

This was a move White Sox fans have been waiting for ever since A.J. Pierzynski was forced out of town only to be supplanted by the polarizing Tyler Flowers. Not only was the four-year, $73 million dollar Grandal deal the largest free agent outlay in White Sox history, but the backstop has been an absolute turnstile for essentially the last four seasons. There’s not better way I can demonstrate how much of an upgrade Grandal will be than this:

That 5.2 fWAR made Grandal the second-most valuable catcher in the majors last year and would have also made him the second-most valuable player in Chicago by that same metric. He posted an absurd 17.2% walk rate, per FanGraphs, which helped him achieve a .380 OBP.

Pair that with a career-high 28 home runs and a glove that gets rave reviews from both the pitch-framing eye test and advanced metrics, to say nothing of his ability to be a beacon for a staff, and Grandal looks like he’ll be a linchpin for the White Sox and deliver a massive season. If we weren’t looking at a truncated year, I’d say 25-30 home runs would be in the cards.

Either way, Grandal will provide pop and on-base percentage from both sides of the plate and be the perfect steward for Chicago’s rotation. He’s what we’d call a blue-blood No.1 seed –– a lock –– and your best bet to reach Chicago’s Final Four from a composite value perspective.

LF Eloy Jiménez

Jiménez had his first taste of big-league action from the jump last season after signing a winter extension. He ended up missing some time with a pair of IL stints, one for a right ankle sprain and another one for sustaining a nerve contusion in his arm during an outfield collision.

Through 122 games, Jiménez still managed to break the 30-home run mark with 31 bombs, and some of them were truly tape-measure shots. There was a little swing-and-miss to his game (26.6% K-rate) but he slashed .267/.315/.513 on the whole with a .246 ISO.

Jiménez is like that upstart program that is suddenly elevated with a slew of top recruits but is felled by injuries and exits earlier than expected. Not in 2020. The roster of prolific batting tools will be coming back, so to speak, and with an expectation of health.

Jiménez barely tapped into the value of Guaranteed Rate Field as a hitter’s park last season (.748 home OPS compared to an .892 away) which is an aberration that is unlikely to be in play again. His torrid pace to end the season (.340/.383/.710 slash line with nine home runs in September) could very well be a prelude of what’s to come. Eloy will simply mash in 2020.

SS Tim Anderson 

Anderson had a breakout campaign last season in a full-fledged attempt to #changethegame You could call it akin to mid-major that ends up leaving a lot of red in its wake and rubs teams and their fans the wrong way in its run to the Final Four; but at the same time also exhilarates a whole new brand of play and ends the tourney with much more name recognition. Anderson invented the “Javelin Bat Flip,” after all.

In 2020, he’ll make good on last year’s run and be a favorite to repeat the performance. Anderson got his title game of sorts last season by leading all of baseball with a .335 batting average. That hardware came with 32 doubles and 18 home runs in just 123 games, as the shortstop battled an ankle sprain.

Had he not missed the time, he likely would have produced his second consecutive 20/20 season. Anderson ended up being worth 3.5 fWAR last year despite the injury bug and the fact that he was actually negative on the other side of the game, committing a league leading 26 errors –– many of the throwing variety.

Expect the Chicago shortstop to clean that up this season as defense has been mentioned publicly as a priority for him, and no one on the club has a more tenacious work ethic. People looking for an upset might point to the fact Anderson walked at just a 2.9% clip and posted an unsustainable .399 BABIP.

But Anderson has proven that he’s going to play his game, from the javelin bat flips to his aggressive approach at the plate. Net-net, his game plays up due to plus raw speed, plus plate coverage, and the fact that he hits the ball to all fields with minimal infield fly outs –– all ingredients that will aid in his maintaining at least an above-average BABIP.

Regression there could be offset by someone who hasn’t even turned 27 yet and likely still has more playable power in his game. Once again, if this were a full season, a 25/25 year could have been on the table, with an outside shot at a 30/30 year if he really broke out.

Given Moncada’s in-game speed has not played as much in the way of base stealing, Anderson along with Robert could be Chicago’s best shot at a 30/30 player. The shortened season makes it much more unlikely, but expect Anderson to be a star nonetheless and both cut down the errors and the nets as his visibility as a face of the game becomes even more high-profile.

3B Yoán Moncada

Moncada was like Anderson last season in the sense that he was more of a No. 3-to-4 seed that made his way to the final weekend. Imagine a very talented team that doesn’t see things click as a group until their junior season.

That’s what happened for Moncada last year as he slashed .315/.367/.548 en route to a team-leading 5.7 fWAR, in part thanks to a glove that played up at third base as opposed to the keystone. He cut his strikeout rate from an abysmal 33.4% in 2018 to a very playable 27.5% in 2019.

Moncada smashed 25 home runs, 34 doubles, and five triples despite missing a chunk of time with a hamstring strain. There are some regression worries due to a high BABIP, which will be addressed later, but there’s more ceiling for Moncada in 2020 — and that should be a scary thought for opponents.

He showed a solid walk rate during his pro ball days in the minors and in his 2017 debut (12.6 %) which fell to just 7.2% in 2020. With excellent plate discipline, there’s certainly reason to believe that number reverts a little closer to above-average range or at least the double-digits, which will raise his OBP. Meanwhile, the 24-year-old will likely continue to show even more in-game power, as he can certainly hit moonshots and the long ball should come with more regularity.

Finally, someone with 70-grade speed should quite frankly be swiping more bags. Moncada made just 13 attempts last year despite a 76% success rate. Moncada should be swiping 20 bags with ease in a full season and possibly even in a shortened season.

So tapping into more in-game power, more playable speed, and just natural growth for the White Sox’s most tool-ridden and physical specimen outside of Robert, Moncada will have more than “One Shining Moment” in 2020 and potentially make an MVP bid. He is the odds-on No. 1 seed for 2020.

Cinderellas

SP Reynaldo López

López makes for a very interesting cinderella pick as he could very well “bust” some brackets in 2020, especially brackets that are labeling him a “bust.” Will 2020 truly be the year of “hindsight is 2020” for these fans and pundits alike? Here are a few reasons why the slipper, or rather cleat, may fit for López.

He absolutely has the former prospect pedigree. Coming up with the Nationals, some evaluators painted López as even more of a star than his often more-touted teammate Lucas Giolito. That seemed to prove true as he flashed nastier stuff than a struggling Giolito and ended 2018 –– his first full season as a big league starter –– on a high note.

Rather than López carrying that over into 2019 for a breakout, it was instead Giolito who had a surge, and López ended up being an unmitigated disaster –– “good” for a 5.38 ERA over 33 starts and an unforgiving FIP of 5.04 that wasn’t noticeably better.

López quite frankly was all over the plate, even showing lack of concentration at times. His HR/9 clocked in at 1.71, which is eye-popping bad, while he also walked more than three batters per nine innings. There wasn’t obvious bad luck either, as he had a pretty in-line .316 BABIP against and a 69.2% strand rate.

So what could possibly be the positives? Well the raw stuff is certainly still there. López’s fastball velocity still runs up regularly over 95 mph while his curveball can still look sharp at times. His K/9 was actually a full batter improvement from 2018, settling at 8.27 per nine, and despite his struggles he’s been durable with two consecutive seasons of more than 180 innings pitched and such durability has led to two straight two-WAR seasons as well. So it’s not all entirely bad.

Sometimes these things just take time. Grandal has already been reported to have a positive effect on López, apparently identifying some ways López can leverage his off-speed stuff better; this being one of the paramount reasons Grandal was a good add.

We’ll see if it carries over into the season, but for López the stuff is there and so is the durability. Now it’s all about that elusive control and command, which if realized, could give the White Sox a very solid power righty. If not, maybe he’s a two-pitch pitcher who plays up in the pen. The 2020 season will be a litmus test, but one worth giving for sure.

OF Adam Engel

Engel has been a trendy Cinderella for years. When you get body and tool comps to Mike Trout, that tends to happen. These types of comps are always unfair, but not unusual this time of year when a team is regarded as “the Butler, VCU, or Davidson of year X.”

I don’t think Engel will be a Cinderella in the traditional sense, where he parlays his myriad of tools, build, and athleticism into some huge Elite Eight run as a double-digit seed, but he can be a Cinderella in the sense that he carves out a niche on this roster.

The glove has always been playable — more than playable actually; in fact, plus. He’s the perfect roving outfielder to come in as a late defensive replacement or pinch-runner where his plus speed can play up late in a game during a crucial moment.

It’s not worth getting into the annual narrative of mechanical adjustments and swing changes, but the fact remains that Engel can fill a role in 2020 and be of value. It was a small sample, but Engel hit .313/.360/.482 versus LHP in 2019 and he’s always been better against southpaws in his career. Not as flashy as that line, more like a .679 OPS type, but still –– better.

Given Nomar Mazara will be manning right field, Engel could be a serviceable platoon partner for him and generate additional value defensively and on the basepaths, with some occasional pop here and there.

Once he’s no longer overexposed in a starting role, Engel may go from a liability to a competent utility piece, and that would certainly be a Cinderella story for someone who otherwise would be on the fringe of being out of the game entirely. Maybe 2020, is Adam Engel’s Sweet 16 –– where he was once regarded as an intriguing prospect.

Upsets

Upsets: you love them and you hate them, depending on your bracket and allegiance of course, but they always happen. In this context, upsets are always negative –– well, mostly. You’ll see a few qualifiers. Upset will be ranked as most likely to happen to least likely as described by traditional NCAA Tourney seed vernacular. A 16-over-1 is historically unlikely while a 10-over-7 is a relatively safe bet and really anything 12-over-5 and less isn’t mind-blowing, at least to those who dig into the numbers.

Roster Spot Crunch (10) over Zack Collins (7)

With the signing of Grandal, the White Sox now have not one but two All-Star catchers on their roster when you factor in holdover James McCann. The fact that Abreu is still manning first base, Grandal can also play that corner infield spot, and the additional fact that Edwin Encarnación was signed with the explicit intent of full-time DH duties, the roster composition is not looking kind to Collins, a former Top 10 draft pick back in 2016 who has hit for power and OBP in the minors but whose profile has been dampened by a poor hit tool and subpar defensive outlook as a backstop. The shortened season means even less chance for opportunity, as a limited schedule may not be as taxing for players. Factor in that with the logic of getting Collins regular ABs at Charlotte, and he does not look to get a lot of time under the bright lights in 2020.

Bullpen Role (11) over (6) Carlos Rodón

This would be an upset in the sense that Rodón was not taken with the No. 3 overall pick out of N.C. State back in the 2014 draft to be used as a bullpen piece. He was drafted to be a front-end starter. But Rodón has been a disappointment no matter how you frame it. Save for a 2016 season in which he made 28 starts to compile 165 innings of respectable 4.04 ERA ball with a 9.2 K/9 as a 23 year-old, it’s all been a massive slide from there.

You can blame injuries, underperformance, or a combination of the two, but Rodón has just not gotten it done from the mound. After those 165 innings in 2016, he’s thrown just 224 ⅔ combined in the three years since with a 4.33 ERA, 4.66 FIP, and 4.1 BB/9 over that span.

Now coming off Tommy John Surgery and with a shortened season ahead and a crowded rotation, it makes loads of sense to take Rodón’s fastball and slider, which have looked like a deadly combo in the past, and see how they play in the bullpen.

A lefty coming out of the pen with nasty stuff could be just the trick for Rodón. It would be less taxing on his arm and possibly lead to actual, tangible value. Chicago has just one year of control on the pitcher after 2020; they might as well get something out of him.

As a Scott Boras client, Rodón seems like a change of scenery guy when he hits free agency. Rodón and Boras may be “upset” by this upset, but White Sox fans may be pleasantly surprised. And if he does turn into Chicago’s version of Andrew Miller –– a modern-day, two- or three-inning bullpen slicer with explosive stuff –– then he may have an even better chance at a payday.

Win-Win.

Shortened Season (13) over Luis Robert (4)

Robert is dripping with talent. If well-rounded prospects are tool sheds, then he’s five top-of-the-line toolboxes inside of a tool shed. Robert may be the best player of the whole critical mass when all is said and done.

He has the bat, mammoth power, leopard speed, and platinum glove. But Robert also has zero big league experience and despite video game numbers in Charlotte, the hit tool is still a bit raw. It is quite possible there will be a lag, a period of adjustment.

The 2020 season had a good chance to shake out as a coming-out party for Robert with real Rookie of the Year potential, but a shortened season won’t help in masking early struggles. If those make up a disproportionate portion of the 2020 campaign, then Robert’s road to true stardom may have to wait until 2021.

COVID-19 (15) over Major League Baseball (2)

There’s something that’s been eating at my mind, and that’s the possibility that baseball doesn’t happen at all. With every waking day, the value of social distancing and flattening the curve with COVID-19 rises even more to the forefront. And with it usually comes new CDC recommendations on limiting crowds to smaller numbers and for longer periods.

Speculation is abound and there’s been some lines of thinking that baseball may not start until midsummer and that even if it does, it may have to occur without fans or with limited attendance. The systems to properly screen and re-integrate into society may simply not be in place.

There’s also conjecture that if baseball were to be canceled entirely by the league due to a “national emergency,” the MLBPA may not be able to stave off contracts being invalidated. That’s a win on overhead for the owners.

Sure, there’s boatloads of money on the table to be lost. Out of sight, out of mind is at play, too. But at some point –– especially if a decent chunk of games would have to be played with no fans –– then the ROI, not the revenue, but the actual income over fixed operating costs may be very minimal — or worse, projected to be negative.

If that’s what the tea leaves start to say, then there is at least a chance the owners lobby with Major League Baseball to pull the plug on the 2020 season entirely. This would be an upset for the ages, but it’s not one to write off entirely.

The Trendy Upset That Won’t Happen

BABIP (12) over Yoán Moncada (5)

Every year there is one team that all the pundits pick to shock the world, and the shock is that it doesn’t happen. In recent years, think any South Dakota State team with Mike Daum on it, or a New Mexico St. team that could always crash the boards but instead crashed dreams of bracket perfection instead (Thanks Aggies!)

The trendy upset pick this year in the baseball world is that the league leader in BABIP, Moncada, will see massive regression and that this said underlying number was a key driver of his breakout season.

Moncada had a .406 BABIP last year, up from a .344 BABIP the year prior. That screams regression, until you look at the fact that Moncada also lowered his infield fly ball rate, raised his hard contact rate, and increased his line drive rate. Those are all immediate explanations for why he had a higher BABIP, and again, his baseline in a down year was .344.

Want to dive deeper into the stats? He increased his exit velocity between 2018 and 2019 from 90.6 to 92.8 (seventh in baseball) and his barrel % from 9.6 to 12.2, per Baseball Savant. That barrel % is nearly twice the league average of 6.3.

Moncada also brings other drivers that can make a BABIP more sustainable, like hitting to all fields, possessing raw speed to leg out infield hits, and the fact that he actually is hitting the ball out of the park way more than before. You don’t have to worry too much about your BABIP when your ball isn’t in play as often, and it’s less in play for the good reasons like home runs and walks, not the bad one: strikeouts.

Another interesting note: speaking of those infield hits, Moncada had an 8.9% rate in 2018 and only a 4.6% in 2019, so he may actually leg out more infield hits in 2020, making the sustainability of a higher BABIP all the more buyable.

The bottom line is this –– even if Moncada’s BABIP recedes, his overall ceiling may not. The best is yet to come and over-inflating one statistic that isn’t as alarming as it seems will do a disservice to your baseball bracket. Avoid this trendy upset pick.

On the Bubble

2B Nick Madrigal (IN)

Madrigal was likely going to be here by mid-April at the latest. The high-IQ player who simply does not strike out is an easy at-large bid despite the small stature. Service time considerations and how they will apply to a shortened 2020 are still up in the air, but it won’t matter with Madrigal. The mature rookie with the slick glove will be manning second at some point.

1B Andrew Vaughn (OUT)

Vaughn has impressed mightily in his initial taste of pro ball. He is an extremely polished college bat who may be the best pure hitter in the whole organization. He truly could be a 60 hit/60 power guy which could shake out to a perennial near-.300 average and consistent 30-bomb player. But the shortened season will make a September (November?) call-up unlikely even if Chicago is in contention. He just won’t have enough requisite ABs in the minors to make the jump.

SP Dane Dunning (OUT)

The crowded rotation already put Dunning in a dangerous position on the bubble, and that’s without even referencing that he’ll be coming back from Tommy John surgery. He’ll need more than just a tuneup in the minors before seeing the big leagues. He may find his way in if there are injuries, or the season actually starts in May rather than July, but if not, Dunning will have to wait until 2021 to hear his name called.

SP Michael Kopech (IN)

You could actually say Kopech is in a somewhat similar boat as Dunning given the developing circumstances, but he’s had his time in the minors –– and a short stint in the bigs –– so it’s more about purely rehabbing. While we’ll see less of Kopech in 2020 than we would have without COVID-19, we will see Kopech –– or the lightning power arm I like to call “Zeus” –– in 2020 at some point. If not, it will be a major snub.


I hope this fulfilled the gaping black hole that’s a result of the lack of sports during what is an unprecedented global crisis. From me to you the reader, stay safe, stay healthy, and remember: There are sunnier days ahead. Days where the sun will be beaming down on ballplayers.

Patience is a virtue, and hope is currently our best medicine.

 

SSHP Podcast 20: 2020 promotions

(@WhiteSox)


Amber Giese hops on the podcast with Brett Ballantini to talk about her debut South Side Hit Pen article summarizing the best and worst of 2020’s promotional schedule across major league baseball. We also trace her entry into baseball fandom, what keeps her there, and what factors beyond the obvious (Gio González!) that led her to taking on the White Sox as her new No. 2 team.

Hey man, we’re on Apple Podcasts!

White Sox attack early, top Royals 5-4 as part of a Sunday sweep!

Ready to go: Tim Anderson was all smiles before his matchup against the Royals this afternoon (Sean Williams/South Side Hit Pen)


GLENDALE, Ariz. — The White Sox had split squad action today, with most of the regular players facing off against the Kansas City Royals at Camelback Ranch. The Royals did the same with their lineup, giving the fans in attendance what was close to an early AL Central matchup this afternoon. The early goings made it seem like this would be a shootout, but with both teams went on to stay somewhat quiet the rest of the way in what ended up being a 5-4 win for the White Sox.

Right-hander Alex McRae took the mound this afternoon. He ran into some trouble in the first inning where he gave up a run on a wild pitch, after allowing the first two batters to reach base. Even though he walked two in the inning, McRae kept the damage to a minimum by only allowing the one run to score. He would eventually settle down and went on to have a pretty good outing where he gave up one run on one hit through three full innings.

Luckily for McRae, the White Sox answered immediately by knotting things up at 1-1 in the bottom of the first. Tim Anderson started the game off with a single and would later come around to score on a fielder’s choice. Anderson, who bobbled a grounder in the top half of the inning, made up for it with his bat and he went on to have a good day in the field. He took charge on fly balls, and nearly nailed a runner as the cutoff man at second base on a deep fly out. And even though he had an early bobble, he kept the ball in front of him and still made the play.

The White Sox continued their early momentum in the second inning by putting three more runs on the board. Luis Robert reached on a dribbler down the third base line in his first at-bat. Robert was driven in immediately by Zack Collins, who had an opposite field, two-run home run off left-hander Kris Bubic. Later in the inning, Blake Rutherford doubled and was driven in on a sacrifice fly by Yoan Moncada. The White Sox jumped out to a 4-1 lead after the second inning and they maintained that lead throughout the rest of the game.

It seemed like both teams got all of their scoring out of the way early, as both the Royals and the White Sox remained relatively quiet for the rest of the way. However, the Royals made things interesting in the eighth inning. With Caleb Frare on the mound, the Royals blasted three solo home runs to make it a 5-4 game.

Fortunately for the White Sox, they added an insurance run in the sixth inning which proved to be needed after the Royals late rally. Jacob Lindgren took over in the top of the ninth and secured the win by striking out two and going 1-2-3. Lindgren, who joined the org last year, has put together a very impressive spring and today was no different story.

[For a look at the White Sox’s 6-0 whitewashing of San Diego, hop over to South Side Sox and check out Year of the Hamster’s take on the game.]

The White Sox will be back in action on Monday, March 9 as they host the Reds at Camelback Ranch. Dylan Cease will take the mound with first pitch set for 3:05 PM CT.

Dallas Keuchel, and the elephant in the room

 


Dallas Keuchel was the first of the 2017 Houston Astros to speak after baseball issued its report on the illegal sign-stealing operation. Going first, especially in apologies, does wonders for reputation, but in this case, going first just meant Keuchel did not have to go through the firestorm his former teammates created for themselves at the start of spring training.

Keuchel’s apology was clearly not as bad as fake good guy/player Alex Bregman’s and definitely better than the fake MVP José Altuve, but Keuchel will forever be a part of that team and their fake World Series rings. Thus, Keuchel still was rationalizing his success. And though it was not widely covered — probably because he was at Soxfest — Keuchel still had atrocious and unprofessional answers, which continued to get worse.

Let’s start with Mike Fiers, because apparently being a whistleblower or somebody who takes a risk to expose details on certain injustices is a bad thing now. If anybody is more mad at Fiers than other Astros players (like David Ortiz, for example), there is something wrong with you.

Was Fiers involved in the cheating? Yes.
Did he benefit from the cheating when he was there? Yes.
Did he and the Oakland A’s try to tell MLB about it in 2018? Yes.
Because MLB did nothing, did Fiers take a direct route to blow the whistle on the Astros and go to the press to force MLB to do something? Yes.

Without Mike Fiers, would any of this have come to light? Well, judging by the reaction of everybody involved in the cheating and the fact MLB did nothing when they were informed, no. Fiers did baseball and their fans a huge service after he was involved in a great disservice in 2017. As fans, he should be applauded, and none of those other Astros, including Keuchel, should be applauded for anything.

Keuchel is among the current and former Astros angry for getting caught cheating, and now their legacy and standing is broken.

This isn’t a new scenario. Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, and Sammy Sosa will forever be stained by steroid usage. Bonds and Clemens are still active on the Hall of Fame ballot, while McGwire and Sosa seemingly will fall short of induction. Steroids will forever be the first thing noted about any of those players in the history books, just as is the case for the Eight Men Out of 1919 Black Sox infamy.

Keuchel and the rest of those 2017 World Series winners, including major award winners like Altuve, know that they and their accomplishments are tainted forever. That is seemingly the true reason for their contempt for Fiers. Instead of being called a Cy Young winner, a World Series champion, a multi-time Gold Glover, and All-Star, Keuchel will be reduced to “cheater.” All of those other accolades will just be footnotes, and that’s the real reason why the Astros are hiding behind the old trope of “nobody brings locker room talk out of the locker room” to illustrate their disgust with Fiers. Just because Keuchel is not as tone deaf as say Carlos Correa (it is hard to be), does not mean he should get a pass in Chicago, even if he is now on the White Sox.

Now, some might say that because Keuchel is a pitcher he did not benefit from the cheating, and that the true cheaters are Bregman, Altuve and Correa because the sign-stealing and trash-banging helped them directly. That’s true to a degree, because if there were a cheating scale, those hitters would be at the top. But what about an indirect or passive advantage for Astros pitchers? The easy one is the simplest stat category: the win. If the hitters are doing better, they are scoring more runs, which helps starting pitchers get wins. However, in this era of advanced attention to metrics, the win does not really illustrate the true edge a pitcher might have.

Then, Jonathan Lucroy came illustrated everything he and his battery mates had to do every time they were in Houston.

From an ESPN story by Joon Lee, Lucroy says of the illegal sign-stealing, it “was a mental challenge to really overcome that. It’s easier said than done. But it’s a shame, and I’m glad it came out and it came to light.”

Lucroy went into more depth about how some pitchers could not handle the extra stress of being in Houston: “[Pitchers] don’t want to sit there and try to think about decoding your signs and thinking about your indicators and all the different things that you’re doing. They want to sit there and just worry about executing. Some guys can handle it and some guys can’t. It was very difficult to do. The guys were calling time and stepping out of the box as you take time to put your sign sequence down, and it was making games long and leaving guys out there. Their system, not only did it work with them having the signs and being able to see them, but it made our guys sit out there longer. You had to put down a more complex set of signs and everything. I’m glad it’s been taken care of. It was out of hand and it affected the games in a lot of different ways.”

In other words, yeah, pitchers on the Astros had an advantage at home because they did not have to deal with rampant, illegal, and amoral cheaters in the other dugout. (At least none that we know of yet.) Keuchel could go out there on the mound and, as Lucroy says, just execute. Meanwhile, to keep the A’s example going, Sean Manaea has to worry about new signs all the time while knowing there was a possibility his opponent could crack the code and pass information to batters via illegal means.

As Lucroy said, some pitchers could handle it and some could not, but what is true throughout is that Astros pitchers did not have the same mental stresses their opposition did. Imagine every time an Astros batter got a hit or clobbered a pitch for a homer, you had to go back to the mound wondering if they’d cracked your pitch code? How could that not be on your mind with every pitch and every failure, and how is that not an advantage for Astros pitchers who don’t have to deal with such stress?

A multitude of baseball teams probably cheated with sign-stealing in some way at the same time the Astros won the 2017 World Series. We know the Red Sox did in 2018 to some extent, though unlike the Astros, we do not know if they cheated in the playoffs because no report has come out yet. But even assuming that there are probably a bunch of teams who have cheated in some form or fashion doesn’t make what the Astros did OK.

Sure, 2005 happened, the Astros got swept even though every game was close … maybe the organization felt the need to get the extra edge. However the cheating plan was hatched, it doesn’t mean Houston deserves to recognized as 2017 World Series champions.

No, Dallas Keuchel, you and your teammates did not earn that World Series, you stole it, and MLB doesn’t even care enough to make you give it back.

But as always, Tim Anderson, the Captain, is right there if you need anything.

So, you’ve decided to become a White Sox fan …

Welcome, friend: Sitaspell. Take your shoes off. Let’s learn how to root for the White Sox … together.


Congratulations on taking the first step towards what might be a long and arduous journey through our humble fandom! Or maybe you’ll only be with us for a short time. Hey, this guide isn’t here to judge.

That’s your decision; this is, after all, at-will employment. 

Allow me to introduce myself; I’m a hereditary White Sox fan, and if you’ve seen that movie, having the fan run through your family can certainly feel like you’ve inherited something sinister. Due to budget cuts, I am both the resident IT person and HR generalist of the White Sox fandom. I’ll email you a link with your email and password, and make sure it’s a secure one, (nothing obvious like IL0v3Y@sm@niGr@nd@l!), but we’ll figure all that out at the end of this orientation. 

Whatever length your tenure figures to be with our beloved South Siders, this guide is here to serve as your New Fan Orientation packet, and to let you know what exactly you are getting yourself into.

So sit back, relax, and strap it down. And on behalf of everyone at South Side Hit Pen, home of innovative crowdfunded grassroots coverage of your new favorite team, welcome to the madness that is White Sox baseball!


Why are you here?

Let’s get this one out of the way: Let the homers call you a bandwagoner in the pejorative. Fandom is a choice, it’s not something that’s earned. Even if you’re like me, where your parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, third cousin once removed or whatever, cheered for one team, truthfully, you’re still free to cheer for another. 

Casual, intermediate, advanced. We welcome all levels of fan. You can name only one or two players? Have the birth charts of the whole pitching staff saved on your phone? (By the way, oddly enough, stacked with Capricorns.) Got Baseball-Reference bookmarked so you can fire off stats on some plebeian who thinks Yasmani Grandal can’t be a leadoff hitter because his batting average was .170 batting first? 

The only gatekeeping at Sox Park you’ll see is performed by the security guard who wouldn’t let me in with a sealed bottle of vitamin water a few years back.

Maybe you’re here because your favorite player was acquired in a gustatory offseason free agent signing.

(We see you, Brewers fans.) 

Or perhaps you found yourself telling your friends and family that while you and your team love each other very much, that you’re taking a much-needed break and have decided to see other teams.

We see you … Astros fans? (Hey, again, no judgments here.) 

Or you maybe you are a recovering Cubs fan, upset at how the R*cketts family is spending their money, namely, not on players. We see you, too.

Let’s not forget those who are new to baseball altogether; perhaps you are finally buying into the hype via your friends, who won’t shut up about 108-ing, legend statue selfies, five-inning complete game shutouts, bat flips, or some guy who just seems to like to say hi to his own mom. 

You are seen. 

No one else can tell you how to fan but you, and we embrace that philosophy here on the South Side.

It all boils down to this: you cheer for the White Sox? We do, too. We have so much in common already!


The basics: Who’s Who

Screenshot 2020-02-21 at 9.53.00 PM

Rick Hahn

Our fearless GM, who makes calls and starts moves, namely as soon as he’s able to, the day after the World Series. Rick was first out of the gates and acquired the likes of Yasmani Grandal when other GMs were sleeping off their hangovers, and gifted Dallas Keuchel and Edwin Encarnación to the fandom right before December 25. 

Ricky Renteria 

The man making the lineups. Though he was the subject of scrutiny for being very experimental with the batting order last season, Ricky’s approval rating is high — especially now that he should have plenty of offensive flexibility with this offseason’s acquisitions. (We acquired a switch-hitting catcher who draws walks? Incredible!) Not to mention through testimonial, Ricky’s personable, positive, and respected by his players — a proven leader. 

Jason Benetti and Steve Stone 

We’re blessed by the baseball gods to have this dynamic announcing duo — Benetti, especially, is a gift with his wry insight and humor. Also, #SoxMath anyone? Steve Stone is the perfect comedic foil to Benetti, especially if you follow either of them on Twitter.

Southpaw

The fuzzy green dude is the working class hero we’ve been needing. Whether he’s at your wedding, corporate event, or goofing off with your kids at a game, Southpaw’s always down to entertain. But … why isn’t he left-handed?

Some other good names to know

Nick Madrigal, our hopeful second baseman on Opening Day.
Michael Kopech, a top prospect who just shaved his head for charity.
Luis Robert, a center fielder whom you’ve probably seen hit some sort of ridiculous home run video on social media.

These guys are the future of the organization, and we’re so excited to see them in 2020. 


The basics: What’s What

Screenshot 2020-02-21 at 9.55.22 PM

The 2005 World Series 

Yeah, it happened. 

So much magic. Scott Podsednik with the walk-off homer — his second postseason homer —  in Game 2, despite hitting no home runs during the 2005 season. Small ball, long ball, the 2005 White Sox did it all. A powerful lineup that hit 200 home runs in the regular season. A ridiculous starting rotation including Jose Contreras, Mark Buehrle, Jon Garland and Freddy García. Heck, the pitching staff’s entire ERA was 2.63. 

The legacy of 2005 is still felt to this day. Manager Ozzie Guillén continues to offer, um, insight from time to time. Every White Sox dad has that one jacket with the cream leather sleeves, the ’05 World Series patch on the sleeve. Any given bar on the South Side has that one neon World Series Champs Miller Lite sign, and chances are it’s rarely been turned off since.

108ing

What exactly is 108ing? Chances are, you’ve done it already. Not limited to the confines of the scenic view of the right field foul pole, any given time is probably an appropriate time for a beverage. On your way to a court appearance for a parking ticket? (Probably not then, honestly. HR is not responsible for any 108-related citations.) Waiting for medical test results? Generally thinking about the insurmountable weight of human existence? Time to 108. 

Tailgating

Sox Park is surrounded by vast parking lots, ideal for the ancient tradition of consuming self-prepared food and assorted beverages out the backside of your vehicle. 

STICK TALK!

Tim Anderson is changing the game, namely by unapologetically being himself and not giving a rat’s ass about whose feathers are ruffled by his incredulous bat flips. Timmy’s about having fun playing baseball, not this AcT liKe YoU’ve BeEn tHeRe bEfoRe crap. We love him so much that we built a whole-ass marketing campaign around the reigning AL batting champ.

Food

Sox Park (anyone calling it Guaranteed Rate Field is doing that because they have some legal obligation to) is home to some of the best ballpark food you’ll find. Anyway: fries topped with gyro fixins or buffalo chicken, helmet nachos, elotes, churros, an entire goddamn BBQ loaded baked potato. We’ve got it all. Come hungry; you will eat well at the ballpark.

Admit it: you’d buy this candle

A final note

With spring training just getting underway, there’s so much excitement in the fandom that hasn’t been seen in years. PECOTA? We don’t know her. The White Sox are projected to win 80-something games, but from the early player interviews, it sounds like winning is, well, a priority; the rebuild is complete.

However you choose to ride with us, you’ve made the decision to do so, since the other option was to, well, get run over. 

At any other orientation, an HR person would have you fill out a few forms, present a form of identification, maybe a check to jump-start your direct deposit, so you’d get paid.

As a White Sox fan, remember, you will pay. We’re not sure how yet, but you’ll certainly pay. 

SSHP Podcast 14: Cactus League opener!

Seby surprise: Zavala made a big impact in Sunday’s opener, earning the lead spot on this podcast. (Kim Contreras/South Side Hit Pen)


Baseball is back! Our guy down in Arizona, Sean Williams, checks in from the Cactus League opener, a 7-2 win for the White Sox. We run down a bunch of standouts from that first game and project a little bit into the 2020 White Sox season.

Hell yes we are on Apple Podcasts!

Subs provide spark, pitching shuts down Reds in 7-2 win

Young blood: Yermín Mercedes, Luis Basabe, and Micker Adolfo all contributed to a key ninth-inning rally this afternoon. (Sean Williams/South Side Hit Pen)


GOODYEAR, ARIZ. — After yesterday’s game was cancelled, the White Sox were able to squeeze in their first Cactus League matchup this afternoon, as they traveled to Goodyear to take on the Reds. The lineup was stacked, giving White Sox fans a look at most of the guys that will be playing regularly once the season starts on March 26.

However, it wasn’t the starting lineup that was the story of the day, but the subs who came in and helped seal a 7-2 victory.

Dylan Cease took the mound this afternoon for his first Cactus League start and came out of the gates firing, hitting 99 and 98 mph consecutively to start his day. Cease went for two innings, which is the norm for starters at the early stages of spring training. He allowed at least two batters to reach base in each inning, but they never amounted to anything thanks to his defense and three strikeouts.

All things considered, Cease’s command was pretty good for his first outing. There were moments where he struggled to find the strike zone, but those moments never hurt him — and for his first in-game action in months, his performance could’ve been a lot worse.

As for the rest of the White Sox starters, it was a very quiet day. At the start of spring training, it’s common for pitchers to be ahead of hitters, and that was evident this afternoon. Tim Anderson had an infield single in his first at-bat, but that was the only hit among starters until James McCann had a double to lead things off in the top of the fifth. Yoán Moncada, Eloy Jiménez, José Abreu, and Luis Robert all went a combined 0-for-11 on the day. Moncada, Abreu, and Robert each hit the ball hard on different occasions, but they have nothing to show for it.

But even though most of the starters struggled, they managed to give the White Sox 2-0 lead thanks to some timely hitting in the top of the fifth.

After Carson Fulmer put runners on first and second with no outs in the bottom of the fourth, Matt Foster entered the game in a tough situation. However, Foster would rise to the occasion. He generated a weak fly ball and a grounder to quickly get two outs after facing just two batters. McCann helped get Foster completely out of the jam by gunning down Shogo Akiyama trying to steal, for the third and final out. Foster went on to pitch in the following inning, where he once again shut down the Reds and didn’t allow a run.

At this point in the game, there were all new faces in the field for the White Sox — and when the fun began. Seby Zavala took over for McCann and blasted an opposite-field, solo home run to give the White Sox a 3-0 lead in the top of the seventh. A lot of hitters were aggressive today, wanting to make a statement early. Seby, however, was not. He was patient at the plate, wasn’t fooled by junk outside of the zone, and once he got his pitch he deposited over the wall in the right, center gap.

Zavala wasn’t the only sub who would come through for the White Sox this afternoon. After the Reds made it a 3-2 game in the bottom half of the eighth, the White Sox were looking to add insurance runs in the ninth and they would do just that.

Micker Adolfo got the rally started with a double, and would later come around to score on an error, the first of two unearned runs in the inning.

Nick Madrigal would also join the party by scorching a RBI single to left field. Madrigal made a few mistakes in the field this afternoon, but he made up for it with this RBI. All told, the White Sox plated four runs on four hits in the ninth and put the game out of reach for the Reds.

Tyler Johnson finished this one off with a 1-2-3 inning where he picked up two strikeouts and was sitting in the upper-90’s with his fastball.

The White Sox will be back in action tomorrow as they take on the Dodgers at Camelback Ranch. First pitch is scheduled for 2:05 PM CT, with Alex McRae taking the bump. This is the first of six games televised by NBC Sports this spring, so don’t miss it.

Tim Anderson’s BABIP breakout wasn’t all luck, so hop off your high horse and jump on the TA train

Regress this, buddy: Analysts anticipating a fall from grace from Anderson may be waiting a long time. (@TimAnderson7)


For a reigning MLB and American League batting champ, Tim Anderson has had too much slander slung his way.

All offseason, people have derided Anderson’s breakout year, considering it as more of a footnote because of what are still some obvious flaws in his game, and also because of BABIP. He even took exception with his MLB Top 100 player rankings which had him at 95 (yes, the batting champ at 95 makes total sense, MLB).

Now, the BABIP aspect aiding Anderson’s success is real. A .399 BABIP, second only to Yoán Moncada last season, certainly gave a boost to Anderson’s batting average. However, why do some fans assume Moncada made more actual improvements, even though he had a higher BABIP than Anderson? No idea, but the franchise shortstop did not run into a batting title by accident — not by a long shot.

To start, let’s knock out the elephant in the room when it comes to Anderson at the plate, he has never and probably will never walk at a frequency fans are comfortable with. His highest walk rate came in 2018, and that was only at 5%, while two of his MLB seasons saw walk rates in the bottom 1% of the league. At this point, with 7,678 pitches seen in 521 MLB games, it is time to come to the realization that walking is just not a part of Anderson’s game.

Now, what has improved with TA’s approach at the plate is the strikeouts: For three straight seasons, Anderson’s K-rate has fallen, reaching a career low of 21% last season. That’s actually a little bit better than the average MLB player.

Anderson’s whiff rate was down a little more than 3% from his 2018 season, primarily because of his success against the fastball and breaking pitches, though his whiff rate on off-speed pitches also fell. Like his overall K-rate, Anderson’s whiffs against the fastball and breaking balls have fallen for three years straight, but the big boost came in 2019 with the fastball. His whiff rate fell about 5% just against fastballs, which he saw 55.7% of the time last season — so that 5% drop is a significant number. The majority of that decrease in swing and misses for fastballs was actually outside the zone, as that decreased 11%. For the breaking ball, Anderson improved his swing and misses by a little more than 3%. The majority of those swing and misses came from inside the zone (11% drop), but the outside the zone whiff rate fell as well. All in all, it was a year of career bests for Anderson’s bat-to-ball skills … but this is also where things start to get a little murky.

Anderson’s overall contact rate rose to a career high 77% per FanGraphs; that is good for 77th out of 135 qualified batters. So, TA was not making an abnormal amount of contact compared to the league, but it was far and away a career high. Most, if not all fans, know that Anderson was late bloomer to baseball, so it makes perfect sense that it would take him longer to adapt to MLB pitching. It also makes sense that when everything came together for a former first round selection and Top 50 prospect, that player would be on top and doing this, a lot:

But again, contact isn’t everything. Some people just look at BABIP and stop, but if you do a bit more digging you’ll see that Anderson didn’t make more contact and strike out less because he was patient, but because he was reaching outside the zone and putting it in play more than ever. Anderson’s chase rate has always been more than average, but in 2019 it was an absurd number: 45.2% per FanGraphs, which was fifth-most among qualified batters. Anderson swung a lot out of the zone, but unlike previous seasons his contact rate on those pitches was not severely underwater. His outside-the-zone contact rate was at a personal high of 61.5%, but this is nowhere near an abnormal amount of contact compared to the rest of MLB. In fact, his rate was 91st out of 135 hitters, still less than average.

Where it gets murky is the way fans want to read that. One way to look at it is to say, wow, after starting to play baseball late into high school, Anderson the former first round pick is now able to track pitches better and make contact even when outside the zone, and he still has room to grow. The other, more dour way to view this is to concentrate on the increased chase rate and chase contact rate as a bad habit for a professional hitter — that 2019 was an aberration because the jump was high. The frustrating part about those conflicting views is that they are both right.

But Anderson still improved mightily in other areas.

Though his BABIP was high, Anderson still had very good expected stats. His expected batting average was in the top 8% of the league and expected slugging was well better than average. Anderson made more good contact than ever before, and the power coming off that contact was at a personal high. His ISO was at a career-high .173 and if he had played a full season’s worth of games, he would have reached a career-best in homers. Anderson’s hard-hit rate reached a new career high and his xWOBA on contact was well better than average. So while a .335 batting average was probably an outperformance of the underlying stats, overall Anderson was hitting the ball more often, harder, and better than ever before. He showed real improvement, and where the major improvement came in terms of contact is even more inspiring.

Anderson, for his first three seasons, was awful against breaking pitches. He just couldn’t hit them and when he made contact, they were outs way too often. When going up against off-speed offerings, Anderson had a .308 average going into the 2019 season, but he couldn’t put any power into those pitches, with just one home run hit off that pitch group. Meanwhile, Anderson was doing very well against the fastball, even compared to league average, but his success at the plate hinged too much on that group of pitches. Most of his ISO came from fastballs leading up to 2019, but the batting average did dip during 2018 against fastballs. All of these slights improved at the same time for Anderson in 2019, as they did for Moncada.

 

 

chart (18)

Anderson hit .350, a career high, and slugged .514 against fastballs in 2019; he hit .310 and slugged .449 against breaking pitches, both career highs; and he hit .352 and slugged .685 against off-speed pitches, again, both career highs. Though Anderson’s expected stats are worse (though not as much disparity as I guessed, especially on the fastball), all three pitch groups amounted to career highs in xWOBA, as you can see in the graph above.

Maybe people find it harder to accept Anderson’s success compared to Moncada’s because TA is a White Sox draft selection and those players rarely do well. Maybe his many errors overshadow how good a hitter he was. Maybe how fantastic Avisaíl García was in his fourth season with the White Sox in 2017 is a coincidence that is freaking fans out.

But all of this is true about Tim Anderson:

  • Anderson did not start playing high school baseball until his Junior season. His “only offer” to play baseball was to East Central Community College.
  • He worked himself, in just two full seasons of high school baseball and two years at junior college, into the 17th selection in the 2013 draft.
  • During his time in the minors, from the months after he was drafted in 2013 to before was promoted to the Chicago in 2016, Anderson excelled at every level. By the time he was called up, Anderson was a Top 50 prospect and was even rated 19th by Baseball Prospectus.
  • After three seasons in the majors, two of which were not good by any stretch, something clicked. While swinging more often than ever before, Anderson made more contact. While his swings outside the zone hit a new personal high, his chase miss rate hit a new low. While his walks were almost cut in half, his strikeout rate fell below an average hitter’s rate for the first time. While his fly ball rate went up and ground ball rate went down, his average exit velocity and hard-hit rates both hit career highs in 2019.
  • Meanwhile, Anderson was also spraying the ball all over the diamond. He went with pitches where they were thrown, pulled when he needed to and went away when it was called for, and if he could, he went right back up the middle (41.4% of the time, a true sign of a good hitter). All of this shows a hitter who has a much better eye than he did just four years ago, even if the walks are not there.

A .399 BABIP is hard to repeat and Anderson most likely won’t, and he also most likely will not win another batting title. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t show real, legit improvement in 2019.

Then again, nobody thought Anderson would win a batting title in the first place. But what fans can agree on is that Tim Anderson is making baseball better.