Tim Anderson made a stellar Major League debut in 2016. Though many were concerned about rushing Anderson, the White Sox were trying to contend and had a massive hole in their middle infield in part due to the struggles of veteran SS Jimmy Rollins. Through nearly 250 at bats at AAA Charlotte, Anderson was hitting .304 with 4 HR, 11 steals, 10 doubles, and 39 runs scored. His offensive performance in AAA combined with great advancement defensively led Rick Hahn’s White Sox to determine Anderson was ready, and he was called up on June 10 to make his debut. For the rest of the season, Anderson would entrench himself as the Sox everyday shortstop, impressing even while being thrust into the top of the order for a struggling offense. He impressed with the glove as well, showing good range especially to his right. He frequently showed off a very strong well above average arm, making some very difficult throws. Overall the offensive numbers for Anderson were strong, finishing with 9 HR, 30 RBI, 10 steals, a .283 average, and .432 slugging percentage. However, there were negatives as well. Anderson walked a mere 13 times yielding a .306 on-base percentage, while striking out 117 times for a 29% strikeout rate. There is still more development that needs to occur at the big league level, and I expect continued improvement for Anderson going into 2017.
With only 410 Major League at bats under his belt, Anderson has plenty of time to adjust. There is a great opportunity for improvement and in order to take the next step in his offensive development, Anderson will need to improve his plate discipline. To this point Anderson’s approach has been mostly “see ball, hit ball”, and it has been successful. He has a quick, compact swing and a solid physical approach that allows him to be very aggressive and adjust mid-pitch on fastballs when needed. However, facing the highest level of pitching, including sharp Major League breaking balls, has exposed his aggressive approach a bit. In order to have greater success, Anderson will need to better key in on one zone and one pitch each at bat, and be patient to wait for it. This should generally help him to better lay off of high fastballs out of the zone and breaking balls out of the zone. The result of better plate discipline for Anderson would likely show directly in the three key aspects, including two that need vast improvement: increasing batting average, increasing walk rate / on-base percentage, and decreasing strikeouts. Indirectly Anderson’s power output would likely also improve. Even an incremental increase in plate discipline would help tremendously for Anderson. The key will be gradually harnessing and mastering his aggressive approach.
While I have pointed out the biggest weakness of Anderson’s offensive game, he made so many positive offensive contributions in 2016 that it is very easy to forget that he was a rookie. Anderson’s bat passes the eye test. He has a nice set-up with quick hands at the plate that yields a powerful, yet compact swing. He generates good bat speed with his wiry frame and the ball jumps off his bat. He looks “hitter-ish” and doesn’t try to do too much at the plate. He doesn’t sell out for home runs, and sprays line drives all over the ballpark. He hits to the opposite field with authority. Anderson knows his strengths and plays to them, utilizing his speed by hitting 54% of his batted balls on the ground and 20% on a line in 2016. Really, the only area of his offensive game that needs improvement is his plate discipline. Anderson’s defense, which was a huge question mark not long ago, is not a question mark anymore and was very steady in 2016. This is a product of years of very hard work put in by Tim over the last few years, of which he and the White Sox should be very pleased.
Anderson played in 99 games in 2016. If he plays 155+ games in 2017 and hits near the top of the lineup again, he should get around 650+ plate appearances. With small strides toward improved plate discipline compared to 2016, I project the stat line shown below for Tim Anderson in 2017.
A conservative projection shows that it would not take much for Anderson to hit 15 HR. A slight uptick in walks and a decrease in strikeout rate to nearly 20% would make him a slightly more productive player. A more optimistic 2017 outlook, where Anderson fully embraces and implements a more disciplined approach would yield an even more impressive 2017 season, as shown below.
Implementing an approach where Anderson fully harnesses his aggressive approach, one where he becomes more selective and disciplined, could lead to increased power output, increased walks, and decreased strikeout rate. Additionally I’ve optimistically assumed that Anderson will increase his steal totals for 2017 as well. With the right approach and the benefit of a hitter-friendly Guaranteed Rate Field, it would not be surprising at some point to see Anderson have a 20 HR season. A season such as this, with continued strong defense, would put Anderson in the conversation as one of the better overall shortstops in the game.
Anderson undoubtedly has all the tools necessary to continue to progress into a premier up-the-middle talent in Major League Baseball. As he gets more experience at the big league level, he will continue to develop and adjust. The White Sox will likely be working with Anderson to take strides toward improving his plate discipline this spring and as the season gets underway. Anderson has impressed and made necessary adjustments along the way to prove his worth when called up to Chicago, and has worked hard to do so. Look for him to continue his hard work and continue to improve in 2017. -DV