At the beginning of May, if you were asked who the most valuable position player on the White Sox had been in 2018, the answer would probably be Yoan Moncada. At the start of June, if asked the same question, the answer would probably be Jose Abreu. Now, in early July, the answer may be less clear. When you take a closer look, however, there has indeed been one player who has been most valuable to the White Sox this year…
Perhaps lost among the worrying about prospects, injuries, and non-competitive losses has been the emergence of Tim Anderson as a quality starting shortstop. Anderson entered the 2018 season with many concerns, but he has slowly and surely been putting them to rest. As the season has progressed, Anderson has only gotten better.
Anderson’s biggest flaw offensively was his lack of walks coupled with his high strikeout rate. Since he projects as a .240-.280 hitter going forward, the ability to draw even just 30 walks a year would greatly increase his on base percentage and overall offensive value. After drawing just 13 walks in 2017, Anderson has already taken 23 this season, and is on pace for 45. He also has decreased his strikeout rate from 26.7% to 24.9%. With these improvements, Anderson has made himself a much more viable starter going forward.
Offensively, Anderson has also tapped into his sneaky, wiry power. With 13 home runs already, he is on pace to easily surpass his 2017 total of 17 homers and end up with around 25. If a player can hit 25 home runs and walk 45 times, one could assume that he would at least be a serviceable offensive player overall. Once you factor in that Anderson is a shortstop who also brings tremendous baserunning value (to be expanded upon soon), this newfound power and improved patience makes him even more valuable. As he has also recently started to hit the ball to all fields, he could even improve as a contact hitter.
If one thing was always a given with Anderson, it was his speed. However, prior to the 2018 season, Anderson only attempted 28 stolen bases in 245 career games. In 85 games in the 2018 season, Anderson has already attempted 23 stolen bases and has been successful 18 times. He also has provided Sox fans with several eye-popping plays on the basepaths, such as advancing from 2nd to 3rd base on a fly ball to shallow left field, or scoring from second base on hits that barely leave the infield. Writers and fans often toss around the phrase “30/30” or even “20/20” in reference to home runs and stolen bases. Such a combination of speed and power is rare and valuable. Anderson is realistically a 20/20 player already, and could feasibly see a 30/30 season or two in his prime, which he has likely yet to enter at age 25.
Defensively, Anderson is intriguing. In 2016, his defense was extremely promising. In 2017, it was inconsistent and average at best. This year, Anderson’s defense has gotten better progressively. Perhaps his main issue has been occasionally botching a routine play. Luckily, this is an issue that can be ironed out, and he already has been doing so lately, as this was more of a problem in April and May than it was in June. Additionally, Anderson’s impressive speed and athleticism lead to incredible range at shortstop, giving him the ability to make plays on balls that the average shortstop cannot get to. Per Fangraphs, Anderson has been the 14th best defensive shortstop in baseball this year- a very respectable ranking given how poorly he started the season. With his range and strong arm, he could very well finish the year in the top 10 if he continues to improve his efficiency on routine plays.
Tim Anderson does it all. The fact that he can produce at shortstop, one of the most important defensive positions along with center field and catcher, gives him even more value. If he continues to play good defense, hit the ball to all fields, mix in a home run every week or so, and maintain his baserunning value, then the White Sox have found their long term shortstop. Given how raw and new to baseball he was when he was drafted by Chicago in 2013, we should consider Anderson a major win for the White Sox scouting and player development. While some fans are clamoring for Anderson to be moved to center field for Manny Machado, who is having a historically bad defensive season at shortstop, Anderson has quietly been the best all-around player on the White Sox. (Signing Machado to play third base, where his defense has been elite, however, is something I can get behind.)