A couple of days ago, I poked at the numbers running underneath Yoan Moncada and Carlos Rodon’s starts under the headline “Watchable White Sox trends that don’t involve Eloy Jimenez.”
In the comments, Mike pointed out that I hadn’t mentioned perhaps the most watchable White Sox of them all — the .444-hitting Tim Anderson.
The problem with Anderson is that there isn’t a new trend under anything he’s doing, analytically. He still has a very large strike zone, he’s still extremely aggressive, and so he’s still striking out 10 times for every walk. At the time I wrote that piece, Anderson’s hitting streak had halted, so it looked like I’d be writing about a Tim Anderson that would fail to exist in a matter of days.
Then he hit a grand slam on Sunday and went 3-for-4 with a double on Monday, so this crazy BABIP-addict profile is still very much alive.
Anderson has always required an elevated amount of faith. He was a recent convert to baseball when the White Sox drafted him, so everybody had to believe the athlete could be whittled into a baseball player. While he advanced up the ladder, you had to believe his hyper-aggressive approach wouldn’t be easily exploitable, and that he could stick at shortstop.
Entering his third full season, he had established himself as a glove-first shortstop with 20-20 ability, but a plate approach that undermined the rate stats that signify value. Even the most ardent believers know walks aren’t part of the reward, so the only way he could close this gap was by being a better Tim Anderson.
It’s not out of the question. We just saw Avisail Garcia makie it to an All-Star Game by being the best possible Avisail Garcia. That Garcia stayed healthy and found a way to slash his strikeout rate by more than 5 percent, but the other key components of his success — infield singles and opposite-field power — remained his calling cards.
Anderson’s kinda going about it a similar way. With the caveat that it’s early, Anderson is carrying an 18.5 percent strikeout over his first 54 plate appearances, which is a rather remarkable drop from the 26-percent rate he carried into the season. He’s doing this despite 1) seeing more slow/breaking stuff, and 2) swinging at more pitches outside of the zone. His plate discipline numbers at FanGraphs:
That last line is the most notable difference in his profile. He’s chasing just as much as he usually does, but he’s not swinging over as many pitches, and the ones he’s putting into play are coming off the bat a little bit harder.
Staying back on breaking balls was an area of focus over the offseason. During spring training, James Fegan relayed a quote from Todd Steverson:
“Take a look at everybody on an off-speed pitch, there’s a little period of silence in there before their heads actually go,” White Sox hitting coach Todd Steverson said. “(Anderson) doesn’t want to just get loaded, get the foot down, swing. Then you’re out front of all of them and you don’t really recognize it. He wants to be in a position to recognize it so he can make that pause, and make the determination and then go ahead and throw hands at it.”
Baseball Savant now offers video of every single pitch, and so you can see how Anderson has offered at every breaking pitch. For instance, here’s a slashed single through the right side off Tampa Bay’s Ryne Stanek on April 9. Neat!
Anderson showed the ability to do it last year, but only fleetingly. There are two Gameday zones for low and away — Nos. 9 and 14 — and Baseball Savant allows one to find all secondary pitches that Anderson saw in those zones. He had only seven hits on low-and-away breaking balls from right-handed pitchers last year. This year’s, he’s already at five.
His success with his swings at pitches in those areas is drastically different thus far. Here’s last year’s breakdown of what happened when he offered at offspeed and breaking pitches low and away:
And here’s this year’s:
I suppose we’ll soon see whether this gets incorporated into scouting reports over the next few weeks. One possible advantage is that Anderson will make pitchers go against the grain of leaguewide trends, where pitchers are throwing their fastballs less often than they’ve ever thrown them before. If Anderson starts seeing fewer breaking pitches to attempt to counter his growth, it shouldn’t be dramatically so.
Of course, this could all be just a hot fortnight of good balance and better results, and maybe it erodes as the length of the season sets in. Moncada’s improvement feels more sound because he’s simply doing more with the pitches he should be able to do the most with. Anderson, at least for the time being, is conquering the pitches that have always given him hell. Maybe they’ll eventually bite back, but Anderson is starting his season by backing up his talk, in particular this line:
Marcus Siemen has also BABIP’ed (although to a lesser degree) his way up to 1 fWAR as Anderson.
And I’m here to enjoy it as long as it last. (Hopefully until he makes the All Star game)
Regarding the “glove-first” aspect of Anderson, which stats like his defense? I remember there being some discussion of it last season, but I can’t remember it. I know DRS hates him.
He finished above zero in SABR’s Defensive Index. He was above-average the last four months, which pulled him out of the hole he dug himself through May last year.
The swing looks shorter but it’s still pretty long compared to most. I would expect the adjustment would be for pitchers to start busting him inside. He has struggled with that pitch beforehand well but as a pitcher, why risk leaving it out over the plate when you could burry a secondary pitch away for a swing and miss?
Anderson’s been my favorite player on the team since was called up. I’ve just always appreciated his attitude, and the just right combination of swagger and maturity. He’s always shown flashes of what he could be on the field and I (irrationally at times) always believed he would grow into that being his normal. We’ll see how long this tear lasts and what kind of player he is on the other side. But I’ve also learned to just enjoy the moment while we’re in it.
Swihart DFA’d by the Red Sox. I hope the White Sox snag him. He’s never really gotten a good enough opportunity to play a lot with the Red Sox. He hits RHP pretty well, he could work well in a platoon behind the plate.
…a bad catcher in general who is mediocre at framing. He fits right in!!!
The White Sox are actually starved for mediocre framing catchers, and have been for some time.
No reason he shouldn’t be claimed by the sox and get lots of at bats at catcher and OF. Was never given a real chance in boston and had some injuries. He’s been a better framer than Castillo so far this year.
Since it seems to be a hot topic right now, I guess I’ll weigh in on it. I don’t see the point, and this is coming from the last guy you’d expect to see lining up to defend James McCann.
Had there been a choice this offseason between McCann and Swihart, well, I would have chosen neither. If I had to pick one, I’d take Swihart because yeah, he’s a platoon candidate with Castillo and there’s some degree of fit. He’s also been the better defender.
That being said, since we’ve already picked McCann, and McCann has been fine so far, it’d be a really weird move to jettison him after he’s spent all spring learning the pitchers and we’re just a few weeks into the season. I could also see the clubhouse scratching their heads over why the White Sox signed a guy as a free agent, watched him hit .300/.333/.500, then kicked him to the curb because some other shitty catcher became available. What kind of message would that send? I don’t think players / coaches should have to approve of moves made by the front office, but when it comes to inconsequential ones like this, there’s not enough reason to rock the boat.
McCann knows all of the hitters in the Central. That’s a nice thing to have in your pocket, walking in the door.
Knowledge he can share with our young staff.
We don’t necessarily have to jettison McCann. While I think it would be most beneficial for for Swihart to get most of his playing time at Catcher, he can play LF/RF, 1B and even 3rd/2nd in a pinch. I’d take a chance on his versatility over the likes of Rondon, Palka or Engel. We know what these guys are capable of. Swihart has played a part of 5 seasons only has 1 full season of at bats. He was misused and injured for the Red Sox. We already know about his prospect pedigree. He is the the kind of talent the Sox need to take a gamble on. Let him play RF most of the time and catch a couple times a week.
Blake Swihart hit .234/.295/.320 in 120 games at AAA.
He’s not good.
Misused or not, injured or not, he’s 27 years old and has a career OPS+ of 82 and you want to put him in an outfield corner.
– Rondon is 25, has been given even LESS of an opportunity, is more versatile, and has an OPS+ of 104 with the White Sox.
– Palka is the same age with fewer plate appearances and still has a 101 career OPS+
– Engel is the best outfield defender on the roster, and since Swihart can’t play center, it’s hard to make an argument for letting Swihart displace him
And finally, the White Sox signed Jon Jay, who will presumably play for them at some point.
All that happened here is a former highly-regarded prospect that was once the subject of many White Sox trade rumors got cut, and folks are clinging to the name value. Most players who make it all the way to age 27 without showing anything just suck. The Red Sox are a smart organization; if there was anything there, chances are they wouldn’t have passed on an opportunity to give Swihart a longer look.
Kenny always gets his man.
Remember when Blake Swihirt tweeted that was relieved not to be included in the Sale trade? Yes – it may have been more about not wanting to leave Boston than not wanting to go the White Sox – but still. Then you pile on that his performance since that moment? We have two major league catchers and two more close (though the current combined ave of Collins and Savala says otherwise).
Anyway – let someone else sign him and let’s take this is a sign we are starting to become a deeper, less desperate team than we have been the past couple years.
Szymborski lists Moncada and Rodon as hot starts to believe in https://blogs.fangraphs.com/hot-starts-to-believe-in/
Craig Edwards expands on Mike Petriello’s analysis of Moncada’s new approach https://blogs.fangraphs.com/yoan-moncada-is-different/
Almost a year to the day of Craig Edwards writing ‘Yoan Moncada’s Approach is Actually Working’. Let’s hope he’s right this time.
Not great, Bob (but potentially remedied by LuBob) https://www.baseballprospectus.com/news/article/48496/the-worst-of-the-30-team-era-white-sox-center-fielders/
Love that quote to Garfien.
Sox should trade for DFA’d utility catcher Blake Swihart. His bat plays, Red Sox dicked him around but he was a top prospect a few years ago and our Sox have the playing time to spare.
I’ve always thought the easiest path to improvement for him was to cut down incrementally on the Ks. Trying to be patient and take walks just doesn’t seem natural for him. I dont think this is a major breakout or anything, but a lot of the plate discipline stats are showing improvement so far. I could see him moving the offense from bad to merely below average which, with the defense and baserunning, would make for a nice player.
Sale’s velocity sitting at 95, max 97 vs Yankees today.
Better. Thought he got hosed with contract but velocity/ injury concerns troublesome.