One of the most important plays in Monday’s White Sox winner over the Twins isn’t captured by the box score, the game log, or even the package of highlight clips on the MLB.com recap.
The official description of the game event, which occurred with two outs in the sixth inning, states what happened: “Josh Donaldson singles on a ground ball to shortstop Tim Anderson, Jake Cave to 3rd, Ehire Adrianza to 2nd.”
It doesn’t state what didn’t happen, because game logs would go on forever if they covered all the things that never occurred over the course of a play. You have to watch the video to understand the stakes.
If Anderson doesn’t stop that ball, Cave scores from second to give the Twins a 2-1 lead. Adrianza makes it to third, which puts runners on the corners for Nelson Cruz to enhance the lead further. Instead, while Cruz came to the plate with the bases loaded in a different sort of unenviable situation, at least the game was tied.
The game log on Baseball-Reference.com measures the Win Probability Added for each play, and even though nobody scored on the play, Donaldson’s infield single increased the Twins’ chances of winning by 4 percent. The continue our theme of what’s going unsaid, this doesn’t tell you what Anderson preserved by stopping the ball.
Fortunately, we can calculate decent estimate of Anderson’s contribution thanks to a handy WPA calculator found on The Book’s Wiki. The program spits out the same result for the actual event, so I feel comfortable what it says about what the Sox would have faced if the ball slipped past Anderson’s glove.
- WPA, infield single: 4 percent
- WPA, ball gets through: 17 percent
Anderson’s play had a 13-percent swing, making it the fourth most important play of the game behind Adam Engel’s game-winning butcher boy, Donaldson’s inning-ending double play in the seventh, and Cruz’s bases-loaded groundout in the eighth.
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Anderson can’t be credited for a play made, but he can be credited with good timing. Prior to stopping a tough ground ball that he couldn’t convert into a documentable out, MLB.com unveiled the initial leaderboard for its cornerstone infield metric Outs Above Average, and it shows Anderson as the weak link of the infield. Sox Machine supporter Louis shot me a message essentially asking, “What gives?”
Indeed, this isn’t the kind of snapshot we’d have expected from the infield before the season:
- Yoán Moncada; +2
- Jose Abreu: +1
- Leury García: +1
- Nick Madrigal: 0
- Danny Mendick: -1
- Tim Anderson: -3
This list is mostly good news, but Anderson’s poor showing sticks out. His -3 OAA is good for 33rd out of 36 shortstops. Perhaps you can take some small-sample solace from Anderson being tied with Paul DeJong, who was among baseball’s best defenders last year.
The number is disappointing because it doesn’t reward Anderson’s improvement in making the easy plays. He committed 26 errors in just 122 games last year. Through 37 games in 2020, he’s setting a pace for just 16 over a similar sample. Defensive Runs Saved reflects such improvement in his execution. He’s breaking even in DRS thus far in 2020, as opposed to losing 12 runs last year.
But DRS is the outlier of the three main metrics. Statcast had Anderson at -2 OAA in 2019, so he’s more or less within that margin for error, and Ultimate Zone Rating has him on the same 150-game pace (-11.6 runs) as last year (-11.7).
I expected Anderson’s defense to be interpreted on the negative side, mostly because there aren’t many examples of him completing amazing plays in 2020. MLB.com has enhanced its video search so you can find just about every ground ball hit to Anderson, and there are a host of infield singles in the group this year. Some examples:
Hell, this wasn’t even Donaldson’s first infield single on a grounder in Anderson’s direction this year.
All of these chances are difficult on an individual basis, but Anderson’s highlight page hasn’t turned up the kind of web gems that offset some of these incomplete plays. His strongest efforts involve double-play turns, line drives, and this crazy relay throw home. All are good and help the cause, but if there’s a shortage of range-based highlights, I can see him lagging behind the field in the advanced metrics.
It’s a small sample, so perhaps Anderson is in line for some tougher batted balls that he can convert. Or maybe the abbreviated training camp and early-season groin injury makes him a step slower than usual, preventing him from getting into better throwing position on these ground balls that test him.
The good news is that he’s showing more polish on the grounders within his range, especially with regards to footwork. He made one of the key plays during Lucas Giolito’s no-hitter by rounding off this spinning bouncer in order to get rid of the ball faster.
And while he might not be fielding the tough plays cleanly, he’s not compounding these compromised positions with ill-advised throws. The phrase is “playing within himself,” and it’s a phrase to treat carefully. Omar Vizquel’s White Sox career shows that it’s sometimes a euphemism to cover for no range whatsoever, but here, I think it’s an encouraging step at this moment in Anderson’s development.
After all, since he’s apparently hoarding batting titles for the foreseeable future, he won’t need to be a Gold Glover to garner MVP support. And with the White Sox showing drastic teamwide improvements in the field, Rick Renteria isn’t praying for sensational plays from Anderson that make up for deficits elsewhere. The White Sox finally have enough talent to disperse responsibility accordingly, rather than requiring the few talented individuals to be even more than they’ve shown. Maybe Anderson’s range has taken a hit, and here’s hoping it’s only temporary, but as long as the errors don’t resurface, he and everybody else should continue making up for it.
(Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire)