White Sox living large on lefties, and Tim Anderson largest of all

Last week, Tony Wolfe at FanGraphs wrote about Tim Anderson’s quieter breakout. Everybody became acquainted with Anderson’s louder breakout last year, when Anderson defied conventional wisdom by winning the batting title with the league’s second-worst walk rate. A walk might not be as good as hit when it comes to batting average, but usually some selectivity is required to keep the contact quantity and quality adequate.

Holding his gains was probably going to require some tightening of his approach, and he’s obliged. His ability to turn all sorts of pitches into hits remains strong, but he’s also doubled his walk rate year over year. He drew his ninth walk of the season on Wednesday against Pittsburgh, which was his 33rd game of the season. In 2019, he didn’t reach nine walks until 79 games.

Wolfe mentions Anderson’s increased selectivity, and that he’s hitting the ball harder. His higher ground-ball rate means that he can’t always convert it into out-and-out power, but there’s enough fluctuation to make him pleasingly unpredictable.

Poking at Anderson’s numbers in celebration of his walk rate reaching 6 percent, there’s one thing that jumped out to me under the hood. His season lines might look like a step forward year over year …

  • 2019: 335/.357/.508 over 518 PA
  • 2020: .350/.391/.586 over 151 PA

… but he’s built all of this step forward on ruining the careers of left-handed pitchers.

Yearvs. RHPvs. LHP
2019.339/.360/.514, 367 PA.326/.351/.493, 151 PA
2020.287/.318/.356, 107 PA.513/.568/1.179, 44 PA

Anderson’s performance against righties looks like a simple vision of regression dragging him back down to Earth. As for the other column? Maybe he saw a left-handed pitcher push a child in front of an ice cream truck or maybe one tried to make him watch “Field of Dreams,” but he’s hellbent on erasing them from history.

Anderson is 20-for-39 against lefties this year, and 13 of those 20 hits went for extra bases, including nearly all his homers (six of seven), the majority of his doubles (6 of 10), and his only triple. Likewise, the “vs. LHP” column contains just about the entirety of his strides in the plate-discipline department.

Yearvs. RHPvs. LHP
20192.5% BB, 22.1% K4.0% BB, 18.5% K
20203.7% BB, 24.3% K11.4% BB, 13.6% K

Anderson’s ground-ball rate against righties has spiked 15 percent (48.2% to 63.2%). The higher exit velocity keeps the hits coming, but it also limits him to singles. His swing against lefties has all the pulchritudinous characteristics of extra-base pop (48.5% ground ball rate, 88% of his contact to pull and straightaway fields, 57.6% of it hard). The gap is extreme, but it’s supported by the underlying peripherals.

I don’t think that Anderson has turned himself into a bat that could stand to be platooned. This could just be how the limited slate of opponents manifests itself in an unprecedented 60-game season. The AL Central is such that the good teams have strong right-handed pitching, and the lesser teams are loaded with underwhelming lefties. He’s being kept in check by Jose Berríos, Kenta Maeda and Zach Plesac, and he’s getting fat on guys like Matthew Boyd, Tarik Skubal, Kris Bubic and Danny Duffy.

Anderson’s been at the center of the White Sox’s results and watchability to the point that it’s easy to think he drives the White Sox. And maybe he does! But it’s also possible that the schedule has warped the individual and team seasons into a thought exercise along the lines of, “What would it look like if strengths only played against weaknesses?” The White Sox are 13-0 against left-handed starters this year, and Anderson isn’t alone. James McCann and Yasmani Grandal have four-digit OPSes, and Edwin Encarnación is slugging .500 against lefties while batting .143.

Whether Anderson is the horse or merely riding in the cart, everybody has one last chance to fatten up against those subpar southpaws they’ve dined on all season this weekend against Detroit. After that, it’s four against Minnesota, four against Cincinnati, four against Cleveland, and three against the Cubs. They might only face one lefty starter the rest of the way. The Sox aren’t hopeless against righties, they’re just uneven, and this aspect of their roster construction is going to be stress-tested down the stretch. Anderson’s pursuit of a second batting title also hangs in the balance, so maybe he’s a bellwether for the Sox’s ultimate viability after all.

(Tim Anderson portrait by Carl Skanberg)

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Jim Margalus
Jim Margalus

Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.

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Great insight Jim! Much appreciated.


James Fegan’s story today also involves Tim’s ability to make adjustments.

“I just threw my hands,” Anderson said. “But I was just able to stay inside the ball and was able to shoot it to right. That was one of his best pitches, that was a good pitch, and for me to be able to hit it, to make that adjustment, my hands are working. And I’m aggressive in the zone. That would’ve been strike three, so I had to fight it off some kind of way and I was able to push it to right.”

Fegan follows this with a couple great visuals and analysis of how TA adjusts during the pitch.


Given Mazara’s platoon advantage, Is this the return of the fulcrum in right field?


Great analysis, Jim. Although it did drain my optimism on winning the division down the stretch. Can you write something tomorrow to bring that back?


Cleveland lost three in a row to the Royals. Does that help?


I don’t think that Anderson has turned himself into a bat that could stand to be platooned.

Are you joking here? It’s an odd thing to even ponder.

Papa Giorgio

pulchritudinous…had to google that one. Now I learned a new word! Thanks Jim!