National print magazines usually plan out an issue several months in advance, and that was my first thought when reading a GQ profile on Tim Anderson that went live this week.
The story hasn’t entirely sat in the can since Opening Day. The author, Matthew Roberson, talked to Anderson when he was in New York for the Yankees series earlier this month. It also references Anderson’s off-field indiscretions (The Pivot podcast addresses it more thoroughly if you care) and his tough season under the White Sox’s third manager in four years. Four, if you count Miguel Cairo.
The problem is that the article’s subject is a Tim Anderson that doesn’t seem to exist right now. The story was probably pitched about the guy with four consecutive .300 seasons and an unapologetic quest to expand the idea of baseball stardom beyond its staid conventions.
The Tim Anderson who’s on the field right now is hitting .226/.265/.264 after an 0-for-5, four-strikeout game against the worst team in baseball on Friday. Nick Madrigal has out-homered him this season — with one, which he hit Friday afternoon. Whether you use fWAR (-0.9) or bWAR (-1.3), Anderson is the second-least valuable regular in the majors. The only difference is who he’s trailing (Jurickson Profar for the former, Jean Segura for the latter).
Nobody should expect laser-sharp baseball insight from GQ. It’s a style magazine, not Handsome FanGraphs. For all its flaws, however, the story actually meshes with the way Pedro Grifol has insisted on batting Anderson at or near the top of the order. In both cases, there’s a sense that both are propping up Anderson and masking the lack of results because the idea is way more attractive than the reality.
At least GQ can blame the early deadlines. Grifol doesn’t have a deadline. He can change course any given day, especially since Anderson’s knee and shoulder injuries provide easy excuses that don’t diminish anybody’s standing. He instead drifts past every off-ramp.
Let’s go back to what Grifol said before the finale at Dodger Stadium on June 15. When asked if he had given any thought to moving Anderson down in the order, he said, “Not at all. Hasn’t even crossed my mind.” Then he added, “I know at any given day [Anderson] can start feeling really good. We have 92 games left? He could hit 120 hits the rest of the year.”
There are now 77 games left. Over the two weeks or so since that quote, Anderson is 4-for-41 with zero extra-base hits and 14 strikeouts. If you want to try finding some silver lining, an Anderson that truly has 116 hits still in the tank has to hit something like .375 the rest of the way.
Grifol did drop Anderson in the order — one spot, and two days after Grifol said it hadn’t even crossed his mind. The half-measure hasn’t worked, and the eighth inning on Friday showed how he’s getting in the way. Anderson came to the plate with two on and two outs with the Sox trailing by two, but struck out for the fourth time. Luis Robert Jr. was on deck, and he ended up hitting a solo shot to lead off the ninth.
So reporters are asking him the same question, and he’s giving the same answer.
Manager Pedro Grifol has stuck with the former All-Star in the No. 2 spot after dropping him from his customary leadoff role. A drop to the bottom of the order seems necessary. Anderson is 4-for-58 in his last 14 games.
“I haven’t thought about that yet,” Grifol said after the game.
Sure enough, Anderson’s batting second in today’s lineup …
… but if precedent holds regarding things that haven’t allegedly crossed Grifol’s mind, he’ll drop Anderson to eighth by Sunday, not because he’s not getting the job done, but because the White Sox feel compelled to play him through injuries despite a complete lack of detectable benefits.
There is so much I don’t understand about the way Grifol has handled this, but the most Grifol-specific aspect that confounds me is the way he claims to not think about things.
I mean, I get it in the basic sense. Grifol’s deploying a defense mechanism intended to shut down follow-up questions. It’s just a poor one, because thinking about everything is Grifol’s first job. His second job is filtering out the thoughts that don’t make sense, and determining potential courses of action for the ones that hold water.
Assuming he’s not just up and admitting a dereliction of duty, you shouldn’t believe Grifol when he says that he hasn’t thought about something. He’s carrying three catchers for late-game pinch-running scenarios that aren’t especially likely to make or break a game, so he’s more likely overthinking everything. But while every manager says things that aren’t true to get people off his ass (or the ass of his players), usually they’re a little more sophisticated, charming or wacky with their approach. Ozzie Guillen loved to brag about how little work he did, but he had the good sense to win a World Series first.
Grifol just doesn’t have a whole lot of experience in a public-facing role. Between having Mike Matheny imposed on him with Kansas City and replacing the dysfunctional Tony La Russa administration in Chicago, he probably has logged plenty of time pointing out what somebody else has done wrong, but he didn’t have to implement or defend his own ideas outside of the interview stage. To that extent, he’s a sympathetic figure to somebody who writes about what the White Sox do wrong, but isn’t actually saddled with correcting them himself.
For those of us on the outside, if Grifol says he hasn’t thought about something, I’d assume that it’s been consuming him. It just rings hollower when the thing he purportedly hasn’t given any consideration to has been festering for weeks, leaving there no way to distinguish analysis paralysis from utter indifference.