There’s a young middle infielder in Chicago who, despite his prodigious and obvious tools, has some major flaws at the plate. He’s incredibly aggressive — to a fault — and although he hits the ball hard when he makes contact, too often he’s swing through pitches he would have been better off watching go by. You can clearly see the potential — there’s an All-Star in here somewhere — but his approach at the plate is worrisome enough that you’re concerned he’ll ever fulfill that incredible promise.
Wait, did you think I was talking about Javier Baez?
No, idiot. I read the headline.
Okay, well — fair. I’m not talking about Baez, though. I’m talking about the shortstop for the other Chicago team, Tim Anderson. Anderson is the secret version of Baez in many ways, not just in terms of his lack of discipline and the city he plays in. He’s maybe not quite the defender Baez is, but both DRS and UZR loved what he did in 99 games with the White Sox in 2016. Neither does he hit the ball quite as hard, but he’s probably a more explosive athlete than Baez is. The two were born just seven months apart, both were first-round picks and each was a top prospect.
Baez is further along, to be sure — he debuted in 2014 while Anderson just came up last summer — but many of the same questions that surround Baez’s future are equally applicable to Anderson. And as you gathered from our introductory paragraph, those questions primarily surround his extremely aggressive approach at the plate.
To put the extent of Anderson’s aggressiveness in perspective, he struck out in 27.1 percent of his plate appearances, while walking just 3.0 percent of the time. That’s a K-BB% of 24.1 percent. Here’s a list of players with a bigger discrepancy between their strikeout and walk rates:
K-BB% leaders 2016 (min: 400 PA)
That’s the entire list, and those two guys mostly made it solely because they struck out an ungodly amount, rather than refusing to take a walk. Heck, it wasn’t that long ago that Souza was running a double digit walk rate himself.
To take it one step further, here’s a list of players who have met or exceeded that 27.1 strikeout rate and 3 percent walk rate in at least 400 plate appearances since 2002:
≥27.1 percent K%, ≤3 percent BB% (Min: 400 PA)
It’s just Anderson, all by his lonesome. He already was unique in the sense that each player has his own distinct set of strengths and weaknesses, but it’s really quite possible that we haven’t seen a player as aggressive as Anderson in quite some time. Even rookie Vladimir Guerrero walked over five percent of the time.
With that said, Anderson was still quite good in 2016, especially for a rookie shortstop. Despite his contact issues and excessively aggressive approach, he still finished the year with a wRC+ of 95. But in three of his four months in the majors, he was solidly above-average. He hit nine home runs in his 431 plate appearances — three more than he hit in 595 plate appearances at double-A — and showed that, when he does make contact, he’s strong enough to do some real damage:
We’ve seen similar players, of course, if not quite to this extent. Even including Baez, the one player Anderson reminds me of most is Jean Segura. This is mostly because I wrote about him last week, but also because I think Segura represents both the best- and worst-case scenarios for where Anderson’s career could go from here.
Segura’s first extended playing time in the majors was 2013, when he had a breakout season with the Brewers. He didn’t strike out nearly as often as Anderson, at just 13.5 percent, but he also hardly ever walked (4 percent) and showed a surprising amount of pop for a guy who never earned much praise for his power as a prospect. By the end of the season, he looked like one of the brightest young stars in the National League.
But over the next two seasons Segura slashed just .252/.285/.331. The league adjusted to him, throwing him more fastballs, as his swing mechanics simultaneously broke down. He got back on track in a big way in 2016, but for those two seasons he was one of the worst hitters in baseball.
That is not to say that Anderson is headed for a collapse in his sophomore campaign, of course, but rather to point out that an adjustment by the rest of the league is coming, and he will have to face the challenge of adjusting back. And although he’s obviously an outstanding athlete — have you heard he played basketball in high school? — his aggressiveness leaves less room for error in that regard.
For instance, what happens if Anderson is unable to run a BABIP 73 points above league-average? With his speed and ability to barrel the baseball when he makes contact, he’s likely to be above-average in that regard for the foreseeable future, but what if he gets a little less lucky next year and that figure is closer to .320 than .380? What if his new found power is more fluke than harbinger of things to come? How playable is Anderson in that scenario, and what will he need to fix in order to improve?
Perhaps those are overly pessimistic hypotheticals. The Tim Anderson we saw in the majors was basically exactly what we were told we’d see by prospect evaluators for the past few years, just with a few more homers thrown in. At every level of the minor leagues, he’s posted what some might call an unsustainably high BABIP. Maybe he is just Starling Marte, but with a smaller glove and a few fewer bruises from fastballs. That’s a tough profile to make work, but it’s not impossible.
With all of the moves the White Sox made this offseason, he has plenty of time to make adjustments, if any are necessary. The main reason to get excited about the south siders is the prospect of who they could be in three to five years, but in Anderson they have a player you need to start keeping an eye on right now.
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Joe Clarkin is a featured writer for Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @Joe_Clarkin.