In terms of baseball etiquette and culture, Tim Anderson of the Chicago White Sox strives to be different. He actively diverges from the traditional persona of a “baseball player” and wants to rebrand the game in order to attract a younger generation of fans. Shockingly, in his quest to change the very essence of a game that has been played a certain way for more than a century, he faces some opposition. His most notable foe was Glenn Sparkman, the pitcher off which he launched a homerun. He then flipped (“flipped being used reluctantly) his bat a solid 15 feet.
All of this being said, Tim Anderson is more than just flips and flare. He happens to be a really good baseball player, but reaches peak performance in his own unique manner. His stats and strategy seem to be more out of the ordinary than his attitude about the game.
The 2019 season was a good one for Anderson, far and away his best yet. He hit a very respectable 18 bombs, drove in 56 runs, and hit over 30 doubles. The sabermetrics back up his performance as well. He finished the year with an .865 OPS and a .363 wOBA, each in the upper echelon of the league. His most impressive stat, however, was his astronomical .335 average, a stat in which he is leading the majors. How Anderson got to this position is what interests me.
Essentially, he never took pitches.
Normally, when someone begins to put together a campaign like Anderson’s, a campaign in which he was successful getting hits as well as showing some pop with a .508 SLG%, pitchers will begin to pitch around them. They typically wouldn’t give them anything to hit, and ultimately end up walking them a large portion of the time. That’s not how it played out for Anderson. Even if you would try to walk him, he would just keep swinging.
Only three players (Jeff McNeil, Eddie Rosario, and Kevin Pillar in that order) swung at a higher clip than Anderson, his swing percentage at 58.5 with a 45.2 Swing percentage on pitches outside of the strike zone. He had the second lowest BB percentage out of all qualified batters, walking just 2.9 times in every 100 at bats. Players have had success with such low walk rates(Eddie Rosario, Jose Abreu, and Javier Baez each having walk rates of 5.2% or less). It is a matter of taking advantage of each at bat, and less about how you do so. Lastly comes his BB/K, the stat that many baseball experts use to analyze one’s plate discipline. The higher the BB/K, the better the batter’s eye. Clocking in at a whopping 0.14 walks per strikeout, Tim Anderson was the worst in all of baseball. To put that into perspective, the last three batting title winners have had BB/Ks of 0.89, 0.63, and 0.83 respectively. It is incredibly unusual for a player to hit this well while being walked so little.
So… how does he do it?
One place to look is his BABIP, batting average on balls in play. Anderson was second in the MLB with a BABIP of .399, only trailing his teammate Yoan Moncada. This means that out of every 10 balls he puts in play, about 4 of them go for a hit. This may not seem all that great to the casual fan, but it’s incredibly impressive statistically. The difference between him and number 5 in this category, MVP front runner Christian Yelich, is almost 50 points. Many attribute this to “luck.” He happens to hit the ball where defenders don’t happen to be. To an extent, I’m sure this is partially true. There were undoubtedly some bloop singles of his that wouldn’t have been hits many other times. But “luck” doesn’t lead to consistent performance throughout a 162-game season. He puts up good numbers because, however outlandish his “always swing”approach is, he ultimately knows what he’s doing. He was number 8 in Oppo% in the MLB, hitting to right field about 30% of the time. If a pitch is away and off the plate, he may still swing, but he’s smart about it. He doesn’t try to pull every pitch he sees for a homer. He will go the other way for a hit. This frequency to spray to all parts of the field takes away the ability to shift against him, which tends to be the biggest killer of BABIP. It’s not luck, it’s just good baseball.
Although unorthodox in both his on field play and off field personality, there is no denying that Tim Anderson is changing baseball. He may not yet be a household name, but sooner or later he will be known as one of the most influential players of the new era of the game.