Now that the outrage over the Manny Machado pursuit has simmered, White Sox fans can take a clearer look at the players that will take the field in 2019. Much of that analysis should focus on the two young middle infielders, Yoan Moncada and Tim Anderson. Both have shown flashes of greatness in their short years on the South Side, but neither have established themselves as a consistently productive player.
Right now, both are tearing it up in Arizona. Currently Anderson is slashing .394/.412/.667 while Moncada’s at .379/.486/.724. So, the question remains: Will either ever reach their star potential?
Sadly, I’m not convinced either will. If their progression in 2018 and current Spring Training numbers are any indication, both have yet to make progress on their most serious flaw. As most of you know already, Moncada struggles to avoid strikeouts while TA7 doesn’t walk enough. This spring Moncada has 10 Ks in 27 at-bats while Anderson has just 1 walk in 33 at-bats.
However, the rebuild is not contingent on either one of these players becoming stars. If they can blossom into solid, 3.5-WAR type players, Chicago will have a sufficient infield for years to come. Let’s take a closer look at how they can succeed given their tendencies.
There’s something very endearing in the way Timmy carries himself. Despite a lack of success and recognition, Anderson maintains his defiant swagger every day. One look at his Twitter or Instagram, and you know the shortstop is determined to be a great baseball player, and truly believes he can be one. Add in the fun side of him, especially his antics with Yolmer Sanchez, and you get one likable athlete.
It’s worth noting that my name is Tim, my favorite number is 7, and I played middle infield growing up. It’s not hard to see why I’m inclined to embrace Anderson. However, I can still be realistic about his assets and especially his detriments.
Anderson played well in the first half of last season. The 25 year-old earned a 97 OPS+ and drew 23 walks before the All-Star Break. Overall, his offensive and defensive numbers were up significantly from 2018, and he was seemed poised to continue making progress. Then, things took a bit of a nosedive in the second half of the campaign. Despite impressive statistics in August, Anderson posted a 74 OPS+ in the second half of the year due to an abysmal July (42 OPS+) and rough September (59 OPS+).
Therefore, it’s integral for TA to avoid extended rough patches. Everyone has them, but his seem to be longer and more extreme than most players.
Combine all of that and you get a subpar year offensively for the shortstop. However, Tim still managed to play at a 2.5 bWAR level, in large part to defensive WAR increase from 0.0 in 2018 to 1.0 in 2019 (Baseball Reference). Not only did he commit eight less errors in six more games, but Anderson saw his Ultimate Zone Rating, measured in runs above average, shoot up from -13.5 to 0.5 (Fangraphs). In the course of a year he seemingly went from an awful defender to an above-average one. With that in mind, one key for Tim is to continue to play well defensively.
Earlier I mentioned that Tim’s lack of plate discipline will always limit his potential. That doesn’t mean that he can’t improve a little bit, though. Fangraph’s O-Swing% measures the percent of pitches outside the zone a player swings at, and the league average hovers around 30%. Last season Tim came in at 40.3%, which was down 1% from 2017. I’m a believer that his aggressiveness at the plate will never go away, but that he can be trained to recognize balls with more accuracy. If he can be more patient and lower his O-Swing% to about 36%, that would translate to noticeable offensive growth.
My last recommendation is that Tim never loses his infectious exuberance. If he is able to make the above improvements and maintain his attitude, Anderson will provide immense value to the South Siders for many years.
If Tim Anderson doesn’t work out, most Sox fans would be disappointed but not shocked. Yoan Moncada, on the other hand, might be a different story. Moncada was once MLB’s top prospect, and played well at all levels of the minors. Since coming to the majors, however, the 23 year-old has had trouble finding his groove.
This offseason, though, Moncada has altered his swing mechanics noticeably. The former White Sox top prospect no longer rests the bat on his shoulder, has brought his hands up a little higher, and tilts the bat more upward with the knob pointing further down.
Ignoring the strikeouts, Moncada’s stats in 2019 clearly show he’s comfortable with the changes, and thus my first key for him is to continue using the new stance.
Moncada’s second key is the exact opposite of my third key for Tim Anderson, funny enough. As you might be able to guess, I’m looking for Yoan to be more aggressive at the plate. Last season he led the majors by a wide margin in strikeouts looking. The easiest way to measure this is Swing%, courtesy of Fangraphs of course, and in 2018 Moncada swung at 41.1% of all pitches in comparison to the league average of 46.6%. That encompasses him swinging 3% less than average at pitches inside the strike zone.
It’s difficult to teach a player to swing more, just like it is to teach them to swing less, but again I think some progress can be made. If Yoan can get his Swing% up to 44%, he’ll reduce strikeouts and consequently see a bump in on-base percentage from the extra pitches.
One component of Anderson’s game that Moncada hasn’t mirrored well is defense. Last season, the second basemen was worth just 0.1 dWAR (BRef) and his UZR was -3.7.
But Moncada is a second basemen no longer. Assuming the White Sox aren’t pulling our leg with their current lineups, Yoan will be switching positions with Yolmer Sanchez in 2019, from second to third base. Time will tell if Moncada can perform well at the hot corner, but he has a pretty low bar to meet given his second base numbers. Thus, another crucial point for Yoan in 2019 is to adjust and play well at third base.
Finally, Moncada has been downright atrocious as a right-handed hitter in the majors. It hurts to say, but it’s the truth. Last season, he put up just a .585 OPS when batting from the right side of the plate. But the tide may be turning for the switch-hitter. While it’s impossible to find his right-handed stats from spring training currently, a glimpse at Twitter shows he’s doing much better than expected. And by that, I mean this:
SOUTH SIDE OR DIE. pic.twitter.com/twYDOZFKU0
— Sox On 35th (@SoxOn35th) March 15, 2019
— Jonnie Nonnie (@NonnieJonnie) March 7, 2019
Moncada had just two righty home runs in all of 2018, and he’s already got one in less than 30 at-bats. If Yoan could become an 80 OPS+ righty batter (compared to 64 last year), he would be far more productive at the plate.
Though there’s little chance Anderson and Moncada meet each of their respective goals, I do think they have a good shot at every single one. Like all good things in a rebuild, we’ll just have to wait and see. If both take a big leap forward in 2019, though, the White Sox may not have to wait much longer to finally play winning baseball.