If you told me after the 2019 season that in 2022, Tim Anderson would be even better, I would assume that the improvements would mostly have come on defense. Anderson’s defense has always been inconsistent, but generally average to slightly above-average among starting shortstops. While he has played much cleaner defense lately relative to the season’s opening weeks, it’s probably safe to assume that the 29-year-old Anderson is still the inconsistent but overall fine defender that he always has been.
And that is perfectly alright, especially considering that the 2019 Batting Champion, 2020 Silver Slugger, and 2021 All-Star is now hitting .359/.400/.517 with a .917 OPS, 173 wRC+, .403 wOBA, 5 home runs, 18 runs batted in, and 7 stolen bases over 35 games. Anderson is currently ninth in MLB with 2.0 fWAR and eighth with a 173 wRC+. He is outpacing Mookie Betts, Juan Soto, Luis Robert, Byron Buxton, Bryce Harper, Giancarlo Stanton and several other household names in both metrics.
Anderson has been a popular topic among baseball’s “stat nerds” for his consistently high BABIPs, as his quick hands and penchant for hitting to the opposite field make him far more likely than the average player to collect hits when he makes contact. When a player hits .359, one would assume that his BABIP is unsustainable. Anderson’s .382 BABIP, however, is lower than it was in both 2019 (.399) and 2020 (.383). So how is he doing it?
Tim Anderson apparently woke up one morning and decided to never strike out again. If you are going to take one sentence away from this article, let it be that. While leaguewide strikeout rates rise, Tim Anderson has nearly eliminated strikeouts from his game. Of course, Anderson’s strikeout rate has long been a nonissue, as it has hovered around the league average since 2019. But in 2022, he is striking out in only 11% of his plate appearances. For context, the 2022 MLB strikeout rate is 22.5%, and Tim Anderson’s 2019-2021 strikeout rate was 21.6%. By striking out less than half as often as the average hitter in 2022, Anderson is maximizing the amount of plate appearances that end in a ball in play. Given his knack for collecting hits when he does put a ball in play, this strategy has catalyzed his latest improvements.
Like I mentioned earlier, if you told me after 2019 that Tim Anderson would be even better in 2022, I would not think his improvements would be on offense, even though I was never skeptical about the sustainability of his offense in 2019. Yet, in the shortened 2020 season, Anderson added more power to his game, posting a career-high .529 slugging percentage (.207 ISO, also a career high) and winning the Silver Slugger Award. In 2021, Anderson’s power more closely resembled his 2019 season, but he improved his game on defense, providing his most consistent year to date. While his defensive struggles this April were hopefully just a blip, it seems clear that his 2022 improvement is his lack of strikeouts.
This is not to say that Anderson will finish the season batting .359 with a .400 on-base percentage, but rather to point out that his production to date has actually been an accurate reflection of his contact profile. If he continues to strike out this infrequently, his history at the plate suggests that he actually will finish the year with a career-best batting average (his current record is .335 ). It may be unrealistic to assume that his 11% strikeout rate will carry throughout the season, but if Anderson can keep it below 15% — still a substantial improvement relative to his career and the rest of the league — he will be in line to have an even better season at the plate than he has in any of the last three years.
Of course, this is all without even mentioning the circumstances Josh Donaldson subjected Anderson to this weekend, on which I’ve made my position clear through Twitter. Anderson not only is playing the best baseball of his already impressive career, but is cementing himself as one of the all-time White Sox fan favorites.
Already an all-star, Anderson is rapidly approaching superstar and MVP-level territory. Should he continue to strike out less than ever before and stay healthy, his 2022 season will not just be his best, but one of the best individual offensive seasons by a White Sox player since Frank Thomas. And to top it off, a year from now, we may be talking about what unexpected particular improvement he made ahead of the 2023 season to get even better.
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