Over the next few weeks, BP South Side will be reviewing the performance of all 51 players who suited up for the 2017 White Sox. Players whose seasons were particularly noteworthy will get their own standalone article, while smaller contributors or those who were traded/cut will be grouped together. We’ll do our best to summarize and analyze what each player brought to this year’s club, what we learned, didn’t learn, and what it all means for his future with the team.
Single seasons by single players on bad teams are not often remembered beyond what appears on a Baseball Prospectus player card. The players we once watched daily, saw with our own eyes, and understood are relegated to pure numbers with the passing of time. Those numbers alone say that Tim Anderson had a woeful sophomore season. They say that handing the young shortstop an extension after half a season of good, but still raw, play was a mistake.
Statistics and metrics have creeped their way into the everyday vernacular of baseball fans. They’re a great insight into players around the league whose stories are unknown or play is unseen. They remind us of seasons past without forcing us to embark on a sometimes difficult trip down memory lane. They do this because they’re numbers. They have no emotion, narrative, or motive. They are the way they are, and they’re not subject to change (usually). Anderson will always have a -0.1 under the WARP column on his BP player page. We love to use numbers for exactly this reason. They’re objective. They tell us the results without muddying the waters with things that cannot be made certain.
The one problem that remains in numbers, however, is that they cannot perfectly explain the actions of human beings. Baseball players are, in fact, people. They have emotions, hormones, and are subject to real-life factors the same way the rest of us are. Those things don’t show up on a stat page. Anderson’s .233 TAv or 78 wRC+ say nothing about how he felt after his best friend was tragically killed, and his 13 walks in more than 600 plate appearances tells nothing of the path he had to walk down without someone he thought of as a brother.
Anderson played the entire season while mourning his dear friend, attempting to separate his real life from life on the field. That task was, of course, easier said than done. Every day Anderson presumably battled his feelings after the loss of his friend while trying to piece together a season that would cement his place in the White Sox’ future plans.
“I’ve kind of been numb throughout the whole season. I’m just now starting to feel like myself. The numbness is going away. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about him. I think about the good times and things that we did. Just from a long friendship and just try to always think about the positive,” Anderson told Scott Merkin in an interview following his decision to wear the name of his friend during players’ weekend in lieu of a nickname.
Anderson would get hot only to find himself once again slipping into a disastrous slump. That’s why his full season .257/.276/.402 slash line doesn’t tell the whole story. It doesn’t say anything about the .191 ISO he put up in the months of August, September, and October, which was coupled with the 17 home runs that showed off his power potential.
Despite experiencing a tragedy that many much older and more experienced than Anderson have never been forced to go through, he found a way to make his season productive. The -0.1 WARP or whopping -11.2 FRAA are without the context of a young man just trying to do his job amid a great deal of grief. At times, Anderson’s grief made him appear complacent, lazy, or simply not in the game. Those mistakes reflected poorly in the shortsighted eyes of fans, but they were more representative of just how much strife Anderson was enduring.
The good news for the shortstop is that the season is over. He found ways to improve on his impressive rookie campaign, but his flaws are still well-known. His 26.7 percent strikeout rate was an improvement on the season before but still remains a concern in comparison to the very low rate at which Anderson takes walks. The team would certainly love for him to improve his average by a few points while maintaining an ISO nearing .200. His defense could stand to improve if he wants to stick at the position. He has a lot to work on over the offseason and into the 2018 season, but he can do so with a clean sheet in the coming months.
The 2017 White Sox are bound to be forgotten by the time the flowers begin blooming again, and spring will provide an opportunity for Anderson to bloom into the excellent player within. With the pressure of a newly signed contract on his shoulders and the loss of his friend on his heart, Anderson attempted to bear the weight of the world on his shoulders at the ripe age of 24. The season, as a result, could be considered a failure. On the field, there were merely minute details to rejuvenate the excitement that once existed about Anderson. The hope of a bright future for the young shortstop remains, however, in the minds of those who can recognize the season Anderson had beyond the numbers alone.
Lead photo credit: Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports