Chicago White Sox, MLB

Tim Anderson can top his breakout 2019 campaign with improved plate discipline

Tim Anderson was a force of nature at the plate in 2019, but there’s still room for him to improve his game and become an even more formidable hitter.

Chicago White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson was nothing short of spectacular in 2019. The 26-year-old took the league by storm in his fourth year in the majors, hitting .335 across 518 plate appearances to capture the first batting title by a White Sox player since Frank Thomas in 1997.

It was a breakout season in every sense of the phrase. Prior to 2019, Anderson statistical profile painted him as a sub-par hitter at best. In three seasons at the major-league level, he had yet to post a wRC+ higher than 98, and his career slash line of .258/.286/.411 was thoroughly mediocre.

However, he had always shown flashes of the potential he had to become a true star. Anderson had plenty of speed to be a problem on the base paths, swiping 51 bags through his first three seasons, and he showed no fear at the plate, swinging at 53.3 percent of all pitches he saw, per FanGraphs. He had even proved to be a home run threat, clubbing 20 bombs in 2018.

It was in 2019 that he managed to piece it all together, though, totaling 18 home runs and 17 stolen bases all while managing a career-best 130 wRC+ on a .335/.357/.508 slash line. Had it not been for an ankle injury that limited him to just 123 games, he likely would have finished with his second career 20/20 season.

But even in the wake of such a strong campaign, there’s still room for Anderson to get better. For all the things he does right, plate discipline stands out as one of his weaknesses. While it was his aggressive attitude at the plate that helped net him his breakout, that same attitude is the primary area where he should focus on improving himself.

Anderson’s 2.9 percent walk rate was among the worst in the league in 2019, with only Kevin Pillar (2.8 percent) taking free passes less frequently than him among qualifying batters. And while his .335 batting average was the top mark in MLB, his .357 on-base percentage ranked 45th. This was primarily due to his free-swinging tendencies, which took a sharp uptick for better and for worse last year.

He posted career-highs in zone-swing% (77.5 percent) and outside-swing% (45.2 percent) in 2019. Anderson made contact on nearly 90 percent of his swings at pitches inside of the strike zone, a strong mark that he should strive to maintain, but his 61.5 percent rate of contact on swings at pitches out of the zone was below league average. It’s good that Anderson showed no hesitance to swing at pitches over the plate, but his eagerness to chase last year worked as much to his detriment as it did to his success. Such an aptitude to chase pitches will only hurt him in the future.

He also was the beneficiary of some good fortune on batted balls. His .399 batting average on balls in play was the second-highest mark in the league, something that is equally unsustainable as it is impressive. Pitchers may change their approach, defenses may start to shift, and there may come a time that Anderson can’t rely on contact alone to get him on base.

At the end of the day, the primary objective of any batter is to get on base by whatever means necessary. Anderson found a successful means of doing that in 2019 with his aggressive mentality, but if he wants to take his success a step further, then he needs to start laying off a few more pitches outside of the zone. It doesn’t have to be anything major, but a few walks here and there could go a long way in helping him sustain and build upon his success.

He already has the tools to be a consistently great hitter; he showed as much last year. But adding improved plate discipline to his arsenal could make him one of the game’s very best.

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