Joe McEwing

Why the White Sox are optimistic about their middle infielders' potential

moncadaanderson.jpg
USA TODAY

Why the White Sox are optimistic about their middle infielders' potential

HOUSTON -- After both started slow, the White Sox middle infield of the future has heated up at the plate. Tim Anderson and Yoan Moncada have also made steady gains in the field.

It’s the kind of play the White Sox think they’re going to see plenty of from the extremely talented pair over the next few years. Their combined production admittedly has excited the White Sox brain trust, which knows Anderson and Moncada have hardly tapped into their potential and are only now building rapport.

“We should be optimistic,” manager Rick Renteria said. “Those two guys in the middle continue to improve. They’re getting along. They’re becoming understanding of each other, their idiosyncrasies, the things they like and don’t like. When you have a combination in the middle that is over time going to grow together, it can be something special.”

The potential is limitless.

Anderson, who extended his hitting streak to 12 games in a 3-1 win over the Astros on Thursday, was rated as high as the No. 45 prospect by Baseball America ahead of the 2016 season. Moncada -- who’s had an outstanding road trip -- rose to the No. 1 ranking in baseball before he was promoted two months ago.

Bench coach Joe McEwing said he appreciates the raw tools each player brings to the field. Both possess outstanding range and have strong, accurate arms. He also likes how each is accountable when they make mistakes and has seen each improve immensely.

Anderson’s improvement has been more about letting his instincts and talent take over after a rough first half in the field. Meanwhile, Moncada’s has been more about technical adjustments --- footwork, jumps, knowledge of hitters. Moncada has also widened his base, which has led to steadier fielding, McEwing said. And now they’ve begun to learn how to work with each other.

“They’ve developed a bit of chemistry and it started early,” McEwing said. “They gravitated to each other and started working together early.

“You’re seeing them growing together and it’s been fun to watch.”

“We’re extremely excited.”

Anderson thinks the pair works well together because they have similarly easygoing personalities. The shortstop said he and Moncada have liked to joke around with each other since the outset. Prior to Moncada going on the disabled list late last month, Anderson’s Instagram featured a photo of him treating his teammate’s shins in the trainer’s room.

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Anderson also thinks the players’ proximity in age -- he’s 23 months older -- is helpful.

“We’re easy to get along with,” Anderson said. “We’re just having fun. I’m easy to play with. He’s easy to please with. He understands me very well and I understand him very well. It’s just get as many reps as we can get and get comfortable and have fun with it.

“He’s kind of like me. We don’t talk much but there’s some energy in there, some excitement. We’re always joking and playing and laughing.

“Definitely someone I can play up the middle with for a while and going to enjoy every minute of it. Very special kid and very talented.”

White Sox will give Tim Anderson freedom to make mistakes

White Sox will give Tim Anderson freedom to make mistakes

MINNEAPOLIS -- The White Sox have no plans for Tim Anderson to take the same path as the Cubs’ Kyle Schwarber.

An hour before the Cubs announced their shocking news Thursday that the World Series hero is headed to Triple-A, White Sox manager Rick Renteria said he thought Anderson’s struggles could be addressed in the majors.

Playing in his first full season, Anderson has had an up and down campaign. He leads the majors with 16 errors committed and has struggled at the plate, hitting .256/.284/.374 with six home runs and 19 RBIs in 265 plate appearances. The roller coaster ride has led to some aggravation for Anderson, who slammed his batting helmet in frustration during Wednesday’s loss. Anderson said the helmet slam was the topic of a postgame conversation he had with Renteria on Wednesday.

“I feel like this year has been the toughest year I’ve dealt with since I’ve started playing baseball,” Anderson said. “I have to keep playing, lock in and control it.

“(Slamming the helmet) doesn’t make you feel better. It’s just a little frustration. You get mad at times, but you just try to control it and keep playing.”

Anderson, who turns 24 on Friday, has had a lot to manage in 2017.

It’s his first full season in the majors. He signed a contract extension in March. Since May he’s been dealing with the loss of his close friend, who was shot to death. Throw in the on-field struggles and Renteria realizes there’s a lot with which Anderson had to deal.

“You just make the sure the perspective they’re having at any particular moment is the correct perspective,” Renteria said. “You try to make sure that the underlying frustrations he might be having, that he’s able to separate it.

“You have ups and down, they’re not always going to be in the best place mentally at times. But for the most part you address it, you talk about it because you understand it, you’ve lived all those things and you just try to give him a little insight and keep it going in the right direction.”

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Anderson made a pair of miscues in a costly third-inning Twins rally on Wednesday night.

But Renteria expressed his confidence in the second-year player, calling him one of the premier shortstops in the league.

The White Sox manager has seen Anderson make the necessary corrections after infield work with bench coach Joe McEwing. The effort and preparation have been there. Renteria just wants to make sure his player can compartmentalize and stay focused. He realizes there’s going to be mistakes from time to time and wants to make sure Anderson is handling them well.

“To say he’s not going to continue to make mistakes every now and then, yeah that’s going to happen,” Renteria said. “It’s there for everybody to see. That’s why everybody takes notice and that’s natural. I think the one thing we have to do as a staff and players also is step back and stay away from the fray of that attention and stay focused on what you have to do. Minimize how all the noise affects you and continue to play the game.”

Renteria remembers his own struggles as a young player and knows how much more scrutiny Anderson faces. Every game is televised and highlights are streamed on the internet. Any little gaffe can be magnified. Anderson admits that at times he’s dealt with frustration he’s never before experienced and it’s caught up to him. Now he just needs to learn how to cope with the stress a little better.

“Nobody wants to go through tough times and struggle,” Anderson said. “Slamming helmets is not the right way to go about it because you could get injured, so try to handle it in a better way.

“It’s been tough times and a lot of frustration, but I try not to let it get to me, but sometimes it does. I try to balance it out and keep going.

“I’m just trying to manage it, balance it out and separate it from each other.”

Shifting strategy: White Sox more dependent upon usage of defensive shifts

Shifting strategy: White Sox more dependent upon usage of defensive shifts

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The White Sox are shifting their defense more than ever this season and have had great success with it so far.

Entering Wednesday, the club ranks third in the majors with 312 shifts implemented and is on pace for more than 2,000, according to Fangraphs.com. The increase in shifts would almost double the number the White Sox used last season (1,079) and represents an increase of nearly 4,300 percent from the 46 put on in 2012.  

While general manager Rick Hahn suggested in October that manager Rick Renteria’s staff would be more analytically inclined, the White Sox have used a blend spray charts and video scouting to their advantage. The club entered Wednesday with a .210 opponents’ average against on ground balls, which is tied for third-best in the majors, according to MLB.com’s Statcast database.

“It’s just a lot of information, watching a lot of video” bench coach Joe McEwing said. “There’s a lot of factors to determine who we’re going to shift. Breaking down video on each hitter — against a righty, against a lefty, against our guys, against velocity, against pitch type, against runners in scoring position, against runners on first pitch.

“It’s a long process of breaking down a hitter and breaking down video, and watching so many clips and so many ground balls and what pitch type or what location will induce that ground ball.”

The preparation that goes into determining which players to shift and which not to takes about 3-to-3 1/2 hours per series, McEwing said. Poring over spray charts is only the start of the process for McEwing, who proceeds to then watch every ground ball an opposing player has hit dating back to April 1 of last year. McEwing said he not only considers the outcome but also the velocity of the pitch, pitch location, how the batter hits with runners in scoring position or a man on first base and other factors to determine the best way to attack.

The White Sox are very comfortable with the shift as their 312 times used has only been bested by the Tampa Bay Rays (353) and Milwaukee Brewers (329) this season.

“We have to stay ahead of the curve,” Renteria said. “There’s more to it than the spray charts. We are actually trying to follow their in-game thinking a little bit. Those are things that we take into account, factors we use to determine what we do and the modifications we make.”

“We are catching a lot of balls.”

James Shields has more experience than most when it comes to pitching into the shift.

He played six seasons for Joe Maddon, who is almost single-handedly responsible for baseball’s fascination with creating a defensive advantage by stacking one side of the infield with three defenders. According to Fangraphs, Shields is the second-most shifted pitcher in baseball since 2010 with 695, which is as far back as the stat was recorded.

The Rays were the first team in baseball history to use some form of the shift more than 150 times in a season, Shields said. They believed the endeavor to be successful if they recorded an out 75 percent of the time.

“Did I agree with it?” Shields said. “I definitely agree with the shift, but sometimes they work and sometimes they work against you. And these hitters are good enough to make an adjustment and hit the ball the other way. But then again, you get hitters that might be changing their approaches at the plate. There’s a lot of different intangibles that go with it.”

One variable that has led to such a significant increase in shifts is that the 2017 White Sox possess more players who pitch to contact. Dylan Covey, Jose Quintana and Miguel Gonzalez all rank among the top 16 pitchers with shifts utilized and Shields still ranks 46th even though he hasn’t pitched in two weeks.

Last season, Chris Sale only had 105 shifts used behind him because he’s more of a power pitcher. Gonzalez on the other hand already has 58 shifts used, which ranks second in baseball.

Another factor is that the White Sox are comfortable trusting their infielders to make the plays behind their pitchers. On more than a half dozen occasions Wednesday, the shift left Todd Frazier playing in at shortstop while Tim Anderson stood about 10 feet on the second base side of the bag and Yolmer Sanchez stood in shallow right field.

“So many things have to go right for it all to work,” McEwing said. “You have to have the athletes, execution of a pitch in a certain spot. There are certain areas in the strike zone or out of the zone that will allow a hitter to beat the shift. We talk about how we’re going to pitch them early, pitch them late, how we’re going to finish them.”

Pitch execution is by far the most critical element. When the Detroit Tigers’ Victor Martinez beat a White Sox shift last week with a single through the spot where Anderson is normally located, it was a missed location, McEwing said.

“(McEwing) has so much information for us and it helps so much,” Gonzalez said. “All we have to do is execute the pitch.”

Shields trusts the information, but he also does his own homework. He wants to see how batters have fared against similar pitchers in the past as well as against himself. The veteran then works with the coaching staff’s information and together they determine a plan for how to attack hitters.

“I do my own research on top of theirs and we combine them and make the best judgment,” Shields said.

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McEwing said the same scenario plays out with each pitcher and the strategy isn’t implemented unless the pitcher is comfortable. Last season, Zach Duke wasn’t comfortable pitching in front of the shift and the White Sox limited their usage.

On the defensive side, infielder Tyler Saladino said he’s learned to trust the gameplan, even if he first found it to be awkward. Saladino remembers the first time he stood in a shift as a shortstop playing on the right field side of second base. Left-handed hitter Jason Giambi singled through the left side and Saladino forgot to cover second base, watching the play instead.

But after several years of experience, Saladino and his teammates are comfortable with the shift, which is directly tied to the preparation of the coaching staff.

“Nothing is too weird because you’re there for a reason,” Saladino said. “That’s why you’ve got to trust what they say. ‘What about the whole other side of the field?’ You’re in a shift and its three of us on one side. Well, you’re there for a reason.”

Though he’s only in his first season as bench coach, McEwing has helped the White Sox slowly implement the shift. The White Sox increased shift usage from 46 in 2012 to 102 in 2013 before a sharp jump to 588 in 2014. The club used some form of a shift 616 times in 2015 before jumping to 1,079 last season.

McEwing said he doesn’t have a percentage that the club has to reach to consider the shift successful — it’s all about the end result.

“Really all I care about is wins and if that helps us create an out where it gives us a better chance to win than yeah, it’s satisfaction,” McEwing said. “All I know is we try to prepare the best we possibly can to put them in position to win.”