Tim Anderson is going to win the batting title.
That’s still more prediction than fact, for the moment, considering the race won’t go final until Sunday afternoon. But with now five games remaining in the White Sox season, their shortstop leads the world in batting average, hitting .339 after a four-hit performance in Wednesday night’s win against the Cleveland Indians. The quartet of base knocks sent Anderson to a double-digit lead on the New York Yankees’ D.J. LeMahieu, who ranks second in the Junior Circuit with a .328 average.
Anderson’s seemingly eventual accomplishment will go down in franchise history as one of the more noteworthy statistical achievements. After all, just three times prior has a South Sider claimed a batting title: Frank Thomas in 1997 and Luke Appling in 1936 and 1943. Appling in 1936 was the only White Sox player to ever finish with the highest batting average in all of baseball, which Anderson is on track to do, 10 points ahead of the injured Christian Yelich of the Milwaukee Brewers and Ketel Marte of the Arizona Diamondbacks.
But as worthy of celebration as Anderson’s title will be, it will be more important for how it was done, to echo general manager Rick Hahn’s grading scale for this entire White Sox season.
“Just seeing where I was a couple of years ago to where I am now,” Anderson said after Wednesday’s game, “I put the work in, and it’s showing. It’s showing.”
Anderson hit .240 last season, something that cannot be stressed enough as he’s on the cusp of raising his batting average by 100 points from 2018 to 2019. At the end of last season, Anderson was busy receiving rave reviews for his defensive improvement, but there were plenty of valid questions about whether he would be able to hit enough to truly be the White Sox slam-dunk shortstop of the future.
Could they build around a guy who hit .240 with an on-base percentage well below .300? Those questions remained front and center as the White Sox pursued free-agent superstar Manny Machado. All along, Anderson showed that he wouldn’t cede the job he worked to get so easily, saying in the middle of that high-profile pursuit that “I would love to play with him, but shortstop is mine.”
Well, Machado opted to play for the San Diego Padres and Anderson got his chance to prove he was a deserving centerpiece of this rebuilding project. And that’s what he’s done this season.
Though teammate Yoan Moncada got more attention for going to work after his disappointing 2018 campaign, Anderson’s been working this whole time, too. He’s made changes to his stance and leaned into his aggressiveness at the plate that was criticized for producing low walk rates. Anderson’s still not walking much, but he is reaching base at a .354 clip.
“He's going out and grinding out at-bats and finding ways to get the barrel to the baseball and doing what he's been doing pretty much his whole career,” manager Rick Renteria said. “He has a knack of getting the barrel to the ball.
“I know there's always a question of how sustainable it is, but he continues to go out there and play. That's his skill. He's going to continue to do it, I'm sure, for the rest of his career. And we'll take it.”
Anderson’s offensive leaps have been huge, and it’s worth pointing out that two of the White Sox best offensive players this season, Anderson and Moncada, play the positions that were discussed for Machado on the left side of the infield. No, that’s not to say the White Sox are better off without Machado, it’s simply to say that they’ve come out the other end of his decision in fine shape, with shortstop and third base seemingly spoken for for years to come.
Anderson grabbed national headlines early in the season for a benches-clearing bat flip and a crusade to change a game he called “boring.” It’s easy to make those claims, it’s another thing entirely to be able to back them up. Anderson has done that by performing at an All-Star level this season.
The next time he ruffles the feathers of the old-school types, he won’t do it simply as Tim Anderson but as AL batting champ Tim Anderson. Considering where he was a year ago, that’s an astonishing journey. And one that helps crank the brightness to 11 on the White Sox future.
But if you, like me, are of the opinion that Anderson has locked this thing up with five games to play, don’t tell him. Anderson, who continually reminds reporters that he doesn’t look at the numbers, is still keeping his eyes away from the leaderboard until the season is over.
“I ain’t done yet.”