White Sox

Tim Anderson’s improbable batting title

Tim Anderson’s improbable batting title

Tim Anderson’s rise to the 2019 American League (and Major Leagues for that matter) batting champion was one of the most pleasant surprises of 2019. In 2018, Anderson posted only the sixth season in White Sox history of 20+ home runs & 20+ stolen bases. However, he did it with a subpar .240 batting average (and .281 on-base percentage). Most of the optimism heading out of last season was due to his noticeable improvement in the field. So when Anderson barreled out of the gate earning the AL Player of the Month Award and a .375/.394/.615 slashline through the end of April (becoming the first player in MLB history with 5+ home runs & 10+ stolen bases without being caught through the end of April), it was quite a breakthrough.

How drastic was Anderson’s improvement? I dug into the record books to see.

First I took a look at batting champions – 1901 to present – who hit under .250 the previous season. There were a few players who did not play at all the previous season – Ichiro (played in Japan) & Willie Mays (military service) come to mind. I did not include those players in these charts.

Players to win a batting title after hitting under .250 the previous season (1901-present)

Player Year Batting Average (BA) Previous BA Previous season PA
Tim Anderson 2019 .335 .240 606
Alex Rodriguez 1996 .385 .232 149
Andres Galarraga 1993 .370 .243 347
Gary Sheffield 1992 .330 .194 203
Terry Pendleton 1991 .319 .230 484
Willie McGee 1990 .335 (NL) .236 211
Matty Alou 1966 .342 .231 351
Carl Furillo 1953 .344 .247 462
Harry Walker 1946 .363 .237 385

I included the plate appearances from the previous season for a reason. None of the other batters qualified for the batting title! I marked Willie McGee’s batting average with (NL) because he was traded to the A’s near the end of the season and I did not include his American League totals in that batting average since he was the NL batting champion.

So there it is, Tim Anderson is the first player in modern MLB history (1901-present) to win a batting title after qualifying with a batting average under .250 the season before.

What about the size of the increase, regardless what the batting average was the previous season?

Well, it’s most of the same names from the previous list, for one thing.

Biggest batting average increase over previous season among batting champions (1901-present); players who qualified for batting title in both seasons are in boldface

Player Year BA Previous season (plate app) Increase
Gary Sheffield 1992 .330 .194 (203) +.136
Andres Galarraga 1993 .370 .243 (347) +.127
Alex Rodriguez 1996 .358 .232 (149) +.126
Harry Walker 1946 .363 .237 (385) +.126
Matty Alou 1966 .342 .231 (351) +.111
Willie McGee 1990 .335 .236 (211) +.099
Carl Furillo 1953 .344 .247 (462) +.097
Tim Anderson 2019 .335 .240 (606) +.095
Josh Hamilton 2010 .359 .268 (365) +.091
Keith Hernandez 1979 .344 .355 (633) +.089

During the modern era (1901-present), Tim Anderson’s 95-point increase is the biggest by a batting champion who qualified for the batting title the previous season as well. Next is Keith Hernandez. To find a bigger increase by a batting champion who also qualified the previous season, you have to go all the way back to when Hall of Famer Mike “King” Kelly who improved from .288 in 1885 to .388 in 1886.  (If you ever wondered what King Kelly looks like, he’s the guy I use for my Twitter avatar.)

Of course, there’s one distinction by Tim Anderson as a batting champion that’s less desirable. And that’s his lack of walks.

Fewest walks by a batting champion (1901-present)

Player Year BA BB
Tim Anderson 2019 .335 15
Zack Wheat 1918 .335 16
Hal Chase 1916 .339 19
Debs Garms 1940 .355 23
Andres Galarraga 1993 .370 24
Matty Alou 1966 .342 24
Ty Cobb 1907 .350 24
Napoleon Lajorie 1903 .357 24
Napoleon Lajorie 1901 .421 24

One bonus note: in the penultimate game of the season, Anderson entered the game with 13 walks and 15 three+ hit games on the season. He improbably walked twice to even up his total of walks & games with three or more safeties. He would have been the only batting champion since AT LEAST 1908 to have more 3+ hit games than walks. However he ended up with 15 apiece, making him only the third batting champion from 1908 to present (that was as far back as I could search gamelogs) with an equal amount of walks & 3+ hit games. Here they are:

Year Player BA Walks 3+ hit games
2019 Tim Anderson .335 15 12
2015 Dee Gordan .333 25 25
1974 Ralph Garr .353 28 28

Yes, the lack of bases on balls has always been his major weakness at the plate, but with Anderson’s improvement at the plate, it’s hard to argue with his .335 batting average and .357 on-base percentage. Those numbers are good no matter how you arrive at them. And if that’s how Anderson best utilizes his skills and maximizes his potential, then you let him do his thing. Hopefully he retains his confidence and his edge into another hugely productive season in 2020.

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Major League Baseball reportedly considering starting season in empty spring training stadiums

Major League Baseball reportedly considering starting season in empty spring training stadiums

Major League Baseball is searching for ways the 2020 season can take place and one idea that has been thrown around is playing in empty spring training stadiums.

According to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, MLB is thinking that the season could begin play “in Florida or more likely Arizona” in empty stadiums to start things off.

The logistics of this during a pandemic are a nightmare and could prevent the idea from becoming a reality, but it’s on the table as a possibility. The league and its teams would have to figure out how to quarantine the coaches, players and anyone who would be involved in games, both on and off the field.

Having games with fans seems unlikely until a vaccine is available or the league has the ability to guarantee everyone in large groups of people has not contracted the virus. Eliminating crowds minimizes the number of people that need to be virus-free, but guaranteeing the safety of anyone involved would still be difficult.

Having the teams in the same city with no crowds offers an easier way to do that, relatively speaking, but all it would take is one player or stadium worker to test positive for COVID-19 for the whole thing to fall apart. The Cubs recently had two seasonal game-day workers test positive.

It’s clear that MLB is working on finding a solution for the 2020 season, and this one is becoming the most realistic way to start the season in the summer. Things are going to continue to evolve with the many unknowns involved, but this shows MLB is getting creative in its thinking.

White Sox 2005 Rewind: The untouchable Jon Garland


White Sox 2005 Rewind: The untouchable Jon Garland

Jon Garland was on absolute fire to start the 2005 season.

On May 1, he shut out the Detroit Tigers. It was a sensational performance. It was also a carbon copy of his previous outing against the Oakland A’s. Both games featured no runs, four hits and no walks against Garland in nine innings. If anything, he was better against the Tigers, striking out six hitters as opposed to the three strikeouts he had six days earlier.

These back-to-back shutouts capped an incredible start to the campaign for Garland, who was coming off a solid but unspectacular 2004 season. He finished that campaign with a 4.89 ERA. This was already his sixth big league season. In his first five years in the majors, he owned 4.68 ERA in 149 games.

Well, he was a different kind of pitcher in 2005. In his first five starts, he had a 1.38 ERA in 39 innings, an average of nearly eight innings per outing. He had nearly three times as many strikeouts as he had allowed runs.

To close out that game against the A’s, he retired the final 13 batters he faced. In this one, he retired 15 of the final 16 hitters he faced.

The dude was practically untouchable.

And he still knows it.

Even Cy Young seasons have their blips, and his streak of stellar starts was snapped the next time out. He allowed six runs in 5.2 innings against the Toronto Blue Jays. The White Sox still won that game, though, and won each of Garland’s first eight starts, 12 of his first 14 starts and went 20-12 overall in games he pitched during the regular season.

But those blips were few and far between in 2005. In only nine of his 32 starts did he give up more than three earned runs. By season’s end, his ERA was significantly higher than it was at the outset of the campaign, 3.50, but he remained a workhorse and averaged just a hair under seven innings an outing on the year.

Garland made the AL All-Star team and finished sixth in the Cy Young vote in 2005. He allowed just four earned runs in 16 innings over a pair of postseason starts.

He had a similarly fantastic stretch from late June through the month of July, but he perhaps never looked as good as he did during this electric start to the season.

After tossing these back-to-back shutouts, Garland only went the distance once more during the 2005 regular season, in his first start of September against these same Tigers. He obviously was one of the four consecutive complete games against the Los Angeles Angels in the ALCS, but he allowed two runs in that game.

White Sox starting pitching was phenomenal in 2005, and Garland was no exception. This was Garland at his best.

What else?

— The play of the game in this 8-0 White Sox rout came courtesy of “Come On” Timo Perez, who laid down a suicide squeeze with the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the third inning. Tigers starter Wil Ledezma got himself in a real jam after getting two of the first three hitters of the inning out. He hit Paul Konerko with a pitch and walked Aaron Rowand to load the bases. Perez followed with a perfectly executed bunt down the first-base line, catching the Tigers off guard and bringing in the White Sox second run of the afternoon.

Before that crazy play, Perez used a bunt to help bring home the White Sox first run. In the second inning, a sacrifice bunt followed up a no-out balk that advanced Rowand to second. Perez moved him up another 90 feet, and Rowand scored on Joe Crede’s sacrifice fly.

— Perez’s May 1, 2005, excellence wasn’t limited to bunts. He also homered. At this point, I can only assume 2005 ended with Timo Perez as the American League MVP.

— The benches cleared in the fourth inning. As mentioned, Konerko was plunked in the third, and after two quick outs, a pitch got away from Garland and flew behind Rondell White. White was not pleased and started walking toward the mound with bat in hand. Everyone left their respective dugout and stood around on the field, as most baseball dust ups go. Hawk Harrelson: “What is it, Rondell? Our guy gets drilled and you can't get hit?”

— All apologies to Pedro Lopez, but who is Pedro Lopez? This was the major league debut for the White Sox infielder and one of the two major league games he played in in 2005. He continued the trend of solid performances from the White Sox bench, with a hit, a run and an RBI in this game. But the majority of his 2005 was spent in the minor leagues. Those two games were the only big league action he saw with the White Sox. He returned to the majors two years later as a Cincinnati Red, getting 45 at-bats in 14 games.

— Lopez wearing No. 62 instantly brought Jose Quintana to mind, but Quintana is one of a whopping six players to wear that jersey number since Lopez did in 2005: Ehren Wassermann, Bret Prinz, Jack Egbert, Eduardo Escobar, Quintana and Dustin Garneau.

— Ledezma balked twice in this game and five times in his career. The record for the most balks in a single season belongs to Dave Stewart, who had 16 of them in 1988. The record for the most balks in a career belongs to one-time White Sox hurler Steve Carlton, who got charged with 90!

Since you been gone

While #SoxRewind is extensive, it doesn’t include all 162 regular-season contests, meaning we’re going to be skipping over some games. So what’d we miss since last time?

April 26, 2005: The White Sox and A’s traded back-to-back four-run innings, with the South Siders on top by three heading into the bottom of the seventh. But Oakland’s bats produced five runs in their final two trips to the plate against Mark Buehrle, Damaso Marte and Luis Vizcaino. White Sox lose, 9-7, fall to 16-5.

April 27, 2005: Konerko drove in a run in the first inning, but it was all the White Sox got across the plate. The A’s tied the game against Freddy Garcia in the fourth and got a walk-off single from Marco Scutaro in the ninth to grab a series win. White Sox lose, 2-1, fall to 16-6.

April 29, 2005: Down a run in the bottom of the ninth, the White Sox rallied against Troy Percival, getting a bases-loaded sacrifice fly from Rowand to force extras. But a Nook Logan triple off Shingo Takatsu in the 11th broke the tie. White Sox lose, 3-2, fall to 16-7.

April 30, 2005: The White Sox snapped a three-game losing streak with a three-run seventh inning. Crede, Scott Podsednik and Tadahito Iguchi all drove in runs in that frame to turn a 3-1 deficit into a 4-3 lead. White Sox win, 4-3, improve to 17-7.

Next up

#SoxRewind rolls on Saturday, when you can catch the May 4, 2005, game against the Royals, starting at 4 p.m. on NBC Sports Chicago. Crede and A.J. Pierzynski both leave the yard in this one.

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