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White Sox

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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