Anytime a player gets off to as hot a start as White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson did, some settling down is only to be expected.
The numbers behind Anderson’s numbers suggest there is some settling to be done, which doesn’t mean he can’t go on to have an outstanding season.
Anderson, who entered play Monday hitting .333 with six home runs, 18 RBI and 11 steals in 11 attempts, started hot indeed. He led the American League with a .378 batting average through April 30, and his 172 wRC+ was tied with Cubs catcher Willson Contreras for eighth in the majors.
Even with a cooler start to May, a 140 wRC+ is still a good place to be. Weighted runs created plus weighs all a player’s contributions — singles more important than walks, double plays more destructive than strikeouts and so on — and adjusts for ballparks and competition. Anderson ranks as the 19th-most productive hitter in the AL, right behind teammate Jose Abreu at 142.
As for the numbers behind the numbers, the main positive is a decreased strikeout rate. After striking out in 24.6 percent of his plate appearances in 2018 and in 25.6 percent for his career, Anderson has struck out only 19.7 percent of the time this season.
Another plus: Statcast data at Baseballsavant.com says Anderson’s average exit velocity has been at a career-high 87.6 mph, up from 85.6 last season. His 5.4 barrel percentage also is a career high, up from 4.7.
Anderson’s walk rate is down to 3.3 percent after 5 percent last season. He’s almost right on his career 3.4 percent walk rate. AL averages are 22.7 percent strikeouts and 9.2 percent walks.
When he puts the ball in play, Anderson has hit line drives 19.4 percent of the time, down from 20 percent last season, according to Fangraphs.com data. That’s a narrow enough difference to be random, but line drives bring hitters their greatest success rate.
He’s hitting more grounders than a year ago, up from 46.6 percent to 48.4 percent, and fewer flies, down to 32.3 percent from 33.5 percent. Anderson is going up the middle more often and pulling less, with a pull percentage down from 44.4 to 39.8, center percentage up from 28.4 to 34.4 and opposite-field percentage down from 27.2 to 25.8.
But the biggest reason Anderson’s overall numbers have been so good is a .379 batting average on balls in play. That’s far above his .289 last season, when he finished with a .240 batting average and an 85 wRC+, indicating he was only 85 percent as effective as an average hitter.
A high BABiP on more balls in play because of fewer strikeouts has been driving his success.
A .379 BABiP isn’t usually sustainable, so more leveling off is likely to follow. But Anderson’s career BABiP is .330, while league averages hover around .300.
His numbers behind the numbers might not support a .333 batting average and a 140 wRC+, but Anderson can take a leap forward from last season if his strikeout rate stays down.