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Down Goes Anderson

Johan Rojas #18 of the Philadelphia Phillies reacts in front of a fallen Tim Anderson #7 of the Miami Marlins after hitting a double.
Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

The news Tuesday that the Miami Marlins have DFA'd Tim Anderson feels brutal and conclusive because of where he played. This 30-54 team, which could essentially sim the rest of the season to no real consequence, is choosing to get rid of a player on a one-year, $5 million contract, because he performed poorly enough to justify it.

Anderson's season is so dire that it's difficult to find any meaningful explanation as to how he recorded the stats he did. No qualified batter has under a 60 wRC+ because any batter with less than that, meaning 40 percent worse than league average, would never play enough to be qualified. If you set the minimum at 200 plate appearances, Anderson is at the bottom of the list, with a wRC+ of 31. All of his Baseball Savant sliders form a blue expanse rivaling the breadth of the sky. Take your pick on issues to blame: his 28.2 percent strikeout rate, his 62 percent ground ball rate. If you want to point to his 2.9 percent walk rate, you certainly can, but even when he was great, Anderson rarely walked. This year he only has three extra-base hits, all of them doubles.

What's shocking about Anderson, beyond how he's done so abysmally within the given sample size, is the severity of the drop-off since his All-Star season in 2022. That year, he'd slashed .301/.339/.395—it still wasn't his best year, but it was more than enough, even if his fielding began to look a little shaky. In 2023, he slashed .245/.286/.296. This year might be over for him in July.

The narratively satisfying and darkly comic explanation would be if Anderson was simply never the same since José Ramírez rocked his shit this past August, but the truth is probably more mundane: He injured his knee in early 2023 and never bounced back. At the time of the White Sox–Guardians brawl, Anderson was already having a horrible season, but there was some hope that he'd recover and the sixth-inning knockdown would become nothing more than an embarrassing footnote. Right now, it feels more like a final chapter than a footnote.

These days, if you're thinking about a high batting average guy, you'll wind up with seemingly the entirety of the Cleveland Guardians or Padres infielder Luis Arráez, whose bat speed profile so cleanly passes the eye test that you might as well validate the metric off his data point alone. Arráez does not walk or hit the ball hard or run very fast, but he squares up the balls he does hit nearly half the time. Anderson's batting profile varies depending on the year. From 2017 to 2019, he had pretty standard pull power, but in 2021, suddenly he became an opposite-field power guy.

Still, the core of Anderson's game differed from Arráez's: Anderson was really fast and he could hit homers, even though he didn't have the underlying hard-hit metrics that usually signify a power hitter. Because Anderson depended so much on his speed and having just enough pop, all it took was one injury, and now he's on the wrong side of 30. The Marlins gave Anderson a one-year contract in hopes that 2023 was just a fluke, and other teams might still take a flyer on him. But that hope was pretty meager. As fun as Anderson's game was when he was in his prime, it was never going to age particularly well.

Beyond being a locus of bad feeling, the DFA is also meaningful in the context of the White Sox's failed contention window, since this news comes weeks after 2020 AL MVP José Abreu was released by the Houston Astros. If you were to name three representative White Sox of that short-lived era, regardless of tenure, it'd probably be Abreu, Anderson, and Yermín Mercedes. The ignoble end of Mercedes's Major League run was more apt as a representation of the organization as a whole, but for a few years there, Anderson had this undeniable narrative gravitas. If something meaningful happened, of course he'd be at the center of it. Now it's gone, and it wasn't because of anything unprecedented or spectacular. It was just baseball.

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