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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

Kansas City Blues

Up & Down with Brian Anderson

by
Guy Bacci

Go ahead and admit it. You’ve done it. Your brother has done it. Your sister has done it. Your father has definitely done it. After all, it’s the hottest thing going these days. Trendy, hip, cool. It makes you feel smart and aware and clearly confirms your status as a true White Sox fan. As a matter of fact, if you haven’t done it, you should immediately burn all the Sox garb in your closet and denounce your fandom forever.

But trust me, you’ve done it.

You’ve debated whether Brian Anderson should be playing centerfield.

It doesn’t even matter who you’ve debated with, be it a fellow Sox fan, an obnoxious Cubs fan, or a bar stool. Maybe you’ve discussed it with your best friend, or your pet hamster, or your grandma. Maybe your only contribution is a few words in one of the half-dozen threads on WSI.

Just as long as you’ve done it, you can wear that black and silver with pride.

Some exceptionally overachieving Sox fans have been doing it long before it became popular. Many started during Spring Training; some started the instant Aaron Rowand was traded. Maybe you’ve gotten emails from your friends like one I got recently:

“You still have the same stance on Brian Anderson?”

My opinion coming out of Spring Training was that Kenny Williams—still owning godlike status—was making a wise move by mimicking the Braves of the ‘90s, who were known for sprinkling one or two young players amongst a veteran team (led by an All-Star pitching staff) to give their prospects experience without sacrificing victories.

So how’s that going? White Sox record: 43-25 (second best in MLB). Yeah, I think I’m still okay with Brian Anderson in centerfield. But that wasn’t enough to deter my friend:

“You can't be an everyday player hitting .164. I was watching a game this weekend and Ozzie sent a pinch-hitter for [Anderson] in the 7th. Honestly, I can't remember the last time I saw a pinch hitter in the American League that wasn't related to a pitching change. Really, I can't remember the last time I saw a pinch hitter in the American League period!”

Somehow, that’s fitting, because Ozzie always claims he wants to play National League ball. And who says you can’t be an everyday player hitting .164? Or .155, or .082, or .046? (Okay, maybe .046 is pushing it.) Heck, Rob Deer hit .179 in 1991, but was considered valuable because he had power. The point is, as long as the kid plays stellar defense and the team is winning, who the heck cares?

But that’s not how the majority of the world sees baseball. The majority sees stats and numbers. And when they come across an everyday centerfielder batting .170, they stop and stare as if they’ve just encountered a man with two heads or a goat with five legs. It’s simply not normal for a Major League ballplayer to be hitting under the Mendoza Line, which explains why Tom Verducci bothered to write an article on Brian Anderson for SI.com, or why national broadcasters are taking an interest in the Sox rookie.

As dislikable as Rick Sutcliffe can be at times, you can’t argue with his assessment that most rookies who strikeout 144 times at the minor-league level aren’t promoted to major-league starting jobs. Yes, Anderson has been rushed. But that was partly the point. Let the kid take his lumps now while the team is good enough to cover his blemishes.

Immediate comparisons will be made to Robin Venture, who survived 40-plus at bats without a hit during his rookie season. There’s no doubt that Anderson could rise from the adversity with invaluable experience that carries him to an All-Star career. He could also lose confidence and vanish into the abyss with Jeff Abbott and Lyle Mouton. But Williams and Guillen clearly think Anderson is the type who will overcome the nightmares, otherwise they wouldn’t have put him in this situation.

And yet, this isn’t solely about what’s best for Anderson. This is also about what’s best for the White Sox. If you’ve ever watched Pablo Osuna or Rob Mackowiak try to gauge the trajectory on a Major League fly ball, you know that the Sox are much better off with Anderson in centerfield, regardless of how embarrassingly low his average sinks. As brilliant as Osuna has been with the stick this season, he’s an enormous liability in the outfield. He seems to be gaining confidence in left, but center is a different beast. Besides, Osuna’s spark is most valuable off the bench.

The next argument involves trades, even wild ones with division rival Minnesota for Torii Hunter. That’ll never happen, but if it could, I wouldn’t exactly frown—depending on how much the Sox are forced to give up. A player like Hunter would almost certainly require Brandon McCarthy, in which case Kenny should instantly hang up the phone.

Just a glance at last year’s amazing post-season run confirms that you don’t need an entire lineup to bat .300 to win games. The Sox lost one measly game in October despite Tadahito Iguchi hitting .191 during the playoffs, Joe Crede hitting .111 in the ALDS, Aaron Rowand and A.J. Pierzynski each hitting .167 in the ALCS.

Granted, each of those players delivered at least one key hit during the post-season, and with the exception of Iguchi, all had tremendous Octobers. But Scott Podsednik also hit two homers in October, which just goes to show that stats get thrown out the window anyway.

As long as Anderson is playing championship-caliber defense—which was the subject of a recent Baseball Prospectus article linked in the WSI forums—there’s no reason not to have him in the starting lineup. Baseball is filled with wonderful stats for fans to look at, but the most important stat will always be W. Until Anderson’s struggles start to cost the Sox wins, the kid should stay.

Even if he does start to grow a second head.


Guy Bacci is from the north suburbs of Chicago, where he couldn't avoid growing up as a pampered and snotty Cubs fan. Luckily, he saw the light in 1985 and never looked back. He loved the hard-working, old-school tactics of Carlton Fisk, who would become his all-time favorite player. His most memorable moment was going to a Sox double-header with his grandfather, who insisted on staying all nine hours (including a long rain delay). Guy is a journalism grad from Northwestern, currently residing in Seattle, where he works as a computer programmer and freelance writer. He can be reached at guybacci@yahoo.com.

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