On Wednesday, MLB Network continued its “Top 10 Players Right Now” series, honing in on the best shortstops in the game currently. Chief among those who made the cut were Cubs superstar Javier Baez and White Sox cornerstone Tim Anderson. Naturally, the two young stars fell in line side-by-side to close out the list as Báez ranked ninth and Anderson ranked tenth.
The results have created the perfect storm for baseball fans, namely those across Chicago. In the past couple of years, despite existing in two different leagues, the debate between the two shortstops has now seemed to come full circle. Báez recently turned 28 while Anderson turns 28 in June and both have established prominent roles within the game. It is, however, time to stop comparing the two.
Baseball in Chicago is as big a pastime as the game itself. Depending on which zip code you are tied to mostly depends on your fandom. By all accounts, the north side of the city reserved itself for Cubs fans, while the south side has planted the territorial flag as White Sox country.
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As an outsider myself to the Windy City and someone who resides in the Pacific Northwest, I can imagine the contention and revelry that plays into an established rooting pattern. The newest element at play, of course, is the discourse directed at the notion that only one star shortstop can exist, and it has led to a healthy natural discussion between the talents of Báez and Anderson.
Cubs, Sox each boast a top-tier superstar
Báez broke into the league for a brief period in 2014, while Anderson made his debut in 2016. His first time around the league, Báez displayed his raw power, hitting nine home runs in only 52 games. Anderson, meanwhile, hit a cool .283 and posted a 2.1 fWAR.
As Báez’s career began first, he did not establish himself until the 2016 season following a small stint with the Cubs in 2015 and a finger injury suffered that summer at Triple-A Iowa. Anderson became a regular for the White Sox by 2017, his second season in the big leagues. In their respective right, neither Báez nor Anderson truly broke out until the 2018 season.
The 2018 season turned into a career year for the man they call ‘El Mago.’ Báez slashed .290/.326/.554, hit 34 home runs, drove in 111 runs, and stole 21 bases. Altogether it was strong enough for a 131 wRC+. He finished second in the National League MVP voting and earned his first N.L. Silver Slugger. In 2019, Báez followed up with another strong season, mashing 29 home runs and posted a 114 wRC+.
Meanwhile, Anderson hit just .240 in his initial “breakout” year but hit 20 home runs and stole 26 bases. In 2019, he earned accolades as the American League batting champion to the tune of a .335 average and his first three-win season, posting a 3.4 fWAR. Last season, Anderson earned his first Silver Slugger. In 49 games, he hit .322 with a 142 wRC+.
A big point of contention present in the realm of this debate has strangely been defense. Matter of factly, there is no debate. Báez earned his first N.L. Gold Glove this past season and since 2016 has been a staunch defender at short. In 2019 he should have reaped the reward as he finished with 26 defensive runs saved. Báez carries a weight of 39 runs saved over the past five seasons. He has a career .969 fielding percentage.
Anderson on the other hand, to put it delicately, resembles a rogue firecracker you’d throw at your friends. He is all over the place with the leather. Ultimately, however, Anderson has a career -22 DRS and -6.9 UZR/150. His overall fielding percentage is a smidge smaller than Báez’s.
In our individual way, we should appreciate the game of Báez and Anderson. As fun as it would be to run circles around some of those who don’t buy into the analytics, it is easy to understand why each guy is so well-liked and respected among their fanbase. Anderson brings it with the bat while Báez impresses with magical defensive gems and no-look swipe tags.
Above all, no matter your allegiance, it is our duty as baseball fans to enjoy the passion and drive of these two, along with helping foster the passion for future generations. So let’s stop comparing Báez and Anderson and instead enjoy the show.