Elvis Andrus entered Major League Baseball as a 20-year old in 2009, making the jump straight from Double-A Frisco to the big show. He broke camp with the Rangers as the starting shortstop, pushing 2008 Gold Glove winner Michael Young to third base. The high level of Andrus’s defense was what got him onto the big league roster as the youngest position player in all of baseball, and is still the strongest aspect of his game four years later.
Now that Andrus is 24 years old, two years away from free agency, and with the promise of Jurickson Profar on the doorstep, it is a pivotal moment for Andrus and for the Rangers, and begs revisiting the debate surrounding whether the leather-flashing Venezuelan will ever blossom into an above-average hitter too.
There has always been a camp of people who have believed Andrus will never be much to speak of on the offensive half of the game. In 2008, the Baseball Prospectus Annual said “The problem is that Andrus is just not a good hitter. He is, however, an outstanding defensive player. We'd say he'll never bat at the top of a lineup.”
On the other side of the coin is the more optimistic bunch who have seen Andrus as a player that has not yet grown into his body, and the necessary power at the plate will arrive as he advances in age and matures in stature. Observe the 2012 BP Annual - “Although he will never be a legitimate power threat, Elvis is starting to show more strength in his swing without sacrificing bat speed. The 23-year-old Venezuelan should see his gap approach yield more doubles and perhaps more home runs in the future…Andrus has all the physical tools necessary to develop into a first-division player on both sides of the ball. He is just going to keep getting better.”
Since 2009, Andrus’s listed weight has increased from 185 to 200, and he looks it too. In fact, Evan Grant recently tweeted that Andrus actually trimmed down 10 pounds to get back to 200 this spring, implying that either this winter or last season he was carrying some additional bulk. With that additional bulk in 2012 came additional extra base hits, even though it wasn’t of the over-the-fence variety.
Here is a graphical view of Andrus’s OPS, wOBA, and TAv in the last four seasons. The red line is the trend of 2009-2012, and the dashed lines are from the ZiPS and PECOTA projection systems for 2013.
Andrus’s top comparison in PECOTA is Dave Chalk, and in ZiPS is Steve Sax. Chalk spent nine seasons in baseball, collecting a couple of All-Star selections along the way. He finished his career with an OPS+ of 85, peaking at 106 in his career year as a 24-year old. Sax saw considerable more success in his 14-year career, winning Rookie of the Year, as well as finishing as a 5-time All-Star. Sax finished his career with a 95 OPS+, despite exploding in one breakout year as a 26-year old with a 137 OPS+, winning him the Silver Slugger award as a second baseman.
Imagine that at a young age your parents gave you a bird as a birthday gift. You loved this bird greatly; he would wow you and entertain you on a daily basis. You had dreams of youthful exuberance of the day when you could launch your bird in the air, see him take flight, and train him to come and perch on your arm. When he was young, it was fun to watch him bounce and bop around, but that day when you’d see him fly to you would really be the day when this gift was everything you hoped it would be. But then, even when your bird had grown big enough, when you threw him into the air, he just would not fly. Now your great gift and source of pride and joy is only a reminder to you of what he won’t do, instead of all that he does. You start to get angry at your bird, wondering why he just won’t fly. That anger and disappointment prevents you from truly enjoying your time with your bird anymore. But the problem isn’t your bird’s fault, it’s that the bird was a fun-loving penguin the whole time.
Andrus has made improvements to his offensive game, and deserves a lot of credit for that. He may continue to get better as he moves ever closer to those golden prime years of a baseball player’s career. I don’t think we’ve seen his best performance at the plate yet. However, it is possible, if not likely that he doesn’t build on his 2012 season at the plate. It’s hard to imagine Andrus gaining any more weight than what he gained before the 2011 and 2012 seasons, and his career-best ISO still came in 2009.
He may never be a complete package player; he may just continue to be a penguin that plays elite-level defense with a slightly below average bat.
The projection systems are bearish on Andrus offensively, and there are certainly scouts out there that you could find with the same opinion. What we have seen from Elvis so far could lead us to believe the contrary - that there is still room for him to be a more accomplished hitter. No matter what, he should continue to be a brilliant defender for the next several years, and should be a delight to watch play the game of baseball for the rest of his career.
Peter Ellwood is a Senior Staff Writer for Shutdown Inning. You can email him at Peter.Ellwood@shutdowninning.com or reach him on Twitter @FutureGM