Elvis Andrus and the Future of His Bat

We have had to deal with a lot of speculation about the Rangers’ infield this off-season. It is not as if the Rangers are in trouble, they have the “problem” of a looming logjam. Shortstop super-prospect Jurickson Profar is knocking on the door. The Rangers also have Ian Kinsler at second and under contract through 2017, and Elvis Andrus, who is only 24, at shortstop and under contract through 2014. Most teams would love to have this sort of problem. This is not going to be another post about what the Rangers should do with these players. Instead, prompted by Evan Grant’s discussion of how the Rangers might want to think about a long-term extension for Andrus depending on how he plays this year, I want to look at how Andrus’ bat might develop over the next few years by looking at similar players. They are actually rather scarce, as Andrus has a rather unusual combination of skills.

A big part of Andrus’ value obviously is rooted in his skill on the bases and his fielding. However, a player still has to hit, and that tends to change more than the other skills in a player’s 20s. It is also generally easier to measure, and there is more variation between players. Thus this post will focus on his bat, with the acknowledged limitations about what I have (mostly) left out.

Although Andrus has had four full seasons in the majors, 2013 will be only his age 24 season, so it may seem obvious that he still likely has development left. While it is true that most general hitting curves show that players usually peak in their mid- to late-20s, those are just for all hitters. It works well enough, but we know that the population of historical aging curves includes both Cecil Fielder and Adam Everett. In other words, we might be able to do a bit better by looking at players more like Andrus.

What stands out with Andrus is not just that he is a shortstop with good speed and contact skills, which is not all that unusual. He also combines low power with a slightly above-average walk rate. Most low-power, speed-and-contact infielders tend to have low walk rates, at least in part because pitchers usually are not going to pitch around them.

To get my set of comparable players, I used a method similar to the one I used in my post about Deion Sanders from last week. I compared Andrus’ walk rate, strikeout rate, isolated power and speed score with league averages during his age 23 season in 2012. I then looked for seasons since 1955 by shortstops who had at least 500 plate appearances and above-average walk rates, better-than-average strikeout rates, isolated power substantially below league average (less than .8 of league average), and a speed score higher than average. (Note that while am focusing on hitting, including speed score and positional restrictions does at least somewhat taken baserunning and fielding into account.) To widen the net a bit, I looked for player seasons that were between 22 and 24. Only four player seasons came up in the results. Nonetheless, what might they tell us about Andrus’ possible future? I will proceed in chronological order.

In 1971, 22-year-old Enzo Hernandez was the Padres’ main shortstop and received 618 plate appearances and hit .222/.295/.250 (63 wRC+). He apparently had a great glove. Since the issue here is aging, keep in mind that we are not primarily looking at whether a player was good or bad, just at some of his peripherals compared to the league, and we really want to look at how he developed over his 20s. As a hitter, Hernandez really did not develop, although he did get playing time in eight different seasons and ended up with over 2600 career plate appearances. Still, it is a bit odd that he is on the list. He never struck out, I guess, and had some speed.

It is mind-boggling that in 1971 he managed an above-average walk rate. At first I assumed it was because he was hitting in front of the pitcher, but the Padres actually had him lead off most of the year due to his speed. How that team only won 61 games is an utter mystery. Hernandez is not a great comparison for Andrus, since his playing time fluctuated after that first year, so tracing development in his case is tough. He was worse at 23 and 24, but about the same at 25 and 26. Sadly, Hernandez died last month in an apparent case of suicide.

In 1972, 24-year-old Roger Metzger hit .222/.288/.259 for the Houston Astros (62 wRC+), and in 1973 he would go on to win the Glove Glove, so he was considered to be a good defender when he was in the league. Metzger was basically a slightly better Enzo Hernandez. He received more playing time over his career, being a full-timer in six or seven seasons. His walks fluctuated, but, hilariously, in 1972 he led off the pretty much the whole season despite not being able to OBP or slug over .300. Amazing, even for 1972. He did hit a bit better in 1973 and 1974 (slugging at least .320 each year!), although his speed dropped off. Like Hernandez, it is hard to say he really declined into his mid- and late-20s, but he did not really improve as a hitter, either.

We now take a big jump in both time and quality to 1997, when a 23-year-old shortstop in his second full year in the league put up an impressive .291/.370/.405 line (110 wRC+) line while stealing 23 bags and hitting 10 home runs. It was roughly similar to his previous season. He looked like he might one day be as good as future Hall of Famer (and at that time, future player) Michael Young. Judge that last part for yourself with respect to Derek Jeter. This was probably the most surprising name that came up out of the players I had heard of before.

It did not seem to fit on first glance, given their respective defensive reputations and Jeter’s and subsequent history with the bat. Indeed, even at this young age, Jeter hit for more power than Andrus, and just barely made it under the wire for ISO compared to league average for this comparison. Still, it is not completely nuts as early in Jeter’s development he was not the 15-20 home run hitter he became later. While the comparison does seem to be on the outer limits of reasonableness (over four full seasons, Andrus has not managed hit hit more than six homers in a season while having the most hitter-friendly home park in the American League, so he does not have much to build on), it can tell us a bit about aging.

While it would be crazy to expect any player to player until 40 when he is only 24, or to expect Andrus to hit like Jeter, it is at least another sign that shortstops who display something like Andrus’ skill set in their early 20s age well, as Jeter had some very big years almost immediately afterwards, although again, much of that had to do with a power spike.

Our final and most recent comparison for Andrus is fitting in more than just a statistical sense. In 2000, Rafael Furcal, like Andrus almost a decade later an international signing by Atlanta, burst onto the scene as a 22-year-old rookie and hit .295/.394/.382 with 40 steals. Furcal was a rookie at 22, whereas Andrus was in his third year at that age. Andrus is also listed as being a fewer inches taller and heavier, although I am not overly trusting of listed heights and weights. Statistically the similarities between between Furcal at 22 and Andrus (at both 22 and 23) hold up. Both players hit five or fewer home runs. Their isolated power relative to league was also similar.

At 23 Andrus was not quite as prolific on the bases, but at 22 he stole 37. Furcal struck out and walked more relative to his league, but still better than average, if not quite on Andrus’ level. At 23 (Andrus’ age in 2012) and 24 Furcal struggled, mostly due to low walk rates. In subsequent years his offense improved, and he hit double-digit home runs every year from 2003 to 2006, his age 25 to 28 seasons. Based on his performance in his early 20s, Furcal is probably the best comparison for Andrus, and also pretty favorable. Rafael Furcal developed more home run power, so it is not out of the question for Andrus.

While I expected a few more surprises, it turns out that (given the parameters I set up, which may or may not have been well-chosen) players statistically similar to Andrus relative to their era, while of greatly varying quality, all managed to at least stay the same or improve as the moved through their twenties, as one would expect. The lack of power was not a problem with this. Perhaps predictably, even a hitter without much power can hang improve like most others if he combines good contact skills with good plate discipline.

What all this means for the Rangers’ infield situation and Andrus in particular is a separate question. But the players discussed here do not provide any reason to think that Andrus is going decline earlier or more quickly than most. Furcal even went through a rough patch and bounced back to hit better than ever. Whether the Rangers want to keep to trade Andrus, that is a good sign for his future value.



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Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.


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Travis L
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Travis L
3 years 7 months ago

Thank you for the article, and for your other writings on the site. That said, this piece was tough to read. There were a few egregious typos, sentences that can’t be parsed, and the narrative switching back and forth was confusing.

I think it was an interesting topic, but I still don’t feel like I know anything more about Andrus’ bat than before I read it.

DD
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DD
3 years 7 months ago

I’m suprised at this comment. If you’ve read his other posts, how do you pick THIS one as the one worthy of spelling and grammatical errors? This was the best article yet in those respects.

Mike Green
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Mike Green
3 years 7 months ago

BBRef pops up with shortstop offensive comps of Alan Trammell, Granny Hamner, Edgar Renteria and Ozzie Guillen.

If you look at the names there and in the article, you would come to the conclusion that there is a pretty good chance that Andrus has 10-15 homer power (or an IsoP of .120-.140) by the time he is in his mid-to-late 20s. Whether it will be accompanied by even better plate control than he has now is a more dicey question; to my mind, that is the question. So far, he hasn’t made huge progress on that front, but there is plenty of time for him to do so. Ozzie Smith did at age 25.

Daniel
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Daniel
3 years 7 months ago

I see the word “reasoynableness.” What is this word?

Jon L.
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Jon L.
3 years 7 months ago

Is it really a big deal? Be reasoynable!

Eric Palmer
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Eric Palmer
3 years 7 months ago

I could see Elvis eventually getting to the 10-15 HR/year mark. Right now, he has a predominately GB/LD swing, which works well with his speed, but he has gotten noticeably stronger the last year or two and from the games I’ve watched (I know eyeball tests aren’t ideal when commenting on this site) it seems like the ball has a little more explosion when it leaves his bat. Add a little more loft into his swing, and I think a few extra HRs might come about.

Blockhead
Member
Blockhead
3 years 7 months ago

As a Ranger fan, a huge Andrus fan, and proponent of extending him, I don’t see his power developing much more.

He bulked up last off-season, which cost him his prowess on the base paths, and based on the eye test and watching games it seemed like he was hitting more gappers. He deteriorated with the rest of the team as the season wore on thanks to our idiot manager but he still only ISO’d .100 pre-ASB which is worse than his .105 ISO from his rookie season (and career high).

dave
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dave
3 years 7 months ago

Sample size is too small to carry any meaning. Rife with typos.

Bob
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Bob
3 years 7 months ago

Well done. Subtle.

Andre the Angels Fan
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Andre the Angels Fan
3 years 7 months ago

I wonder why the comps were limited to just shortstops. Why not look at all hitters with a similar profile? I don’t see why not, and it would broaden the sample size, something Dave the Commenter would appreciate.

shawnuel
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shawnuel
3 years 7 months ago

HaHa…….I almost crapped my pants when I saw that Mike Schmidt quote early this morning. Nice dig!

adohaj
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adohaj
3 years 7 months ago

Extending Andrus is a good idea. Dispite the hype, odds are Profar won’t be as valuable as Andrus is.

ssj316
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ssj316
3 years 7 months ago

That is an empty statement. You have no idea if Profar will be as valuable as Andrus. You’re only right insofar as Profar is still a prospect and the odds are always against a prospect being as valuable as a proven major-leaguer because of prospect attrition rates. But that is begging the question.

adohaj
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adohaj
3 years 6 months ago

Empty but true

Ender
Member
Ender
3 years 7 months ago

Players tend to mature 2-4 years after they come up, the age has little to do with it. Players who peak really young don’t have a 2nd spike when they are 27 and players who come up late don’t peak at 27, they peak later. Andrus is most likely what he has shown the past 2 years which is a mostly overrated speed only guy who hurts in as many categories as he helps.

Ender
Member
Ender
3 years 7 months ago

In a real baseball standpoint he probably raises his OBP over time and maybe even his SLG some but he follows it up with a decrease in BSR and UZR so he probably is also at peak value atm.

Ruki Motomiya
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Ruki Motomiya
3 years 7 months ago

Man, I wish I had an overrated speed only guy who put up 4+ WAR.

Blockhead
Member
Blockhead
3 years 7 months ago

He’s so overrated. How dare he be a top 5 SS over the last two years.

KDL
Guest
KDL
3 years 7 months ago

Over-rated and good are NOT the same thing. Andrus has been very good so far, esp. the last 2 seasons.

But he can still be over-rated.(For example, during his peak years Ryan Howard was both good and over-rated.)So you don’t really refute the ‘Andrus is over-rated’ argument by saying he’s good.

If he’s a 4 WAR guy and public perception is that he’s on par with a bunch of 8 WAR players…he’s over-rated. And good. I’m not about to say that I know what the public perception is, or if Andrus under- or over-performs it. But I do know that saying “he’s good” is a non sequitur when we’re talking about whether he’s overrated.

(Sorry. This is a HUGE sports conversation pet peeve of mine.)

Robbie G.
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Robbie G.
3 years 7 months ago

Is there a fielding curve? I assume work has been done on this but I don’t think I’ve ever seen it. If someone can point me in the right direction, maybe send me a URL link, that would be great.

Also, the only house I’ve ever owned was sold (by me) to a dude named Roger Metzger. Nice guy but he didn’t look like a former major league shortstop.

Baltar
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Baltar
3 years 7 months ago

You lost me at “only 4 seasons.” Why bother to write this article if that’s all you’ve got to compare to?

derp
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derp
3 years 7 months ago

The answer should be rather obvious and it would be to see if Profar could handle outfield duties for the year. Seriously, if he can play above average outfield then they have an excuse to rid themselves of Gentry and his disgrace to Texas offense.

On the note of prospects, something tells me that Mike Olt is a straight 50/50 on coming out as Adam Dunn or Brandon Wood.

byron
Member
byron
3 years 7 months ago

I couldn’t agree less about Olt. It seems pretty clear to me he’s going to have an OBP around .330 and hit 25-30 home runs with good defense at third for pretty much his entire prime. Maybe it’s more like .310/25, or maybe it’s more like .350/35, but I think that’s your range of outcomes.

jdbolick
Member
Member
3 years 7 months ago

Olt’s z-contact rate was really, really bad, not only in his short stint with the Rangers but in the minors as well. Swinging and missing at pitches outside of the strike zone can be corrected. Swinging and missing at pitches inside the strike zone is extremely worrisome.

Spit Ball
Member
Spit Ball
3 years 7 months ago

Why limit this study to Shortstops? If we are looking at hitting skill, the fact that he happens to be a studly defender at shortstop seems irrelevant. You would get a longer list if you considered all positions.

Dirck
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Dirck
3 years 6 months ago

I agree completely with spitball.The point of the article was supposed to be how Andus’ bat would develop.The position he plays has nothing to do with his hitting ,and his relative speed has very little more to do with it than his position does . I think it would have been far more informative to have used a broader sample of comparisons by eliminating the position and the speed from your criteria. Only finding 4 comparables over the last 40 years makes it seem like Andrus is some sort of freak .

chuckb
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chuckb
3 years 6 months ago

If Furcal is the best comp for Andrus, as a Cardinals’ fan I wish we had the new version of Furcal rather than the old version.

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