First off, full disclosure: this is a mailbag-inspired piece and Eric/OR should get his credit. He asked a good question, and it deserves some attention.
First, let’s look at all the things this diminutive middle infielders have in common. They both weigh under 190 pounds, they both make their living in the middle infield and own shortstop eligibility in most leagues, and they are both fleet of foot. Okay, enough of the obvious, because the similarities run much deeper.
Check out their batted ball statistics. Burriss features a 19.8% line drive percentage, a 58% groundball percentage, and a 22% fly ball percentage. Andrus? How about 19.5%, 58.5%, and 22% respectively.
It gets even crazier when you start looking at their approach to the strike zone. They both make great contact inside the zone – consider Andrus’ 93.5% contact percentage in the zone, and Burriss’ career 92.8% number. Andrus reaches a little more than you’d like from a table setter (25.2% O-Swing %), and hey, Burriss has that same fault (24.8%). Both could walk more (Andrus – 5.8% BB%; Burriss – 7.3%), but a good walk rate does not a good batting average make.
No, their speed and good contact in the zone seems to presage that these players will put up decent batting averages in the future, if only because they’ve done so before. Given their skills, their high-ish BABIPs shouldn’t be too worrisome (Andrus – .309; Burriss – .326).
ZiPS, at first, seems to predict the same regression for both, though the reason for the regression is not immediately clear. Andrus owns a rest of season projection of .249/.304/.428 with 26 steals, and Burriss has a projection of .256/.312/.301 with 27 steals.
That slugging percentage is where the twins begin to separate a little more. The doubles and triples that Andrus has on Burriss will be valuable in many leagues (8 combined for Andrus, five doubles and no triples for Burriss). On the other hand, don’t count on home runs from Andrus – an 11% HR/FB percentage is not sustainable when you’re only hitting 22% of your balls in the air.
If there is a difference between the two, it just might be found in their slugging percentage, their BABIPs and in their differing strikeout percentages (Andrus – 13.1%; Burriss – 16.9%). Strikeouts are negatively correlated with batting average, and Burriss’ also has a little farther to fall because of his higher BABIP. Give a slight edge to Andrus for his lower strikeout rate, lower BABIP, and higher slugging percentage.
Any edge that you’d like give Burriss for his 300 extra plate appearances might disappear depending on your opinion of the 4-component speed score. While he had elite totals in the minors (7.8 and 7.7 in A ball), his 4.1 this year is dwarfed by Andrus’ 7.3 (despite only topping 7.0 in the minors once).
Though they seemed like twins to begin, Andrus looks to have slight edges in some key categories. The improving lineup around Andrus is the final nail in the coffin. Don’t bet against Elvis.