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Elvis Andrus: As Good As You Think?

I have to admit, when looking at Zach Sanders’ End of Season Shortstop rankings, I was initially slightly surprised to see that Elvis Andrus didn’t finish in the top 10. After all, Andrus is coming off another solid season, one in which he finished fifth among shortstops in WAR – that’s fourth if you don’t really consider Ben Zobrist a shortstop – and he grabbed the 50th and final spot in Dave Cameron’s 2012 Trade Value series over the summer. With top prospect Jurickson Profar nearly ready to step in for Texas, Andrus’ name has become even more prominent lately as a possible trade solution over a fishing in a weak shortstop market, regularly coming up as a potential fit with Arizona as part of a deal for Justin Upton. At just 24 years old, Andrus would seem to be one of the brightest young shortstops in the game.

Then again, this might be a case where we need to separate things that don’t really matter in fantasy from things that do. The fact that he’s a well-regarded defensive shortstop matters a lot more to the Rangers than it does to fantasy teams, and you could say the same thing about the team-friendly contract that helped to land him in the Trade Value series. For fantasy purposes, what you have here is a durable player with little power (only three homers, better than just four of the thirty-three other shortstops on Sanders’ list), a good but non-elite batting average, and a stolen base total that declined from 32 or more in each of his first three seasons to just 21 in 2012.

If that sounds like I’m very down on Andrus, it’s not intended to be, because there’s still clearly a lot of value here. His on-base skills have settled comfortably into the .340 range, which is fine from a shortstop, and that skill combined with his usual position of hitting second in the Texas lineup provides him with excellent run-scoring opportunities ahead of the meat of the order. (Over the last three seasons, only Derek Jeter & Jose Reyes have scored more runs than Andrus among shortstops.) While he’s shown little ability to get the ball over the fence, he did increase his doubles & triples in 2012, combining for a career-high 40 extra-base hits.

Considering the rest of the shortstops available, that’s still pretty valuable, because take a look at the guys ahead of him on Sanders’ list. Jeter had a great season, but he’s also going to be 39 and coming off ankle surgery; Zobrist, Marco Scutaro, & Martin Prado may still be shortstop-eligible next season yet are unlikely to actually play the position much. Considering Andrus’ youth and the fact that he’s still improving – despite his somewhat lower counting stats in homers & steals, his ISO and wOBA each represented career-highs – it’s not altogether difficult to see Andrus being a top-ten shortstop next season. It’d help even more if he could steal bases like he had between 2009-11, though a downturn in steal attempts & success appears to be an issue that afflicted the entire Texas team this year, not only Andrus.

Now, whether that 2013 performance comes with Texas or somewhere else remains to be seen, though since Andrus is not among the Rangers who have a markedly better performance at home than on the road, it shouldn’t matter much. Either way, Andrus is still a very good shortstop with the potential to get better, but beware of valuing him like an elite fantasy option.