The most frequently heard complaint about Elvis Andrus, as far as projections for his future performance goes, is that he lacks secondary skills. Yes, he should be a good contact hitter who will have a nice batting average, but he won't walk much and won't hit for power, so even as a .300 hitter, he'll be an "empty" .300 hitter who still won't have much value offensively.
That's not an unreasonable position to take, given the skills he's exhibited to date...but the counter to that is that Elvis Andrus is a smart player, mature and dedicated to his craft, and was able to more than hold his own as a major leaguer at the age of 20. That could make him more likely to add some things to his skill set as he goes forward.
And it may be that we are seeing some of that development this year. 22 games into the Rangers' season, Elvis has drawn 16 walks. He drew only 40 all of 2010, so he's already 40% of the way to last year's total.
Andrus's 16 walks has him tied for 5th in the A.L. in walks, behind Nick Johnson, Daric Barton, Justin Morneau, and Chone Figgins, and tied with Denard Span. If he continued at his current walk pace, he'd end the season with 117 walks, a rather remarkable total.
Now, I don't expect that Andrus will end the season with 117 walks, or 100+ walks. But he's seeing more pitches so far this season -- averaging 4.19 P/PA this year, after averaging 3.79 P/PA last year -- and is swinging less often, going after 33.3% of all pitches so far in 2010, after chasing 40.1% of pitches in 2009.
Look at Fangraphs' data, the change is almost entirely the result of swinging at fewer pitches in the zone...he's a little aboev 19% on pitches swung at out of the zone both last year and this year, but after swinging at 59.2% of pitches inside the strike zone last year, he's swinging at 46.7% of them this year.
Of course, it is early in the season, and this could simply be small sample size noise, a month's worth of data fluctuating on one extreme. Or it could be that Elvis, after his first full season in the majors, is trying to be more selective with what strikes he chases, and is willing to work the count deeper in an effort to get on base more and make sure that, when he swing, he's chasing a pitch he can do something with.
The batted ball data would seem to support this view. Elvis has line drives on 30% of his batted balls this year, compared to 21.9% last year. He's yet to have an infield popup in 2010. He's striking out more than in 2009, but if you're going to take more pitches in an effort to look for something you can drive, versus just looking for a pitch you can make contact with, and if you're trying to draw more walks, you are going to have more strikeouts.
I don't know if this is a conscious decision by Elvis to change his approach at the plate, the knowledge after a year in the majors that he can hit major league pitching and can be more selective, or if this is coincidence, a data spike that will smooth out. But it is certainly cause for optimism for those of us who think Elvis can be, and want Elvis to be, a special player.
One other thing...I sent this little data point out on Twitter yesterday, but think it is worth repeating here. Elvis has a pretty good shot at getting to 80 walks this year, if he stays healthy. And of course, he's 21 this season.
Here is the complete list of players who have walked at least 80 times at age 21 or younger:
Ted Williams (twice)
Mel Ott (twice)
7 Hall of Famers, 3 really good major leaguers, and Blefary, who was terrific early in his career but who peaked real, real early.
That's an impressive list. And if Elvis cracks that list, he'd be one of only three middle infielders in that group.
Elvis Andrus is a big reason why it is fun to be a Ranger fan right now.