Better than last year
It's no secret -- the improved eye of Elvis Andrus this year has gained much notice and praise (despite his recent struggles). In case this is news to you, you need only look at last years walk rate at 7.4% compared with this year's 10.8% (roughly 20-25 more walks over the course of the season -- an encouraging one-year improvement for such a young player).
What makes Elvis different?
While walking 10.8% of the time is certainly above average and a desirable quality in a leadoff man, that in itself is hardly remarkable (and hardly worth wasting my time writing and your time reading a fan post over); indeed, 25.0% of all qualifying major league hitters have a higher walk rate than Elvis.
Based on my tone in the previous paragraph, you undoubtedly guessed that there is something remarkable about Elvis in this regard. To see what sets Elvis apart, let's take a look at some other hitters with a similar walk rate:
Without glancing at the stat sheet, we can readily identify the above as players who can be projected to hit 20+ homers in a season (in general; Torres is having an up year and Lee and Bay are having down years to be sure). And in case you haven't noticed, Elvis only has 6 homers in 1022 big league plate appearances, none of those six coming in 2010. And therein lies the difference: slugging.
How unique does that make Elvis?
Let's not beat around the bush: Elvis doesn't slug, in any sense of the word. He only has 15 extra base hits so far this year. In fact, he's 3rd lowest in the majors in ISO (isolated slugging: slugging avg - batting avg) with a wallopping .041, kept out of the cellar only by the mighty Juan Pierre and Cesar Izturis. However, this is perhaps what makes him so unique: out of the lowest 20% of qualifiers in ISO, only four have a higher walk rate:
Ben Zobrist (13.2%)
Brett Gardner (12.7%)
Russell Martin (12.4%)
Chone Figgins (12.0%)
To me this is remarkable; traditionally the highest walk rate guys are mashers, and their good eye is exaggerated by the fact that pitchers are unwilling to catch too much of the plate (which leads to more pitches around the corners). However, pitchers shouldn't have to fear that too much damage will be done by attacking the strike zone with Elvis (unless there are runners on base), since the odds say that the worst thing he can do with the bat is end up on first anyways. Just as power can exaggerate the eye of a slugger, I believe a lack of power understates the eye of a, well, non-slugger.
If you grew tired of my semantics above, this should give you the gist of the entire post (the last two being the main points):
**Elvis' walk rate has increased impressively from last season, given his age
**Elvis has the fifth best walk rate for players who slug as little as he does
**Elvis' walk rate is all the more remarkable because pitchers aren't as likely to pitch to him carefully
By the way, I hope you found this an acceptable use of a FanPost -- I'm a longtime reader and lurker (I don't comment much). I used to write over at the "Hello Win Column" blog at http://hellowincolumn.blogspot.com (with lonestarJon), but time constraints forced me to take a step back (at least from writing everyday). I haven't completely given up on the blog, but I'll settle for writing occasional articles like this as FanPosts if you guys find these articles at least halfway interesting. Thanks for reading! --John Paul