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An Evolving Elvis Andrus


Elvis Andrus showed up to spring training looking stronger and focused on taking the next step in his career. His spring training slash line of .400 / .460 / .473 for a .933 OPS was easily his best ever camp, compared to a previous career high spring OPS of .654. And as Adam described to a fish eye camera, while you don't want to place too much emphasis on spring numbers, it is encouraging to see a young player perform well.

Elvis has carried some of that success into the regular season by putting up a .302 / .380 / .406 line in the Rangers first 28 games, just over one sixth of the year. His AVG, OBP and SLG would all easily be career highs, each 20 to 30 points higher than his previous best, giving an expectation of significant regression. However, a closer look at some of his peripheral statistics indicate this offensive performance may be sustainable.

The table below shows the 2012 season in progress, career numbers and the number of plate appearances before that rate stabilizes from the research by "Pizza Cutter" which can be found on FanGraphs.

Rate 2012 Career Stabilization Mark Remaining PA
Strikeout % 13.6% 13.2% 150 25
Line Drive % 26.7% 21.8% 150 25
Walk % 11.2% 8.7% 200 75
Ground Ball % 47.8% 56.9% 200 75
Fly Ball % 25.6% 21.4% 250 125

The early numbers show a significant increase in LD% which has a direct effect on a player's average on balls in play or BABIP. The general rule of thumb is you can add 100 points to LD% and come up with a rough number making Andrus' .348 BABIP seem reasonable when you consider his 26.7% line drive rate. With only 25 PA remaining before LD%, even with regression it still projects as significantly higher than his career numbers.

In addition to hitting the ball harder, Elvis is also walking more than he ever has in his career. His current 11.2% mark is tremendous, especially for a player at the top of a lineup. Last year only Ian Kinsler and Mike Napoli had a walk rate higher than 10%. Among shortstops only Yunel Escobar exceeded 10% in 2011 and only Hanley Ramirez exceeded it in 2010. And even though there are still 75 PA to go before walk rate becomes reliable, even his career mark of 8.7% in those 75 PA would result in a greater than 10% rate.

The combination of hitting the ball harder and walking at an above average rate has Elvis performing 12% better than league average in adjusted OPS and 22% better in adjusted weighted runs created. Elvis has never had a season where he was even at league average in either of those marks and still been very valuable because of his defense and base running. If Elvis Andrus can maintain above average offensive numbers he goes from being a good shortstop to an elite shortstop that would project around 6 WAR; a number that is above all star level and just below MVP level.

The season is still early, but we may be seeing a player who doesn't turn 24 until August taking the next step.

NOTE: Robbie Griffin of SB Nation Dallas has a relevant entry on the Heart of Texas blog looking at rate stabilization on various Texas Rangers, including Elvis Andrus. Check it out.