When the MLB started juicing the balls back in 2015 there were a few players we all expected to not reap any benefits. Elvis Andrus was on most everyone’s list. But those juiced balls found their way. Bartolo Colon even hit a homer! In 2016, Andrus produced a line consistent with his career averages, yet the following year he became the next member of the 20/20 club. 20 home runs! Andrus never had a season with more than 8, and that high mark was the year before. In 2014, he only hit 2 in 157 games. Most people, like Grey, should look at that inflated number questionably. However, Andrus, just like many other players recently, decided to hit for more power. You’re telling me a player that hit 2 home runs 3 years ago can just decide to be a 20 home run hitter? Yes I am, and yes they can.
Let’s look at the top 20 shortstop rankings. Grey has Andrus *scroll…scroll…scroll*, oh there’s Amed Rosario. I must have missed Andrus. Let’s go back to the top. Trea Turner, Francisco Lindor, Carlos Correa, Tim Anderson, Paul DeJong, Jose Peraza, Rosario (I guess I’ll keep going), Andrus. 18th?
Let’s remind everyone where Andrus stood at the end of 2017 compared to other shortstops at each of the 5 standard categories: HR: 8th, Runs: 1st, RBI: 2nd, SB: 1st, Avg: tied for 2nd. Good for a top 5 finish at shortstop. In previous seasons, Andrus has shown that a high run total, stolen base count and average is not out of the question. That leaves us with RBI and HR. RBI is a bit freaky for Andrus, his highest by 19. The same goes for runs. 2017 was his career high in runs but he’s been in the upper 80s and 90s in the past. Those numbers don’t make sense though. Andrus never has had a season with more than 70 RBI. In 2015 and 2016, Andrus spent most games in the back of the lineup. However, his improvements in 2017 moved him to the 2nd and 3rd slots almost all season. The Rangers lineup looks almost identical to last year’s. If Andrus keeps hitting, he shouldn’t be moving out of those slots, and those counting stats shouldn’t change much.
Nevertheless, will he keep hitting like that? Who really knows what balls the MLB will use this year, so can we know for certain? Despite the MLB’s choices, the drastic shift in home run totals isn’t only attributed to the juiced ball. Players are changing their swings. Look at Daniel Murphy. He reads Fangraphs. He knows what’s going on. All of a sudden, he decided to hit home runs in the 2015 postseason and single handedly staved off Chicago’s dreams for one more season. Then the Mets let him walk, and I haven’t stopped crying. Drastic swing changes in the middle of a career are not uncommon nowadays, and Elvis Andrus has decided to enjoy the ride.
Back in 2015, Elvis Andrus tried something different. He added lift; the new magic word, “launch angle.” Unfortunately, we don’t have the public data on his launch angles prior to 2017, yet we can look at his batted ball statistics. He turned 10% of his batted balls from grounders into fly balls. That is a clear sign of an increased launch angle. He also started to pull the ball a lot more, season by season not going the opposite way as much. Lastly, he was hitting the ball harder especially in 2017. The table below shows the drastic change from 2014-2015 and then the slight increases until 2017. Andrus is pulling the ball and putting it in the air more. He also gave up bunting, another smart move that adds 25 more at bats to actually hit the ball.
His entire approach at the plate looks to have changed as well. We’ll look at the same time frame for his plate discipline numbers.
Andrus gradually started swinging more at everything, in (Z-Swing %) and out (O-Swing %) of the zone. Not only was he swinging more, he was swinging harder. He’s been making less contact in and out of the zone. Swinging more, making less contact but hitting the ball harder. He hasn’t made as much contact as in the past, but it is better contact. That seems to add up to a major change of approach as a hitter. It’s been three years in the making but 2017 finally showed the results.
You’re saying he made these changes in 2015, but we only started seeing the results last year? I don’t buy it! Hold on, I say. One year isn’t that much to go on and can always be a fluke, but let’s pedal back to 2016. Andrus’ 2016 campaign is a significantly more impressive season than it is made out to be. We’ll compare his hit totals from 2015 to 2016:
Those look about the same right? Wrong! I left out something very important. In 2016, Andrus had 90 less at bats than 2015. He put up almost identical hit totals in 90 less ABs. Now let’s keep the rates the same for 2016 and add 140 ABs (to make it equal to his 2017 total).
1B: 136 2B: 39 3B: 9 HR: 10
Compare that to 2017’s stats of 123, 44, 4, and 20. That isn’t too far off, except for the home runs. Yes, his home run total could definitely drop in 2018 but everything else is promising. That is two years in a row of great hitting. Again, 2016 he was in the back of the lineup. 2017 showed what he could do if he hit in the front. He’s going to get a ton of at bats again and he’ll keep hitting the ball hard. Don’t be surprised if he puts up 90/15/90/.295/25.
Again, Grey has him after Paul DeJong, Jose Peraza, and Amed Rosario, all young guys with limited MLB experience. They are certainly exciting players. DeJong put up an incredible rookie campaign in 2017, and Rosario was one of the best prospects in the game. However, Andrus, at 29, has 9 full seasons of good health under his belt. Regardless of last year’s jumps, he’s been a consistent player. I wouldn’t be upset taking him as the 6th or 7th SS off the board. Looking at FantasyPros, that rank is right where the ranking average has him. I won’t say he’s better than that, but do not be scared to take him there. 2017 was not a fluke season for Andrus. He has made some fantastic improvements in the batter’s box and 2018 will be more of the same.