Analyzing Elvis

elvis
Elvis Andrus has been a topic of controversy for Ranger fans this season because of his struggles at the plate. The expectations for Elvis Andrus may be a bit unfair, but when you cash in and get the type of contract extension he is going to get starting next season, the game and fans demand more. To expect Elvis to hit 30 homeruns a season and drive in 100+ RBI are not realistic, but it’s important that he can be an on base machine and increase his gap power (thus increasing his slugging percentage) in order to justify the type of money he will be owed. For hitters, big time money is always equated to run production and if you look at his current statistics and the 2014 season, the money doesn’t add up.

Elvis Andrus agreed to a contract extension that will pay him $120 million for 8 years beginning in 2015. In 2015, Andrus will be the fifth highest paid shortstop per average annual salary in MLB history. He will be the third highest paid shortstop in the league next year behind Jose Reyes (22m) and Troy Tulowitzki(20m), respectively.

But, this article isn’t about money and the financial obligations the Ranger organization chose to make, but instead let’s focus on Elvis as a hitter.  Below is a basic statistical snapshot of his last four seasons, including this season:

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Source: Baseball-Reference.com
As you can see, Elvis is on pace to finish with his lowest BA, OBP, and OPS in the last four seasons. His groundball rate has led him to hitting into 14 double play balls already this season and if that holds up, he will shatter his previous high of 19 in the 2013 season. On a positive note, he already has 18 doubles and could eclipse his mark of 31 during his stellar 2012 season. The number that jumps off the page to me is his RBI total so far this season. If he continues this pace, he will finish with approximately 40 RBI on the season, which would be his lowest total since the 2010 season when he finished with 35. Obviously, his struggles at the plate are to blame for his inability to drive in more runs when given the opportunity you would assume, but is he getting the same number of opportunities as previous seasons? This lineup is the worst lineup in recent Rangers’ history and it could be a result of just not getting many opportunities (Hence the reason RBI’s are such a controversial stat to focus on in the first place). Below is a chart showing Elvis’s success rate when he has had opportunities with runners in scoring position:

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Source: Baseball-Reference.com
According to the chart from Baseball Reference, Elvis has had 11 opportunities at the plate with a runner at 3B and less than two outs. That runner is scoring 82% of the time, which would be a career high for Elvis and as you can see shatters the league average of 51%. With a runner at 2B and no outs, that runner is scoring 69% of the time with Elvis at the plate, which is still way above league average. But, if you look at his opportunities, therein lies the problem. Elvis is on pace to hit with runners in these scoring opportunities 24-25 times this year, which pales in comparison to his previous seasons. Essentially, this chart tells us what we have known for a month and that is our offense isn’t very good. Who’s to say if Elvis would be more productive if he had more opportunities to drive in runs, but combine this chart with his RBI totals for the season and I think it’s paints a clear picture.

Now what’s different about his swing compared to previous seasons? Below are two still shots of his swing at various points. One shot being from his career season of 2012 and the other taken from this season. I picked random video to help avoid a bias in picking a video that helps prove my case. Let me preface though and point out that I am not going to try to find solutions in Elvis’s swing, but simply find subtle differences between the two. I simply want to examine the differences in the two swings to find subtle (or not so subtle) changes. I will use the same two at bats for the study, but will just freeze them at similar points within the at bat. The first picture below is from a game against the Athletics in October of 2012 and the second is an at-bat from the recent Minnesota Twins series.

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2012
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2014
I paused the video at the pitcher’s balance point to gauge a point of reference between the 2014 video. The biggest differences I see are his bat angle, his posture, and his front foot being slightly open. Notice how in 2012 his bat angled more towards the 3B dugout and less towards the sky as in the 2014 picture. Bat angle is important and can lead to changing swing path sometimes, thus causing a more level swing plane through the zone (2012), which eliminates the downhill path and heavy use of the top hand as you see in the bottom picture. But, you can’t paint a picture based on one still frame. His stance is slightly open in the bottom picture and his posture is more upright as well. If you notice in 2012 he had what appears to be a more relaxed and “athletic” looking posture at the plate.

Next, let’s look at his load and stride. I paused both pictures at the release point of the ball, hoping to catch his stride or timing mechanism from both seasons.

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2012
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2014
Obviously, Elvis has picked up a higher leg kick than in 2012. He has gone from a shorter stride and toe-tap to a full leg lift. Saying that one is better than the other is not fair or accurate, but it’s whatever works best for the specific player and what helps him feel more comfortable. Elvis may have picked this up to help increase power and generate more out of his lower half, but who knows? I always concern myself more with how and when they land from this load and if their hands are ready to travel through the zone at contact. So, let’s see where his hands and legs are at contact:

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2012
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2014
At first glance, both pictures look very similar. The only big differences I see are with the front leg/hip and hands. If you notice on the lower picture, his front hip is more open and his front foot is outside his frame just a tad more than in 2012. Remember that he has opened up his stance some this year compared to ’12, so there is the cause of the open hips in the picture. Losing your hips too early (flying open) can cause you to have balance issues and “roll” over the ball some, thus leading to more groundballs. The hands also seem to be extended away from the body more, but this is obviously because of the difference in pitch locations. The pitch from ’12 is an inside fastball with run compared to a pitch right down the middle of the plate. The last sets of pictures I want to examine occur right after contact. In these two pictures, I want to focus on balance and posture. It doesn’t matter who you are or what level you play, maintaining balance throughout the swing is essential-not perfect balance or what may look good in a picture, but dynamic balance that allows the hitter to maintain the barrel through the zone as long as possible.

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2012
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2014
Focus on his legs in these pictures. If you notice in the bottom picture, his back leg is collapsed a lot more than the ’12 shot. The front legs are similar, but notice the tilt of his upper half. That increased tilt (his upper body leaning towards the catcher) in the picture from this season could be seen as a result of improper balance. Staying over his backside longer through the zone allows balance to be better and consequently, increase barrel coverage.

Remember that my purpose was not to “fix” or “diagnose” Elvis as a hitter. This was an exploratory exercise in dissecting his swing from two different seasons. Hitting coaches across the country could take these same pictures and draw varying conclusions, but the point is there have been changes made. With only two samples seen here, the small sample size disclaimer must be adhered to. Regardless if his swing change has resulted in his decreased production, the bottom line is that Elvis must find a way to increase production before the 2015 season begins. With more power (money), comes greater responsibility.

Jeff Johnson

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