Elvis is alive…and kicking
The last time I remember writing a specific something about Elvis Andrus (May 10th), it was in regards to his absolutely horrific defense and his gaping black hole that was a contract. It seemed like every game was a study in anticipation for when Andrus’ next error was going to be, and so much had been called into question: his focus, his effort, his training, the hitting coach, his off-season (which should have resulted in a better Elvis Andrus), and maybe just the fact that he wasn’t that good.
Something has definitely turned the corner. On top of the rate of errors going down, Andrus has been making more defensive plays that showcase his range, arm and accuracy as a shortstop. He’s making more of the simple plays, displaying a renewed focus, and that has translated to the plate as well. Let’s look at how Andrus has evolved this year from someone we cringed at watching to someone we get excited to see in the game.
A Slick Glove
Andrus still makes the occasional error. Still, back when we were all frustrated with him, he was on a pace to make 44.5 errors this year. He’s still probably going to end up logging his worst year in fielding percentage – he’s at .964, which is just one point away from his worst year in 2011 – but the pace has certainly slowed down on goofed plays. Andrus is still the leader in errors on the team with 18, but back in May, he had contributed over a quarter of the team’s errors and now, he’s down to 22%. For a $15 million shortstop, that’s not attractive, but by leading the team in chances (501…behind Mitch Moreland, of course, because he receives the throws), it shows that pitchers are still willing to pitch to contact and get the ball out to him. He’s performed so much better recently that he’s now on pace to only make just under 27 errors. That would still end up being his worst year from that standpoint, but 27 is a lot easier to swallow than 44.5.
What has led to the improvement? It’s not something as tangible as the leg kick we’ll talk about next. I’d like to think he was never not focused on the game early on, but you have to wonder if it took him time to get his head on straight and find his identity within this lineup. I think not being able to produce at the plate as the number two hitter (something he’s been for most of the “championship years”) ate at him and he carried it into the field. The drop in the order (or really, the idea that there is no “permanent spot”) in the second half of May correlates to the start of his better defensive game. Hopefully that means that Andrus has bought into the manager’s game-plan and he can find more consistency in the game.
The Power Stroke
Elvis Andrus was never meant to be a power hitter, but after the 2012 season, in which he had hit three home runs and clocked in with a career-high slugging percentage of .378, he developed more muscle. The idea was that his warning track and gap power would translate to him being more of an offensive weapon, hitting more hard line drives, elevating the ball more, and hitting more wall-bangers. That never really translated, though, as the last two seasons have seen his slugging percentage dip to right around the .330 mark. Currently, he’s a little higher than that, at .343, but his power game has been far more evident in recent weeks. Roughly, in July, Andrus has been ringing in with a .448 slugging percentage (.542 in the last week!).
In a recent article from Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News, as well as post-game interviews, Andrus gives credit to hitting coach Dave Magadan for working with him on developing a higher leg kick. Below is a video from late May, when Andrus drove a ball down the left field line, followed by his bomb off of Madison Bumgarner just last week. It was after the homer that people started to notice the higher leg kick, which is resulting in a stronger drive and more force in the swing.
Now, it’s a matter of continuing consistency. This is obviously a newer approach for Andrus, and while it’s working for him now, it’s going to be important for him down the stretch to stay with that approach if he wants to keep up the power game.
Here are the fun stats. We’re only 19 games into the second half of the season, but it’s pretty impressive to see the change.
- 1st Half: .242/.301/.323
- 2nd Half: .321/.333/.423
Andrus has also found far more success hitting lower in the order.
- In the 2-hole (157 PA): .217/.288/.290, 30 hits, 14 BB, 23 K
- In the 6-hole (145 PA): .299/.317/.358, 40 hits, 6 BB, 11 K
As I said before, buying into the mindset of not being locked down, or married, to a particular spot in the batting order has opened up Andrus to keeping a consistent approach at the plate. No longer does he always have the mindset of being that second lead-off hitter every single game. It’s simplified the mental approach and resulted in a better hitter.
What does it mean?
It’s possible that we could expect this slow start from Elvis Andrus every year. However, since it’s the first year of his big extension, first year with a new manager, and first year (in a while) with experimenting with different batting positions and methods, it’s not fair to call it an expectation yet. Right now, though, Andrus seems to have found his stroke both in the field and at the plate. Is he the $15 million dollar shortstop we were expecting? Overall, no. In the last two weeks? I’d take that on a consistent basis, wouldn’t you?