We have already talked about the dearth of good shortstops in the majors, particularly in the American League. The National League has more good shortstops, but overall, the picture in the majors is bleak. Two of the new breed of shortstops have caused quite a buzz in their early career stages. Both entered the majors and an astoundingly young age. Elvis Andrus is entering his third season for the Rangers and he doesn't turn 23 until August. Starlin Castro made many of us groan when he became the first player in the majors who was born in the 1990s. The question posed here is: If you had a choice of the two, which would you want? Oh! And before the Fan forgets, Ian Desmond could fit into this conversation since he too is young. But he hasn't created the buzz of Castro and Andrus. So if you want Desmond in the conversation, you might have to write your own post.
First, we'll dispense with the easy part. Neither Andrus or Castro will be banging balls out of the park. Castro hit three in his rookie season and judging from his minor league career, that's the most you can expect. Some of the projections have Castro hitting six homers in 2011, but that isn't very significant. Andrus hit six homers his rookie season but hit zippo, nadda, none in 2010. It's pretty hard to go 674 plate appearances, half of which are in a good hitting park, and not hit a homer. Heck, Even Brett Gardner hit five of them. So power isn't their game. But for Andrus, it goes beyond that. In 1,215 plate appearances in his first two years, Andrus only hit 32 total doubles and added 11 triples. That's not exactly punching the ball with authority. Castro on the other hand, hit 31 doubles and five triples in his rookie season. Castro's slugging percentage then was .408. Andrus has put together two seasons with his slugging percentage below that (.371 and .301). The .301 is incredibly low for a full time player. Advantage, Castro.
Castro also hit for average as he batted a nice and even .300 his rookie season. Andrus has hit .267 and .265 his first two seasons. Advantage Castro. But that may be evened out by their walk percentage. Andrus walked 9.5 percent of the time in 2010. Castro finished with a walk percentage of 5.7 percent. Thus, Castro's on base percentage was .347 and Andrus finished at .342. That's a virtual wash.
Andrus strikes out with greater proficiency. He struck out 16.3 percent of the time in 2010. That's a little lower than his minor league stats, so it shows he is cutting down some on the strikeouts. Castro finished with a strikeout rate of 15.7 percent, which again is nearly a wash. The one difference is that Castro averaged a lot less strikeouts in the minors, and his 2011 figure should be a lot lower than his rookie season. Andrus swings at far less pitches out of the strike zone (21 percent) compared to Castro (32 percent) and Andrus makes contact at a slightly higher rate when he swings. Add all those up and it looks like you again have a wash.
Elvis Andrus appears to be the better base runner of the two. His speed component is 5.7 compared to 4.7 for Castro. And Andrus stole 15 bases in 18 attempts. Castro tried to steal 18 times and was only successful 10 times. Seems like he should be better at stealing than that. Advantage Andrus with the one reservation that with his speed, he should convert more of his singles into doubles.
Elvis Andrus and Starlin Castro both had remarkably similar line drive percentages (19.5 and 19.3 respectively). Both hit many more ground balls than fly balls. But Andrus hit much less line drives in 2010 than he did in 2009 and hit more ground balls. More on that later.
Now we get to fielding and for a shortstop, that's a pretty important component of value. Castro made 27 errors in his rookie season. Only Ian Desmond made more. Andrus only committed 16 errors after making 22 his first season. But as we know now, fielding percentage isn't the only thing we need to look at. UZR, despite its problems, at least breaks fielding down into three categories, which help us see a fielder's overall skill. There are the errors, the range and the double play success. Obviously, Andrus bested Castro in the error department (Castro almost cost the Cubs a full win with his errors). But Castro shows much more range and is given better ratings in converting double plays. Combine them all together and Andrus comes out on top with a Fangraphs' final score of 0.1 for his fielding (down from 2009 though). Castro, due largely for his errors, scored a -2.1. Advantage, at least for now, to Andrus.
Just one more note about fielding. According to the Fans Scouting report, Andrus has better instincts, a better first step, better speed, gets rid of the ball quicker and is slightly more accurate. Castro has the greater arm strength. Their overall scouting score in the field gives Andrus a 76 score and Castro a 62. Those scores seem to give Andrus a clear edge on the fielding side.
The thing the Fan likes about WAR is that it combines all of these things into one score. It's not the be all and end all to the discussion, but it's a good place to look. Castro, in about a dozen less games than Andrus, finished with a WAR of 2.0 (Fangraphs version). Andrus finished up at 1.5 (down from 3 the year before).
After going through this whole process, the Fan has gotten himself very confused. Andrus had a higher value his rookie year than Castro did his. But Andrus second year was half as valuable as the year before and under what Castro did for his rookie year. It appears that Castro will always be the better hitter, while Andrus gets on base more with walks and runs the bases better. Andrus is also the better fielder. The Fan guesses that the final conclusion on these two will have to wait a few years until we have more of an idea how their careers progress. They are both so young and have all those years ahead of them.
We should spend a moment here and talk about Andrus' offense. It has to be a great concern to the Rangers that Andrus is not making progress as a hitter. With his line drive percentage down and his ground ball percentage up, it would seem that Andrus seems content to be a slap hitter. But that may not be in his best interest as his "slaps" wind up as outs too often. How long will the Rangers be willing to live with a shortstop with a .301 slugging percentage? Again, Andrus does offer the Rangers an excellent fielder on the left side, which when combined with Adrian Beltre, should certainly prevent a lot of runs. But again, the Rangers had to have expected a lot more offense than Elvis has shown. It will be interesting to see what kind of year Andrus has in 2011.
So what do you think? Who would you take? Elvis Andrus? Or do you like the upside to Starlin Castro better? It's a tough call, isn't it?