The world will get a good look at Elvis Andrus over the next week and if the Rangers again make the World Series, an even longer look. What will they see? That's a question this writer grapples with all the time. There are two things this writer knows. First, Elvis Andrus was supposed to be the next great shortstop. He isn't. Yet. Secondly, he's still awfully young considering he just completed his third full season at the tender age of twenty-two. Yes, he's become a very good shortstop at a position currently pretty weak around baseball. But is he elite? Not yet.
Of course it doesn't help that current valuations differ from site to site. Fangraphs gave his play this season an fWAR of 4.6. Baseball-reference.com pegs his 2011 valuation at a full win lower at 3.6. Baseball Prospectus splits the two right down the middle at 4.1. Much of his value comes from his positional value, his base running and his fielding. The latter two are excellent as he is an excellent base runner (as most Rangers are) and in the top five in fielding his position. But his offense lags behind in many respects and it was his offense that limited him to a sixth place finish among all major league shortstops.
Sixth best out of thirty teams is darn good, so don't think this writer is denigrating Andrus as a player. He simply hasn't become the elite shortstop of baseball which is where he was predicted to be when he famously displaced Michael Young as the Rangers' shortstop three years ago. It's doubtful anyone in Texas would complain considering that Andrus has been a part of a club that has made it to the ALCS for the second year in a row. Again, this post is sounding negative when it really isn't meant to be.
So if there are any reservations about Andrus it is that offense. In three seasons, Andrus has posted OPS of .702, .643 and .708. His batting average improved in 2011 and his strikeout percentage was the lowest of his career. His walk percentage regressed a bit from last year (8.4 percent after last year's 9.5 percent). So the net gain in his offense wasn't as much as it could be have been. Andrus has shown little ability to improve his power numbers in his first three years. He had the highest total bases of his career, but a lower slugging percentage than his rookie season. Andrus' wOBA increased but his +wRC is still pretty darn low.
Andrus bats second in the Rangers' batting order. It's a good spot for him because he can (as the old expression goes) handle the bat hitting behind Ian Kinsler. Both he and Kinsler form an excellent base stealing, slick fielding combo in the middle of the diamond that is darn near drool-worthy. But perhaps the batting order position limits what he can do at the plate. For example, Andrus led the league in sacrifice bunts last year and had sixteen of those again this year. That's sixteen more opportunities with men on base he could have had and didn't. And his GIDP doubled this season from a year ago but that's probably a fluky number over the long haul of his career. The thought persists that perhaps his batting order position does limit some of his offensive potential.
The bottom line, perhaps, is that thanks to the things Elvis Andrus does do well, the Rangers have a second great chance in a row of getting to the World Series. Who should complain about that? No one really. It just seems that Elvis Andrus could be even better. Whenever you see the guy play, he seems to exude confidence and ability. However, the final results of his play leave this writer wanting more. He's pretty darn good at the age of 22. But it just seems he could be a whole lot better.