Yesterday, while yet again celebrating the hilarity of Elvis Andrus trying to touch Adrian Beltre's head, a buzzkill decided to join the party:
@MikeBatesSBN @JamieSportsTalk we have rules in Texas. One of them is you can't horse around while hitting below .230 and having 8 errors— Richard Duncan (@sift_the_ashes) May 12, 2015
Well, it's nine errors now. But anyway, my new friend went on to speculate that Elvis simply wasn't trying hard enough to play up to his previous standard. That he lacked "focus.". This is, sadly, a sentiment I've heard before about Andrus, and it's one that I'm naturally suspicious of as it plays into the "lazy Latino" stereotype that dog a lot of Latin players (not that this is what Richard intended or believes). So let's dig a little deeper to see if there's actually anything wrong with Elvis Andrus.
The problem is not the money
First and foremost, it's important to acknowledge that Andrus is being paid a ton of money by the Texas Rangers thanks to the contract extension he signed at the start of 2013. He will be paid another $103 million through at least 2022 under this contract, and he is not going to be worth that salary. He simply is not a good enough ballplayer to warrant it. But, listen, I'm not going to hold it against Andrus that the Rangers wanted to build him a money vault, and you shouldn't either.
Ok, so what happened to Elvis? At his height in 2011-2012, the 23 year old Andrus posted a .718 OPS and a 91 OPS+. He stole 58 bases, but was caught 22 times. The defensive metrics available graded him out as a very good shortstop, and so he was worth somewhere in the neighborhood of four wins. That is, undoubtedly, a good player.
Rangers nearing panic-time
In the two full seasons since signing his extension, Andrus has hit .267/.321/.332, which is a decline, but not as much as you would think given the league-wide dip in offensive production. In fact, Andrus's 83 OPS+ matches his career mark. Indeed, it certainly seems like the Elvis Andrus we saw at the plate in recent seasons is far closer to the actual Elvis Andrus than the one we saw in 2012.
This year, at first glance, Andrus seems to be a horror show, hitting .233/.299/.301 (a 69 OPS+). That abysmal performance is thanks, primarily, to a .265 BABIP that is completely out of line with the rest of his career. In many ways, at the plate, he is still the same player the Rangers signed to that extension back in 2013. His strikeout rate is still just a shade above 13 percent. His walks are between eight and nine percent.
So what changed?
While keeping in mind that it is still early to draw definitive conclusions, what seems to have changed is that Andrus has begun hitting more balls into the air. From 2009-2014, Andrus hit 138 balls on the ground for every 100 he hit in the air. In 2015, it's been almost exactly a 1-to-1 ratio.
This has, understandably, resulted in fewer infield hits and balls slipping through the infield, especially since Andrus has nothing in the way of power to speak of. Again, from 2009-2014, 18.9 percent of Andrus's hits were infield hits and he averaged about 130 hits to the outfield every year. This season, only 12.9 percent of his hits have stayed in the infield, leading to that sharp reduction on BABIP. Meanwhile, he is on pace to again get around 130-135 hits to the outfield.
It is not yet time for the Rangers to panic
It would seem, then, that Elvis did not leave the building. He simply isn't hitting enough ground balls to match his career production. Now, in the field? I can't tell you why he is suddenly making nine errors in 33 games after being a sure-handed shortstop for six years.
Defense slumps though, and hopefully he can even things out over the rest of the year. And I can tell you that it's beyond foolish to call a guy lazy who has averaged 155 games over the last four years, and who has started all 33 games this year for the Rangers.
He'll just never be the superstar he's presumably being paid to be and that Texas fans might want him to be, but Andrus is still on track to be a relatively productive player for the near future.