In his seven-plus seasons as a major-leaguer, Elvis Andrus has never been considered an offensive dynamo. And for good reason! Over nearly 5,000 plate appearances, Andrus owns an 83 wRC+ and measly .079 ISO. However, even a defensive-minded shortstop can change the game with one swing of the bat. While not an overly impressive blast, it exposes something different in his approach at the plate. Early in his career, Rangers fans and followers held out hope that Andrus could develop into a 15-20 homer a year guy. While that may feel like a lost cause, Andrus has recently displayed some newfound power. Last season, Andrus smacked a career-high seven home runs and tied his career-high with 43 extra-base hits. So far this season, he is on track for a career-high ISO and running a near league-average offensive line. Andrus’ Speed Score sits right at his career average, hence it does not appear he has bulked up significantly and traded in speed for power. Rather, he has altered his approach at the plate.
This current approach began last season, and to this point has continued over into his 2016 campaign. From his rookie season in 2009 to 2014, Andrus ran a 57.4 GB% and a 21.3 FB%. This past season and a third, those metrics have shifted to 46.5% and 31.1%, respectively. In context, Andrus has gone from the 2nd percentile in FB% to the 30th percentile. While no one will ever confuse him for Chris Carter, Andrus’ new batted-ball profile closely resembles that of in-state slugger George Springer. Perhaps even more indicative, Andrus has raised his Pull% from 33.9% over 2009-2014 to 43.6% since 2015; this represents a shift from the 12th percentile to the 81st percentile, placing him just ahead of renowned slugger Anthony Rizzo. Seeing as 27 of his 29 career home runs have landed to the left of center field, this seems a logical shift for a man in search of dingers.
Plate-discipline measures further reveal Andrus’ altered approach. Andrus has raised his O-Swing% from 21.8 to 25.8 in addition to raising his Z-Swing% from 53.3 to 61.2 over our familiar timeframes. In avoiding Simpson’s Paradox, these changes have increased his overall Swing% from 38.5 to 42.8. While still not a free swinger by any regards, Andrus’ new approach remarkably resembles fellow A.L. West shortstop Marcus Semien, albeit with superior contact rates. Known for providing impressive power from the six spot on the diamond, one could well view Semien as the ceiling of Andrus’ power dreams. Meanwhile, Andrus has held his contact rates largely steady, dispelling the notion that he has traded contact for power. Interestingly, his Zone% has steadily dropped since his rookie season but has held near 51% each of the past three full seasons. So far in 2016, that number has dropped further to 49%, so perhaps opposing pitchers have finally altered their approach in response. However, too little time has passed to determine whether this is by choice or simply small-sample variation. Indeed, Andrus will need to prove that these adjustments make him a “power” hitter before pitchers treat him differently.
That ultimately remains the question. Andrus has ostensibly made adjustments to improve his power, but do they truly make him a better overall hitter? To this point in the season, Andrus ranks 158th in average exit velocity on fly balls and 147th in average fly-ball distance among the 167 batters with 25 or more fly balls hit. Andrus pulling more fly-ball outs to left field doesn’t enhance his offensive output. However, if more of these balls turn into gap shots and home runs, Andrus could uncover another level to his game. With Jurickson Profar returning from the baseball grave in remarkable fashion and Rougned Odor forever cementing his place in Rangers lore, Andrus may be feeling the pressure to live up to his now ill-regarded contract extension. After three below-80-wRC+ seasons, something needed to change for Andrus at the plate. Whether this new approach works for the better remains to be seen, but right now Andrus remains a key cog on a surprising postseason contender.