Thursday, February 11, 2010
Surprise positional outlook: Shortstop
By Richard Durrett
It's time to talk about Elvis, folks, as we keep going in our daily look at each position for the Rangers heading into spring training. Check out our analysis of first base (Chris Davis and Justin Smoak), second base (Ian Kinsler) and third base (Michael Young). BTW, don't forget to check out some interesting trends and stats on players in their second years at the bottom of this post.
Slick-fielding Elvis Andrus hit .267 with six home runs, 40 RBIs and 33 stolen bases, tops among major league shortstops.
What an impressive rookie year by Elvis Andrus. He came into spring training as a 20-year-old who had never played above Double-A and was handed the starting job. In fact, Gold Glove shortstop Michael Young had to move to third base to make room for Andrus.
But the rookie handled the pressure just fine. He made fans and teammates turn their heads to get a look at some of the amazing plays he made in spring training games. And when the season started, he just kept on going. It seemed like every week he was on ESPN's SportsCenter for top plays for some tremendous play he made getting to a ground ball or making an seemingly impossible throw from his knees.
Andrus certainly made his mistakes, too. And with help from Young, second baseman Ian Kinsler and backup utility infielder Omar Vizquel, a future Hall of Famer, Andrus learned from those mistakes. The coaching staff worked with him on making the routine plays and staying focused. Andrus had 22 errors, second most by any regular AL shortstop. Many of those errors were on throws, something he improved on as the season progressed. He was earning some of those errors because he was getting to ground balls that most shortstops wouldn't because of his excellent range. His solid defensive season shows up in other numbers, like UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating). His UZR was 11.7, fourth among all major league shortstops.
As for his play at the plate, it was better than expected. He hit .267 with six homers and 40 RBIs. He hit either No. 9 or No. 2 for most of the season and had a .329 on-base percentage. When Andrus got on, he put pressure on the opponent with his speed. He had 33 stolen bases, tops among all MLB shortstops (he was caught six times).
The entire season was good enough that he was second in the AL rookie of the year voting. The question for Andrus: What does he do for an encore? Will there be some kind of sophomore slump?
The good folks at ESPN Stats & Information looked into rookies who had similar seasons to Andrus and how they did the second season. Here's what they discovered looking at 12 players over the last decade, including Albert Pujols, David Eckstein, Robinson Cano, Dan Uggla and Nick Markakis:
* Eight of the 12 increased their HR total in their second season.
* Half of the 12 increased their run total.
* Seven of the 12 increased their batting average.
* Half of the 12 increased their OPS.
* Only four of the 12 increased their RBI total.
What does it mean for Andrus? Who knows. Maybe nothing. But it is interesting to see the trends. And we'll get into more predictions later in the spring.
The bottom line: Andrus managed to exceed already high expectations in 2009 and is clearly positioned as this club's shortstop of the future at just 21 years old. It will be interesting to see how he handles things in his second year.