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Elvis Andrus is going to test how much you believe in projections

He broke out at the plate in 2016, but was it real or a fluke?

MLB: Milwaukee Brewers at Texas Rangers
Texas Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

From almost the moment he signed his contract in 2013, it’s been almost impossible to think about Elvis Andrus without simultaneously thinking about the massive amount of money the Rangers gave him.

At the time, the years and dollars weren’t too crazy, as large as they were. Andrus was 24, coming off back-to-back four-win seasons. The Rangers had just won 93 games after making the World Series the previous two seasons. Things were going well, and considering Andrus’ age and the roster GM Jon Daniels had put together, it was not unwise to believe that he, and the team, would continue to be that successful.

The team has largely held up that end of the bargain. With the exception of a fluky 67-win season in 2014, the Rangers have either won the AL West (2015 & 2016) or lost a play-in game on the last day of the season (2013). They’ve continued to be one of MLB’s model franchises.

Andrus, however, has not been as good. As a young, borderline All-Star-caliber player — albeit a literal All-Star in 2010 and 2012 — Andrus seemed to be on the path to stardom. The way people thought about him then is probably similar to how people think about Addison Russell today. They have different styles of play, to be sure, but while he hadn’t quite taken that next leap, he was so young and talented that you could easily envision him becoming one of the best shortstops in the majors for the next several years.

That, of course, has not happened. Andrus has often been closer to replacement level than he has to being a star. After a 3.9-fWAR 2012 that secured his lucrative extension, Andrus’ value declined to 2.8 fWAR in 2013, 1.3 in 2014, and 1.7 in 2015. He was simply not worth anywhere near the money he’d signed for, even if that money did not kick in until the 2015 season.

In addition to declining on defense, Andrus lost almost all ability to hit. He was never a good hitter before inking his deal — his career high wRC+ at that point was 97 in 2012 — but again, he was young and it was perfectly reasonable to think he’d settle in as at least an average bat. With a great glove at shortstop, that’s worth six figures, and that’s what the Rangers were paying for. It just didn’t work out that way, as his wRC+ cratered to 78, 80, and 78 in the proceeding three seasons. That’s on the fringes of playability, even for a shortstop.

But then 2016 happened, and the bandwagon’s starting to crowd again. At the plate, Andrus had — by far — the best season of his career last year. After the years-long slump I just mentioned, he set career highs in almost every relevant offensive category, ending the year with a 112 wRC+.

As we said before, the Rangers were really just hoping to get an average offensive shortstop when they offered Andrus his deal. To get a hitter 12 percent above league average — especially after looking almost like a lost cause in the previous three seasons — had to make them ecstatic.

In particular, Andrus really improved his power production. He didn’t become a power hitter, per se, but he had been so anemic with the bat that it’s impressive he was able to cross even the modest power threshold he did in 2016. In fact, for the first time in his career, he had a slugging percentage higher than the league average.

He started out well right out of the gates. An April slash line of .329/.361/.474 gave him his first above-average wRC+ in a month since September of 2013. And although he struggled in May (71 wRC+), he sandwiched an average June (97) and August (92) around another tear in July (124).

What really stands out when looking at his monthly splits, however, is what he did in September:

Andrus September splits

April-August 474 4 8.2% 11.6% 0.293 0.350 0.402 0.752 0.109 0.323 99 0.04 87.0
September 94 4 8.5% 16.0% 0.349 0.419 0.627 1.046 0.277 0.391 178 0.19 91.5

As you can see, I’ve included mostly basic stats to illustrate the difference between what Andrus did in the season’s first five months and what he did in the sixth. But I’ve also included a few peripheral stats that hopefully illustrate precisely why Andrus was so much more successful in September.

Again, what stands out the most is the power. That .402 slugging percentage between April and August is already much better than Andrus’ career slugging percentage coming into the season (.347). But .627 in September is crazy good — it would have led the majors had he done it over a full season.

Looking at Andrus’ HR/FB rate may lead you to believe that he just got lucky with a few wall scrapers, but take a look at his spray chart on those four homers. He didn’t get cheated on any of them:

elvis-andrus-texas-rangers-september-home-runs Baseball Savant

The average exit velocity bears that out, as well. That 91.4 MPH average would’ve slotted him in between Daniel Murphy and Edwin Encarnacion on the league-wide leaderboard.

There’s always something extra seductive about a hot September, however. Because it’s proceeded by a long offseason, we can allow ourselves to dream that the player we saw in the final month is the one we’ll see for the entirety of the next season.

There is no mediocre two-week stretch waiting to throw cold water in our faces after the calendar flips, and so we get carried away. Starlin Castro — a player with a similar career to Andrus — had an even better September 2015 than Andrus’ September 2016. We saw how he was unable to carry that over to the following season.

The question, then, is how much should we believe not just in Andrus’ September, but his 2016 as a whole? Let’s take a look at some of the 2017 projections, and compare it to Andrus’ 2013-15, his 2016 projections, and his actual 2016:

Andrus projections compared to previous seasons

2013-15 2044 13 0.264 0.317 0.340 0.076 7.0% 13.3% 0.300 0.293 79
Steamer '16 598 5 0.267 0.324 0.355 0.088 7.4% 12.9% 0.301 0.300 82
ZiPS '16 672 5 0.267 0.319 0.351 0.084 7.0% 13.2% 0.302 0.295 79
2016 568 8 0.302 0.362 0.439 0.136 8.3% 12.3% 0.333 0.344 112
Steamer '17 563 6 0.277 0.337 0.383 0.106 7.9% 12.9% 0.311 0.315 91
ZiPS '17 641 7 0.276 0.328 0.380 0.104 7.2% 12.9% 0.307 0.319 90

If you believe the projections, you should expect closer to the putrid hitter Andrus was for the three seasons preceding 2016 than the very good hitter he was last season.

That is not to say Andrus did not improve in 2016, of course — just look at what Steamer and ZiPS thought he would do before the season. Those 2017 projections do expect him to be quite a bit better next year than he was in 2013-15, even if he’s still projected to be below-average overall. Rangers fans can at least take solace in the fact that they’re not getting a slightly better version of Rey Ordonez without the glovework to make up for it any longer.

Still, there are a handful of indications that Andrus’ 2016 overall was a bit fluky. His BABIP was a career high, but he had almost the exact same average exit velocity as his terrible 2015. His batted ball numbers are slightly better — fewer fly balls, more line drives — but not drastically so.

He hit a lot of triples, and those pre-September homers were wall scrapers more often than not. If a couple of those triples don’t get as deep in the gap and a couple of those homers bounce off the wall instead of fly over it, we’re not as impressed with what he did in 2016.

So my advice would be this: Raise your expectations for Elvis Andrus the hitter, but be careful to not get carried away. In particular, don’t let that one great month at the end of the season fool you into thinking Andrus has suddenly fulfilled the potential we all saw in him five years ago.

The projections aren’t buying it, at least not yet. Defy them at your own risk.

. . .

Joe Clarkin is a featured writer for Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @Joe_Clarkin.