Elvis Andrus has opened the 2017 by hitting the cover off of the ball. In his admittedly small sample size this year, he’s already belted three home runs in just 36 plate appearances and is hitting over .300 again after hitting .302 last year – the highest average of his career.
If you happened to check out the American League leaderboard for hitters, you'd find Andrus atop the league in slugging percentage ahead of the likes of Miguel Sano, Francisco Lindor, and Mike Trout.
In addition to his great power numbers and average to start the season, Andrus has thus far produced a BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play) of .310 which is a bit lower than his actual batting average of .353. And while this number fluctuates daily, it currently hovers around his career average for balls in play.
Basically that means he’s not getting cheated too much and if he can manage to rise to his career high BABIP of .333 from last year, with the same type of contact he is making so far this year, then we are in for a treat.
But where did this offensive prowess come from? It may not be as sudden as it appears.
Although it was the second year of manager Jeff Banister’s tenure, 2016 saw a changeover in the hitting coach. Dave Magadan moved on after the 2015 campaign and was replaced by Anthony Iapoce before the 2016 season got underway. This relationship has seemed to help Elvis immensely. The 2016 season saw Elvis reach new heights in a number of offensive categories.
In addition to batting average his slugging percentage (.439), his Isolated Power (.136) and RBI (69) were all career highs and the recently engaged shortstop, who will become a father this summer, had a strong second half to bring all those numbers up.
Basically across the board Elvis saw his numbers climb after the all-star break in 2016, including a 20 point jump in batting average and a 70 point jump in OPS (on-base plus slugging).
During the first several years of his career Andrus tended to be a slap hitter. Driving the occasional ball to a gap but mainly finding a way to get on base and utilize his speed as best he could.
In 2016 we began to see Elvis working on driving the ball more and the numbers increased as the season wore on despite apparently dealing with a sports hernia which required surgery to repair as soon as the season ended.
When breaking down video of Elvis’ swing from earlier years you can see a big difference. Notice the quick toe tap from 2014 and the full-blown power hitter leg kick from his home run against LAA on 4/12/17. There’s no mistaking Elvis is trying to drive the ball now, and the results are laid out in the numbers.
Iapoce has also apparently instilled a new approach. From 2015 to 2016 Andrus’ batting average with less than two strikes jumped 46 points (.255 to .291) and his number of plate appearances that never reached two strikes went up, meaning he was making contact earlier in counts, and getting more hits while doing it.
That hernia surgery meant Andrus took it slow at the beginning of spring training this year but he has showed no signs of letting a late start slow him down out of the gates.
A potential positive side effect of this slow ramp up is a renewed stamina and increased overall level of fitness for Elvis Andrus this year but it’s also easy to forget: Elvis is still growing up. Even though 2017 is his 9th year as a big leaguer, Elvis is only 28 years old and is still firmly in what should be his physical prime.
Couple that physical growth with the understanding that he has gained in the first eight seasons of his career, led by the likes of Michael Young and Adrian Beltre, and this offensive surge could be the result of a lot of things coming together for Andrus, both physically and mentally.
A greater understanding of what pitchers are trying to do – including throw strikes to guys hitting down in the lineup where Elvis has been hitting, could be a factor in his newfound hitting prowess.
After having his share of detractors early in his contract extension, Elvis Andrus is starting to blossom into a true organizational player, the type of cornerstone to this franchise he is being paid to be.
Does Elvis Andrus belong among the American League's best shortstops? Share your thoughts on Elvis' power surge with Chris on Twitter @RealChrisRoland.