Elvis Andrus: Professional Baserunner

Elvis Andrus is having an incredibly solid year in 2012. In the offseason, he matured both mentally and physically, and that maturation has had a noticeable impact on his play. The additional bulk he added to his body in the offseason has resulted in Andrus slugging over .400 (.407) for the first time in his career, above his previous career high of .373 in 2009. The growth he has displayed on the mental side of the game has resulted in better defense (fielding percentage up from .963 in 2011 to .975 in 2012), and better at-bats (leads the Texas Rangers in walks; on-base percentage of .371). Despite the maturation, one aspect of Andrus’s game is still played with youthful, reckless abandon: baserunning.

Since 2009, no one in Major League Baseball has been better than Elvis Andrus at bases taken, (or baserunning gain). This statistic measures the number of times a runner advances by tagging up on a flyball, on a passed ball, wild pitch, balk, or defensive indifference. It indirectly is a measuring stick of who the most aggressive and effective baserunners in the league are. No one has been better in this area than Andrus since he began his MLB career. Including 2012, Andrus holds a +88 mark. The next highest total over 2009-2012 is +77.

During Sunday’s game against the Houston Astros, Andrus put on a clinic of just how it is that he came to be among the best baserunners in the game today. You can watch the full highlight of this play here.

With Ian Kinsler at third base, Andrus at first, and two out, Michael Young hit a single to shallow right field. Andrus had been stealing on the pitch, so he easily advanced from first-to-third. Then, we see the following sequence of events.

Andrus runs hard the entire way to third base. When he is about 20 feet from the bag, Brian Bogusevic cleanly fields the ball in right field for the Astros. The Rangers third base coach, Dave Anderson, has the stop sign firmly in place. All seems normal, the play is essentially over, with the Rangers picking up a run on Young’s single. We see all of these things in the below image:

In the following image, not much has changed, except that Andrus has rounded third by a couple feet. Anderson is still saying “stop”, and players are milling around, mostly waiting for the ball to be given back to the pitcher to start the next at-bat. There is one crucial difference, however. Bogusevic has chosen to casually throw the ball to the second baseman, instead of properly hitting the first baseman as the cutoff for a possible throw to home. At this exact moment, Andrus has hesitated for a split second.

Now, upon seeing Bogusevic’s throw headed to second base, Andrus has broken for home. In this final image, it still seems as though nothing has changed, except that Andrus is more than 30 feet towards home plate. Also, Anderson has now given up on telling Andrus to stop. Clearly, that wasn’t working. Andrus cruised into home without a throw, tacking on another run to the Rangers lead, taking advantage of the gift of a lapse in judgment by Bogusevic. This image is the exact moment the second baseman caught the ball.

Elvis Andrus is a good baserunner because of his near-elite game speed and his preternatural instincts for the game. The speed will eventually fade as he ages and his body continues to mature (with emphasis on eventually – after all he is still just 23 years old). The instincts, however, will always be there. His instincts on the bases are similar to those of Derek Jeter, who lead all of baseball in bases taken in 2010, his age 36 season. We can expect to see this kind of baserunning from Andrus for some time to come.

The other side of the coin is that with the aggressiveness, there occasionally comes a blunder. Baserunning blunders are some of the most noticeable and costly, as baserunners and outs are precious commodities in the game of baseball. However, that tradeoff between aggressive baserunning that creates runs and forces defensive errors, and aggressive baserunning that results in outs is one that the Rangers are willing to accept. Andrus will certainly continue to rely on his instincts on the bases, and it is apparent that he doesn’t know how to run the bases any other way. With the kinds of results he generates, he doesn’t have a reason to.

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