Through Elvis Andrus's first 18 games of 2014, he was hitting .304/.351/.406 (107 wRC+), which included a homer, four doubles and 8 stolen bases. This was on the heels of the especially inspiring 2nd half of his 2013, where he generated the strongest offensive output over a large sample in his career, batting .313/369/.405 (111 wRC+) with 4 HRs and 23 SBs over 286 plate appearances. In the midst of his strong 2014 start, it prompted an article that was fittingly titled: "Elvis Andrus is the best shortstop in the AL right now".
But now we are removed from his hot start. Since April 19, Andrus is 3-41 with a double and six walks, dropping his triple slash line on the season to a meager .233/.304/.311. Heading into Tuesday's tilt with the Athletics, Elvis ranked 7th out of 11 qualifying American League shortstops in FanGraphs' wRC+ metric (75) -- where 100 is considered average -- wedged between Derek Jeter (93) and Asdrubal Cabrera (69).
Appropriately enough, over the last week or so during Elvis's slump, I've seen a fair amount of Ranger fans asking the seemingly annual question: Will Ron Washington move Elvis out of the two spot anytime soon?
The short answer is no, but not because Washington shouldn't; he should. Based on Tom Tango's The Book, the #2 batter in the lineup should be one of the two or three-best hitters on the team. Andrus certainly is not that.
More importantly, though, is Elvis being in year one of a 10-year, $120 million marriage with the Rangers organization. Along with Yu Darvish and Adrian Beltre, Andrus is one of the primary faces of the franchise. If Ron Washington moved him from 2nd down to 7th or 8th in the lineup, it would be perceived as a serious demotion, both from the media and within the clubhouse. After unceremonious ends with Michael Young, Josh Hamilton, Nolan Ryan and Ian Kinsler, Texas does not need another stupid drama on their hands. Especially not in the middle of an AL West title race.
But that's all secondary. If Elvis Andrus was ever not going to be the Rangers' #2 hitter, he would have been removed a helluva long time ago. In five full professional seasons, Andrus has topped out at 97 wRC+ (in 2012), while his career wRC+ sits at 85. For a shortstop who plays well above-average defense, as Elvis does, even a .273/.339/.347 slash line -- his lifetime average -- is supremely valuable.
So, while I don't disagree that the team should have a more offensively-inclined #2 hitter, I reject the idea that us as Rangers' fans should expect anything more out of Elvis Andrus for what he is and has been. At worst, he's a rangy shortstop with a strong arm who can steal bases once he reaches; at best, he's probably a .300/.350/.400 hitter with the same defensive prowess and base stealing ability, ultimately resulting in a 5-win type of player. Even without a bat to speak of up to this point of his career, Andrus has still produced +16.3 fWAR in 5+ years of service. He is without doubt a championship-caliber shortstop.
Now, Ron Washington obviously isn't saber-oriented. He doesn't come from the school of new age baseball information, which would likely result in a lineup featuring Shin-Soo Choo, Alex Rios, Prince Fielder and Adrian Beltre in the first four spots in the order. His conception of a #2 hitter is one with speed, who makes contact, who can bunt and handle the bat well. You know, the same generic approach your little league coach probably took. It's outdated, sure, but if Wash was going to get with the times, he wouldn't have waited until Andrus made more money annually than he does to do it.
With that said, Elvis is right where he is supposed to be at this stage of his career. He has started all 27 games at shortstop for Texas on the year -- which could be contributing to his dip in production of late -- and he's been hitting the ball harder in '14 (25.7% line drive rate) than his career average (21.7% LD%). I suspect once Andrus's .271 BABIP stabilizes closer to his career average (.315), we will see the best version of Elvis Andrus The Hitter to date.
I've been banging the calm down it's only April, you idiot drum pretty hard this season, and in the cases of Andrus, and Prince Fielder... it's only April. Stats matter, and everything, but if we're asking Elvis to be much more than he's proven himself to be for this club to succeed, the Rangers' offense might be in more trouble than I originally assumed.