Welcome to shortstop week. Usually, this is sort of a depressing week, as the position in typically filled with glove-first players who are unexciting in the fantasy world. With the recent infusion of elite young talent, however, shortstops are as exciting as ever. Unfortunately, many of us won’t end up with one of the top-five guys, and will have to look for some flawed players later in drafts. This week, we’ll be looking at a couple of veterans that are still in their 20s with very different skill sets who are going within a round or two of each other in early drafts. It’s Elvis Andrus vs. Brandon Crawford.
Last year was neck and neck in this category, with Andrus’ .258 mark just barely beating out Crawford’s .256. While they were very close in the end, the final numbers were polar opposites with respect to their career trajectories. Despite posting the higher overall mark, it was a career-low AVG for Andrus and a career-high for Crawford. Andrus has been trending down in this department in each of the last three seasons, and last season’s decline was mostly due to the first sub-.300 BABIP of his career. The good news is he cut his strikeout rate back down to 11 percent, and keeping that heading into 2016 will make it much more likely he can get back up to the .270 AVG he’s posted in the past. Crawford, meanwhile, posts solid-but-unspectacular BABIPs with roughly league-average strikeout rates. Andrus righted his ship in the second half, and if he can build off that he’ll win this easily. Even if he doesn’t quite reach that level, his advantage on balls in play as well as strikeout rate gives him the overall edge.
Crawford had the edge here last year because he was hit by more pitches and drew more intentional walks. As can be seen above, they were essentially tied in AVG and they both walked 7.0 percent of the time. To be fair to the Giants shortstop, he can likely bank on more intentional walks in 2016 since he’ll be hitting in a lineup with a pitcher. With that being said, I foresee a bigger AVG advantage for Andrus this year, so Crawford will need a superior walk rate to take this category. Andrus has been extremely consistent in this regard recently, staying in the 6.5-7.5 percent range in the last three years. Crawford, on the other hand, has been in the same range for two of the last three years, but posted a 10.5 percent mark a couple years ago. Unfortunately for him, he reverted back to his pre-2014 plate discipline last season, and it’s a safer bet to think he’ll remain around seven percent. In the end, this likely comes down to how close you think these two are in AVG. I see Andrus having a big-enough edge there to give him a slight win here despite the close walk rate and a disadvantage in IBBs.
Although the last two categories have been relatively difficult to call, we have our first runaway victory here. Both players reached career highs in home run totals in 2015, but Crawford’s 21 completely eclipsed Andrus’ seven. It was the former’s second straight season with a double-digit total. Power is never going to be a reason to roster Andrus, while it’s the most valuable part of Crawford’s fantasy game. Easy call here.
Unsurprisingly, the power advantage won out here as well in 2015, as Crawford’s 84 handily beat out Andrus’ 64. That power advantage is sure to be a major factor once again in 2016, but lineup context will still matter. Fortunately for Crawford, he’ll be in a lineup full of good-OBP players like Buster Posey, Brandon Belt, Hunter Pence, and Joe Panik. Andrus is in a similarly productive offense, but one that relies a bit more on power than on-base skills. Crawford has a slightly more conducive lineup for RBI and, more importantly, far superior power. He also has a clear edge here.
While there’s a huge gap in their abilities to drive in runs, scoring them was a much closer contest in 2015. Andrus scored just four more runs, and it should be mentioned that he did so with 100 more plate appearances on the year. Looking ahead to this year, it comes down almost entirely to base running and lineup context, as the two are so close in OBP. Andrus has the clear edge in the former, as we’ll get to in a minute. In terms of lineup, the Rangers shortstop should also have the edge. While Crawford has some solid weapons in his lineup to knock him in like Posey and Belt, they don’t compare to the potentially potent Prince Fielder, Adrian Beltre, and Mitch Moreland combination. Andrus also has the advantage of playing in a great hitters park, making it easier for his lineup mates to knock him in with homers. He should be on base roughly as much as Crawford, and has the base running and contextual advantage. Andrus has the clear edge here.
Like home runs, this is an easy call that requires very little explanation. For what Andrus lacks in power, he makes up for in speed. He’s stolen at least 20 bases in every season of his career, missing the 25 mark just once. Crawford, meanwhile, stole a career-high six bases last season. There’s no doubt who will end the year with more swiped bags in 2016.
Typically when we get to this category, at least one player has a significant injury history or is at least much older. In this case, both players have avoided a DL stint in their major-league careers and they’re separated by just two years in age. There’s no reason at all to expect any of them are any more at risk of injury than any other player in baseball
To be clear from the start of this, each player will open the season as his team’s everyday shortstop and will play every day as long as he performs. With that being said, the things to look for in this category are platoon splits and young players pushing their way through the minors. Crawford is safe in both regards. Andrus, meanwhile, did suffer from extremely weak production against right-handed pitching. More importantly, he has Jurickson Profar in his organization. Profar has been decimated by injury, but he remains among the most exciting young players in the game. We’ve seen Andrus put together stretches in which he looks like an incapable major-league hitter before, and if it happens again he could lose some of his everyday time to Profar. It’s no guarantee to happen, of course, but it’s a larger threat than anything Crawford faces.
The unfortunate thing about these two players is that the ceiling isn’t too high, relative to others at their position. Andrus could certainly get back to the .280-plus AVG range, and he could also add in 35-plus stolen bases. That’s a great player, of course, but he doesn’t have the power in him to create a potentially elite profile. Crawford, on the other hand, probably has less of an AVG ceiling, but could be higher in OBP. He’s also not a threat to steal more than 10 bases, even at his peak. On the other hand, he could continue to build upon the power he should last season and threaten 30 home runs, which could help him push 100 RBI. It’s really a matter of preference of speed over power. Since it’s much harder to find a 30-plus stolen-base threat than a 30-plus home-run threat, I’ll give a slight edge to the stolen base prowess of Andrus.
Andrus ends up leading this matchup 5-3, but two of those categories could reasonably be flipped to give Crawford the edge. Ultimately, the decision comes down to team construction. If, for example, you’ve already drafted Dee Gordon or Billy Hamilton, you’d probably opt for the home runs from Crawford over the steals from Andrus. In a vacuum, however, I’ll take the rarer skill set in Andrus’ steal potential, despite the larger downside represented by Jurickson Profar behind him on the depth chart.
And the winner is… Elvis Andrus
Thank you for reading
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