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Elvis Andrus beginning to contribute at plate

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A’s new shortstop heating up since early May

Oakland Athletics v Colorado Rockies Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

The shortstop position is a touchy subject for Oakland A’s fans these days.

For six years it belonged to Marcus Semien, but he got away on a one-year free agent contract and is now an MVP candidate for the Toronto Blue Jays. To replace him, the A’s swapped salary dumps with the Texas Rangers and received Elvis Andrus, a former All-Star coming off two unproductive and injury-marred seasons.

The gambit immediately appeared to go sour. Semien bounced back from his 2020 off-year and blossomed with his new club, winning AL Player of the Month honors in May, while Andrus spent April as a virtual auto-out in Oakland’s lineup.

  • Andrus, April: .151/.202/.186, 10 wRC+, .232 xwOBA, 84.8 mph EV

He was at least making contact, with a 20.2% strikeout rate that’s high for him but modest for most batters. But everything was a routine grounder or popout, and his low average wasn’t just bad BABIP luck. He only notched three extra-base hits (all doubles) in 94 plate appearances in the opening month, and 114 trips through May 6.

On May 7 he began a 10-game hitting streak, during which he went 11-for-33 with a few extra-base hits and only four strikeouts. He snapped that string with a few 0-fers, but on May 25 he roared to life again and has since gone on a legitimate hot streak. His last 11 starts, and 41 plate appearances:

  • Andrus, last 11 gms: .368/.415/.474, 156 wRC+, .362 xwOBA, 93.0 mph EV

He’s gone 14-for-38 during that time, more hits than he had in all of April. And he’s not just doinking in lucky grounders, either, with eight pieces of contact registering at least 100 mph exit velocity — again, more than his whole April total. During this span his xwOBA mark is 50 points above the MLB average, and his exit velocity skyrocketed to second on the team.

Better yet, his improved bat is making an impact. On May 26 his single in the 4th inning sparked a three-run rally, and two days later he led off the 6th with a single against Shohei Ohtani and came around to score the first run of the game. Four days after that, on Tuesday when Tony Kemp had a career game, Andrus reached base in front of him three times, twice scoring and once pushing a runner into scoring position. The next day he doubled in the 3rd as part of the game’s first scoring rally, and singled in the 9th to help tack on a late insurance run.

Even with this recent surge, Andrus’ season numbers are still tough on the eyes. He’ll need to keep hitting for a while to balance out his dreadful April and mostly mediocre May, and he still hasn’t homered yet. The best part of his batting line so far is his low 17.4% strikeout rate.

  • Andrus, 2021: .214/.259/.273, 52 wRC+, .278 xwOBA, 87.4 mph EV

But the journey upward has begun. At the very least he’s genuinely been hitting well for the last two weeks, with hard contact that’s fallen for the hits it’s deserved. Whether he’ll continue doing that tomorrow and into the future remains to be seen, but for now the A’s are finally getting something out of the bottom of their lineup, in the shortstop shoes left by Semien.