Okay, let’s get this out of the way early. I’m a huge, huge, HUGE fan of Andrelton Simmons and have been since his drafting in the 2nd round in 2010. I always love a good two-way athlete for following purposes in the minor leagues, eager to see which side will win out. Much like the Braves, I thought Simmons would provide an electric arm into the Braves’ deep stable of young pitchers. Simmons had different ideas, and boy am I glad he did!
Look Back at 2013
Simba (my favorite nickname of Simmons, and the one you’ll have to tolerate for much of my writing) was nothing short of amazing defensively in 2013. He is already drawing comparisons to all-time great defenders like Ozzie Smith. While he may not be the showman that Ozzie was, anyone who saw his behind the back play against the Mets mid-season on a play far to his left knows that he has the ability to add some razzle-dazzle to his plays. With that sort of defensive production, anything he could give offensively is just a bonus, yet Simmons provided some pop at the bottom of the lineup, knocking out 17 home runs.
At the Plate in 2014
Simmons put forth the sort of season in 2012 that made many think he’d be a perfect top of the order hitter, hitting .289/.335/.416 after being a .350+ OBP guy in his limited time in the minor leagues. He was inserted at the top of the lineup by Fredi Gonzalez to start the season, batting him leadoff on opening day and 63 times thereafter, leading the team in appearances in the leadoff position while also tallying 19 from the second spot in the order, so he was leadoff or 2nd in the order for just over half of the games in the season. The problem for Simmons was that while most of his other numbers stayed steady, he had a much lower BABIP and his fly ball rate went up significantly. Andrelton is a guy who was noted coming up for having a very good first step from the box, able to bunt for hit at will because of his excellent bat control and first step out of the box, so a high BABIP was normal for him, including a .310 mark in 2012. His 2013 BABIP was .247, which even if he normalized at roughly .300, his slash line would rise significantly from his .248/.296/.396 line in 2013. That fly ball percentage is something to look at, and that can affect his BABIP negatively. Many noted Simba’s uppercut in his swing last season, and the interesting thing is that when looking at his Fangraphs page, Simmons handled all pitches with positive value EXCEPT fastballs, especially split-fingered fastballs. While there simply are not enough guys who feature the split-finger to worry about this as a true issue for Simmons, his longer swing would certainly affect how he could handle a fastball. His power output was really not a result of hitting the ball a lot deeper either, in spite of his 17 home runs. Rotographs (Fangraphs’ fantasy focused site) reviewed Simmons’ home runs and found that 8 of his 17 home runs were of the “barely cleared” variety, and he actually ranked 240th out of 300 qualified batters in total distance of every hit, which means that uppercut swing really didn’t add much distance.
Simmons’ carrying tool offensively is his bat control. He is one of the few Braves who sports a sub-10% strikeout rate at the plate, and he is one of the better hit-and-run players on the Braves when he keeps his swing level. Simmons will certainly be focused on controlling his swing again in 2014 (at least one would hope!), and he could provide the #2 hitter the Braves need behind Jason Heyward in his newfound home in the leadoff spot. Simmons was forced into leadoff action by injuries in July and posted his best month of the season, striking out only twice the entire month. It’s certainly a small sample size, but batting 2nd in 2013, Simmons put up a line of .325/.361/.429. Simmons also had a notable difference in his results when he was facing a pitcher for the first time in the game versus the rest of the game – .307/.367/.511 in first at bats versus a starter in 2013 while hitting .205/.247/.309 in further appearances in the game against the starter. Simmons returning his focus to gap-to-gap line drive hitting would be advantageous, as he hit .642 on line drives while hitting only .145 on fly balls in 2013.
At the plate, Simmons is a smart player. His low strikeout rate is excellent evidence of that. I would expect to see a bounce back from his 2013 lower averages. Early projections that I’ve seen have Simmons at roughly .270/.320/.410. I think the slugging is about right, but I think with a focus in the #2 spot on moving Heyward over, Simmons could use his excellent bat control to bring his line to more along the lines of .290/.340/.415, a line that paired with his defense could make Simmons an MVP candidate.
In the Field in 2014
This is possibly the easiest of the Braves to write in this area. Simmons has a rare combination in the field that allowed him already to sport a record defensive runs saved season in 2013 (the statistic is not that old, but still relevant!). His dWAR, per Baseball-Reference.com’s metric, was tied for the best season of all time, regardless of position. Simmons has tremendous instincts, and his first step has already been compared favorably to Ozzie Smith and Mark Belanger (for those who were blessed to see all three play), but what he has that those two don’t (at least not in comparison) is his tremendous arm. Simmons was a pitcher and shortstop when drafted, and his arm off the mound allowed him to throw upper 90s. The incredible part is that he doesn’t just have a cannon, he’s extremely accurate. While we hope for improvement in other areas for Simba in 2014, it’s hard to imagine him being better than he was in 2013 in the field. He will be very fun to watch for Braves fans. A little treat for all those who are fans of his fielding: a YouTube collection of Simba’s brilliance in the field.
Going beyond 2014
Simmons is only 24 for the majority of the 2014 season, so he has a long career of excellence ahead of him. Hopefully the Braves will step forward and sign him to an Evan Longoria-esque deal this offseason because next year may be too late to get him at such a rate.