Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

2014 Projection Series - Andrelton Simmons

Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

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.

Credit: Kevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports

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’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.

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  • Chris Headrick

    Ben, I linked your projection piece on Simba, on our Player Previews page in Hot Stove menu. Just wanted you to know. Good piece btw. I can add little more, and frankly, who can?

    • Sealift67

      My view is Simmons got hooked on going for the long ball when he saw a few
      get up and out. I’m sure he is aware of this as anyone, and will shift back to
      making contact and driving the ball. His frame is lithe and it is doubtful he is
      going to come spring looking like Ron Gant.

    • Benjamin Chase

      To be honest, it was hard to do much more than find highlight reels of the guy. He popped out too much last season, which lowered his BABIP to the point where his other offensive tools (fair walk rate, low K rate) weren’t so shining, and he played amazing defense, to say the least. The fun part with Simba is looking forward and trying to imagine what he could become. I heard someone put forth a Barry Larkin offensive comparison on Andrelton, and outside of Larkin’s remarkable 1996, I can see the comp – low K rate, solid contact guy with smart baserunning more than pure speed, and good gap power that could lead to a few seasons of double digit home runs.

  • carpengui

    My only concern: the report that Simba was going to try and add 15-ish poinds of muscle during this off-season for the sake of durability. Obviously, we’re talking about world-class athletes here and about people who know better, but given that we’re talking about someone who relies of quickness and athleticism to go with his fielding savvy, I do have to wonder if that could cost him a half-step here and there. On balance, if could be worth the trade-off, but we’ll have to watch that closely.

    • Chris Headrick

      I don’t personally think just 15 pounds of muscle will hurt him, although muscle is heavier than fat. If he works out correctly, distributing the muscle to his legs and abdominal primarily, he should be fine. He is quite skinny for a baseball player, and of course we could say the same of BJ. I haven’t seen a recent pic to know whether he’s done that sort of thing yet, but if not, he has little time at this point.

  • fireboss

    The thing omitted was that he led the major leagues in infield popup outs with 65 that accounted for 15% of his outs overall. Fangraphs has him at a 17.5% IFFB rate. That’s likely due to his issue with fastball and possibly to swinging for the fences a lot more than he should. Perhaps he should look at CJ’s approach and as you suggest try using that speed with a few more bunts. I know I’ll get killed for that comment but in the right situation it makes infielders move around and it encourages defenses to be aware of it the rest of the time.

    • Chris Headrick

      You won’t get killed from me, because I agree. Even if you didn’t look at his numbers, if you watch the Braves daily as I do, memory alone serves to clue you to the huge amount of popups Simba was riddled with. His defensive abilities sometimes make people forget the issues he does have offensively, which he needs to correct. As you mentioned, he could probably do well to spend some time picking CJ’s brain, among others. He MUST correct the popup issues, because wow – 15% of his outs off pops?

    • Benjamin Chase

      I’d certainly not kill you on it. That was one thing that blew me away on Simba coming up, and it came through in his first shot in the bigs – the man has tremendous bat control on bunts. I’m having trouble finding minor league data on it, but I remember hearing that after a 100% success rate on bunts in the majors in 2012, he had never had a bunt in the minors or majors that didn’t result in either a sacrifice or hit. From the two spot in the order, that’d be a huge asset.

  • Lee Trocinski

    We all know the flyballs must come down, as his below-average HR/FB% would indicate. He did post slightly higher than average popup rates in the minors too, so those aren’t going away. Just like CJ, if he cuts back the swing, the ISO will go down. Unlike CJ, even with such a poor batted ball profile, Simmons still had some bad luck, to the tune of about 20 points below his xBABIP of around .270. With his low K rate, a .300 BABIP would be enough to vault himself into MVP consideration with that +20 or higher defense.

  • rick staley

    So far in his short career, Andrelton looks like he is the second coming of J.J. Hardy (offensively)…imho.

    • Benjamin Chase

      Boy, having seen both, I cannot see the comparison. Hardy hit balls that looked like no field would hold them. Andrelton hits balls that land in the first row to the tenth row. I would rather see him as more of a 50-60 xbh sort of guy that racks up 125-140 total bases. He’s got sting to his swing when he keeps his swing level, but it’s not deep carry sort of power.

      • rick staley

        Not the present JJ model, but the the one during his first full season in the league (comparing apples-to-apples). I should have been clearer initially in my assessment. Simba has the ability to improve power, and will get larger physically just as JJ has done…imho.

        • Benjamin Chase

          Yeah, I got the comparison. I just remember seeing Hardy then hit balls in BP that hit the observation deck of Miller. They’re not similar natural hitters, I don’t think, and I hope Andrelton doesn’t strive to make himself into something his swing really is not. The huge difference between the two is Simmons’ speed. If turned loose, Simmons has high intelligence displayed on the base paths. He’s not a burner, but he’s very smart with his speed, akin to a young Cristian Guzman, going first to third in a blink. I don’t think he’ll ever steal 40 bases, but other than that, I like the overall package comparison to Barry Larkin that I heard the more I look at their career trajectories, including the minor leagues.