Andrelton Simmons Is Taking His Game to a New Level
Andrelton Simmons was always good, albeit in a very one-dimensional way. The book on Simmons was well-known in the four years he spent with the Atlanta Braves and his first year in California with the Los Angeles Angels after being traded -- he was a weak, below-average hitter who was an incredible defensive asset.
This season has been no different with the glove, which is to be expected. However, he has been a much improved player at the plate, and, in doing so, he makes a legit case for being a superstar at age 27.
First and foremost, when discussing Simmons, his defensive ability needs to be at the forefront, regardless of what his bat does. To call him a good, or even a great, defender is a severe misinterpretation of his talents -- he is, undoubtedly, one of the best defenders in the league since he entered it in 2012.
He has amassed an incredible 154 defensive runs saved (DRS), 21.3 Ultimate Zone Rating per 150 defensive games (UZR/150) and 130.1 defensive runs above average (Def) -- all of which are impressive feats, especially when you compare him to his peers, both at shortstop and at other positions.
Among current shortstops, Brandon Crawford comes in second in both DRS (68) and Def (86.4). J.J. Hardy takes the second spot in UZR/150 at 10.4. As the numbers suggest, Simmons doesn't just lead all shortstops in defensive metrics, he completely obliterates other shortstops. He is in a tier by himself, and he is only 27 years old.
He ranks highly when you factor in other positions, too. He leads all players in DRS since 2012, with Jason Heyward (108) and Nolan Arenado (102) the closest to his 154 DRS. They are also the only three players to have a DRS at or above 100. Heyward is close in UZR/150 (19.2), but Simmons edges him, and Simmons is tops in Def, as well. Not only is he one of the best defensive shortstops, he is one of the best defensive players at any position in the league, and his value was fully propped up by it.
He is an incredibly consistent defensive player, as his numbers suggest. The worst season he has had defensively came in 2016, when he posted 18 DRS, a 15.4 UZR and a 20.8 Def -- that is a defensive season some could only dream of, but it is merely "meh" for Simmons. He has earned a DRS of at least 19 in every other season, the best being a 41 DRS campaign in 2012, which helped him earn 4.5 fWAR.
This season has been no different. He has 23 DRS, a 10.3 UZR, and a 15.4 Def, all three are easily tops among shortstops. What's different in 2017, though, is he is getting ample production with his bat, and that can turn him into a superstar -- if it lasts.
After a 49-game debut season in 2012 in which he earned a 103 wRC+, Simmons has been a below-average offensive player -- until now. The chart below outlines his OPS, ISO and wRC+ in each of his full seasons
As you can see, Simmons was a similar hitter in every season prior to this one. He had a mid-to-high .600 OPS, not much power, and was below-average as a whole -- nothing to write home about. In a testament to his defense, he was a 4.5 fWAR player in 2013, and he had an fWAR of at least 3.0 in each of the last two years. He would have been a bench player without his stellar defense.
Simmons has been hitting the ball with more authority this season, as evidenced by his career-high ISO and OPS. He has already set a career-high in doubles, and his 12 home runs are behind his career-high by 5. He has a career-high hard-hit rate (30.6%) to back up his increased extra-base-hit potential, and this is the biggest indicator that his above-average offense may last.
Simmons has gotten more balls to fall than normal, as his BABIP sits at .307, a decent amount above his .279 career BABIP. It makes sense that it would rise, however, due to the fact that he is hitting the ball harder than he previously has.
Thanks to his offense outburst, he is on pace to shatter his career-high 4.5 fWAR from 2013. He is already sitting at an fWAR of 4.4, and he will easily accrue 0.1 fWAR the rest of the way with his defensive play alone. If he continues to hit at an above-average rate, he could be a 5.5-win player (which is what Steamer projections expects for him). For perspective, 5.5 fWAR would have tied him with Daniel Murphy and Kyle Seager for 17th in the league last season -- that is the superstar level.
A Budding Star
Simmons fWAR holds up when you compare it to this season, too. It currently sits at 11th in the MLB, second among shortstops behind only Corey Seager. Combining above-average offense with an excellent glove makes Simmons an elite player.
The biggest question mark is whether he can keep producing at an above-average level with the bat, but as we just explained, there is reason to think he can. He is only 27, and players have had offensive outbursts at older ages (Murphy, to name one). On top of that, Simmons' BABIP is a very reasonable .307, just 7 percentage points higher than the league average. As long as he keeps hitting the ball as hard as he is this season, Simmons' offensive output could be sustained.
At 27, it looks like Simmons has figured out his offensive game, and in doing so, he finally gives Mike Trout and the Angels another sorely needed superstar in their quest for playoff contention.