Throughout his career, both as a prospect and a major leaguer, Andrelton Simmons has been touted for his elite defensive ability. While the bat was always thought to be good enough to keep him in the lineup, he was getting his starts for his glove. Scouts raved about his 80/80 defense (baseball scouting scores are weird), and he has yet to disappoint.
Using FanGraphs’ all encompassing defensive metric (which is position normalized, an important feature since stats like UZR give different ratings depending on range like outfield versus first base), Simmons has been worth 113.6 runs above average on the defensive side of things since his first full season in 2013. This is exceptional by itself, but even more so with context – the next best is Brandon Crawford at 71.5. Then at the sixth spot you have guys dipping into the 50s, and your down to the 40s already by number 14.
Some of this is certainly survivorship bias plus durability, but to almost double the next best spot is just insane. There is simply no equal to Simmons’ defensive prowess during his time in the league so far.
While Simmons’ bat has always been decent, putting up wRC+ marks around the low 90s (career average 91), this year his bat has been good enough by itself to warrant him a lineup spot. He has hit for a 125 mark, which is 25% above average for all hitters. He has had plus contact (hitting for .306) as well as league average power (rare for a shortstop) with an isolated slugging of .153. The Angels did not acquire him for this, but there’s no one in
Anaheim Los Angeles complaining about that.
As a lot of breakouts happen, Simmons has been buoyed somewhat by good fortune. His BABIP has jumped from a career .281 to .321 this season, and his HR/FB has increased from 6.4% to 10.1%. This has happened without any change in batted ball profile regarding his grounders and fly balls, which hints that his average and power are both a little inflated. But looking deeper, you’ll see there’s some real reason to believe in his offense.
His hard contact has jumped to 32.1% from a career 25.8%, taken some from soft, but mostly from medium contact. As we would imagine from a real improvement, he’s also pulling the ball more, 44.8% to 40.3% career. This is showing a concerted effort to swing with more purpose, as we have seen from hitters across the board this season. To get this, Simmons has been hitting fastballs much better than we’ve previously seen, worth 2.7 runs above average, a career best, while he has accumulated -24.6 runs on the pitch until this season. He’s also at career bests on fastball variations, the sinker and splitter, attacking high-speed no matter the run or dive.
A concentration on hitting pitches harder and attacking the fastball has unsurprisingly led him to more success. To get a better picture, let’s look at his slugging percentage heatmaps of his career versus this season by itself:
There are noticeable increases across the board, but it’s perhaps more telling where hehas decreased. He isn’t slugging hard on low pitches, which is generally true, but he has done so even less this year. Instead he has been crushing inside pitches, which fits his pulled hits profile perfectly. Being able to turn on inside pitches is key for any hitter, and it’s crucial for power. Hitters who lose this ability struggle to adapt, thanks to effective velocity, which is that pitches in certain areas have better perceived velocity because the hitter has the get the barrel around faster (high and inside is “faster” than low and away).
Read what the man himself has to say about his approach at the plate, as told to and reported by Mike DiGiovana, to put some substance to the statistics mentioned:
“Instead of just swinging at strikes, I’m looking for a particular pitch and waiting for that pitch,” Simmons said. “It doesn’t happen all the time, but I’ve been doing a better job in the second half. I’m swinging at better pitches.
“I’m not missing my pitches. I’m not fouling off pitches I should hit. I’ve been squaring up pitches I can hit, and it’s showing. I’m trying to shrink [the zone] of what I’m looking for, and it’s helping.”
There’s no doubt Simmons has changed his approach; the numbers and the reports reflect this perfectly. And to boot, his offensive output has shot up to being the third best offensive shortstop in the league so far. He has real value in fantasy leagues, and should be treated as such. His bat is now legit, and expect it to be that way heading forward. If you can buy-low in a keeper league you should consider it.
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