Andrelton Simmons’ 2013 season from a fielding perspective was so fantastical, it should’ve had elves, wizards and orcs. It’s a magical thing to watch Andrelton Simmons play at shortstop and that’s with utmost respect given to the Wizard. Click here for a GIF that shows a play that is routine for Simmons, who without an ounce of unnecessary flash, takes difficult plays and with a smooth fluidity makes them look like he’s playing with and magically enchanted glove.
But defense is about as valuable as Leather Boots of Dexterity +5 to a fantasy baseball player.
So how did Andrelton perform on the offensive side of the equation and will he take a step forward in 2014?
Below is a table comparing Andrelton’s 2013 against two other player lines to provide context:
There is an uncanny similarity between Andrelton Simmons and Shawon Dunston in their age-23 seasons. Dunston – a fan favorite for the Chicago Cubs – played 18 seasons and put up several seasons worth of numbers just like the one shown above.
But Dunston was best known for the Shawon-O-Meter, a cardboard sign that resided in the left field bleachers of Wrigley and tracked Dunston’s rising and falling batting average. Dunston if he played today would only be a borderline fantasy baseball starter due to fact that his offensive output fluctuated wildly, although he’d occasionally tack on 30 steals for you and you’d praise the gods because you drafted him.
Zack Cozart, on the other hand, is un-rosterable in fantasy. Despite the fact that he can’t get on base, Cozart has gotten too many opportunities to hit second in the Reds’ lineup, only to each time prove that he belongs in the 8-hole.
END OF THE SIMILARITIES
Simmons has much better plate discipline at age 23 than Dunston ever managed in his 18 year MLB career. Plus, Simmons is a world’s better hitter than Zack Cozart will ever be. So let’s cut the comparisons and shift our attention to where Andrelton might shine.
First and foremost, Simmons has a good eye and a good approach at the plate.
Both his contact at pitches within the strike zone (Z-Contact%) and contact at pitches outside the zone (O-Contact%) are better than league average, meaning Simmons knows how to put the bat on the ball. In fact, he rarely strikes out at all, owning an excellent 8.4% strikeout rate.
But if he’s putting so many baseballs in play, why is his batting average so low?
A quick answer is that his BABIP for 2013 was .247. Andrelton needs a druid to cast a Luck +1 spell on his Louisville Slugger because fortunes certainly weren’t falling in his favor. With .247 by far being the lowest BABIP of Andrelton’s young career, it’s safe to bet that we’ll see a higher average from him in 2014.
A deeper dive into his batted ball profile shows that he saw a dramatic rise from 2012 to 2013 in the number of fly balls he hit. Whereas in 2012 55.8% of his balls in play were grounders, this dropped to 42.4% and all those extra percentage points were directed toward fly balls.
So he had a rising fly ball rate (which hurts BABIP, by the way) that was met with a 7.9% HR/FB rate. This was my awkward transition into talking about Andrelton’s 17 home runs in 2013. 17 homers from a 6’2″, 170 pound, slick fielding shortstop caught everyone by surprise. But 15 of those 17 were dead pull and 8 of them – nearly half! – were of the ‘just enough‘ variety. There’s no power upside to Andrelton Simmons, but you probably already guessed that.
Simmons combines excellent bat control and high contact with high fly ball rates and a pull happy approach. This is weird for a shortstop, folks, and with just a season and a half of data to draw from, he’ll cause smoke to rise from many a 2014 fantasy baseball projection machine. Many wacky prognasticators will simply split the difference between his 2012 and 2013 AVG and HR rates and that will be their 2014 projections for him. And while their methodology gives me shivers, they may not be far off.
So just like Shawon Dunston, 17 homers very well should be a career high for Andrelton Simmons. But unlike Dunston, Simmons may never match a 32 stolen base career high (Simmons had only 6 steals with 5 caught stealing in 2013).
But before it feels like I’m ending this profile on a grim note, let me reiterate that Simmons is already a more mature hitter at age 23 than Dunston ever was in his 18 year career. The problem is simply that we don’t yet have enough plate appearances to understand fully what type of hitter Simmons will be. This makes him a risky fantasy play for 2014.
For now, simply marvel at his defensive wizardry. Simmons is so good with the glove that he could hit like Mario Mendoza or *gasp* a pitcher, and his defensive value alone would make him worth adding to the Atlanta Braves lineup. But never fear, fantasy fans, Andrelton also has plenty to offer at the plate, we just haven’t seen enough to fully know what that will look like.