There are a few standout shortstops in baseball. Then there is the inarguable standout shortstop on defense, Andrelton Simmons.
After winning the Defensive Player of the Year and the Rawlings Platinum Glove in 2013, there seems to be little question that Simmons has proven himself to be better than the rest on defense. Here’s a deeper look as to why the Atlanta Brave was chosen and why he won’t fall off the top this year.
According to FanGraphs.com, Simmons had a 24.6 Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) last season, a number that basically attempts to quantify how good a player is defensively by calculating how many runs they saved or gave up while they were on the field.
To put into perspective how impressive his number is, Troy Tulowitzki of the Colorado Rockies posted a 6.6 UZR. Tulowitzki is considered to be among the best shortstops in baseball right now. If that doesn’t do it for you, FanGraphs described +15 UZR to be Gold Glove-caliber. 24.6 is off the charts.
Simmons and Gerardo Parra tied this season with 41 defensive runs saved. That’s a new MLB record.
Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman described Simmons to Jayson Stark of ESPN.com, "He's incredible. The balls he gets to. He's so quick. [When he throws to first], it's like the ball doesn't even go in his glove," he said.
Simmons often leaves spectators in awe as they watch him on the field. His quick hands, strong arm and accuracy all come together to perform one seamless play after another. As if this isn’t enough, watch Simmons at work.
To top it all off, he is only 24 years old. He’s a young player who just finished his first full season in a major league uniform. Simmons is a dependable everyday shortstop, playing in 157 games last year.
Reliability is another way Andrelton will beat out Tulowitzki as top shortstop this year. Tulowitzki hasn’t been able to stay healthy for four of the past seven seasons of his career, playing in fewer than 130 games for the last two years.
However, baseball isn’t all defense, as we know.
Offensively, Simmons isn’t breaking records, but he certainly isn’t hurting the team either. He has a .248 batting average with 17 home runs.
Although FanGraphs predicts that Simmons will have fewer home runs in 2014, his batting average and on-base percentage are both expected to improve. Having a more consistent player at the plate, as opposed to one with a lower average and a few more home runs, will make the Braves' lineup solid most of the way through.
His biggest competitors for best shortstop in 2014 will likely include Tulowitzki and Hanley Ramirez. Ian Desmond is another solid shortstop that will be playing in the NL East for the Washington Nationals.
Tulowitzki is consistently unreliable. He gets injured every season. If he is able to stay healthy, then he will surely be in the running for best shortstop, but if history is any indicator, this won’t be happening.
Then there’s Ramirez, who was out for the majority of 2013 and may take a little while to get back in his groove. Although he has a higher batting average, it isn’t by a large enough margin to overshadow how much better Simmons is on defense. The margin will be even smaller if Simmons improves on offense this year, which should be expected from young players.
Though Desmond has posted consistent numbers over his career and has the durability to play every game, he is not overshadowing these other three shortstops. He has a .971 fielding percentage. Desmond will help the Nationals this season, but he won’t be winning awards for his fielding or hitting.
This new year won’t bring too many changes. Simmons will continue to outshine the others at his position. At such a young age, he can continue improving and breaking new defensive records every step of the way.
Offensively, he’ll be helping Atlanta by getting the ball in play and getting himself on base.
It could be several years before Simmons is knocked from the top.