A Replacement-Level Andrelton Simmons

I’ve been pretty busy. I wonder what Andrelton Simmons has been up to of late? Most of my attention is dedicated to the actual races. Let’s go ahead and take a quick peek over at Simmons’ MLB.com video highlight page. What’s the most recent clip look like? Cool, it’s from just a couple days ago. Looks like a defensive play against the Marlins. I’ll stream it, and — ooh, slow chopper off the bat. Batter got badly jammed. You’re telling me Simmons turned this into some kind of out?

simmonsmarlins1

That’s pretty hard to b-

SimmonsMarlins1.gif.opt

Welp.

The world needs not another article about how Andrelton Simmons is a defensive wizard. About how Andrelton Simmons is a defensive king of the wizards, or president of the wizards, or whatever, the head wizard through which all other prospective wizards must go. I wouldn’t say the topic’s been beaten to death, but Simmons is well understood around these parts, and his defensive numbers are on par with Barry Bonds‘ offensive-number porn. The statement: Andrelton Simmons is an otherworldly defender. The agreement: unanimous. He looks amazing in the numbers, and he looks amazing in the games.

There’s a question, though, mostly for fun, but asked in some way pretty often: given that Simmons can field, just how bad of a hitter could he stand to be for it to still be worth the Braves playing him? This is, basically, a matter of WAR. Simmons has been worth a lot of WAR, in large part because of his fielding. He has a career 91 wRC+. How much worse could that be? What might we learn about the value of defense?

There are a lot of ways to tackle this, but I’ve settled on trying to reduce Andrelton Simmons to being a replacement-level player. No, that probably wouldn’t make him a starting shortstop, but it could leave him a big leaguer, and the Cardinals and Yankees this year have demonstrated that you can compete with shortstop trouble spots. Also, it’s easy to deal with replacement level, because you’re just summing things to zero. If all your various values add up to zero, you’ve been replacement-level. Easy! And this should be a fun exercise.

So let’s set about creating a replacement-level Simmons. We’ll use the numbers he’s already posted, again basically for ease. The mystery box: batting value.

  • Baserunning: -0.4
  • Fielding: +34.9
  • Replacement: +22.3
  • Positional: +8.4
  • PA: 773

Those numbers add up to +65.2 runs. So if we want a replacement-level Simmons, we want to set his batting value at -65.2 runs, over 773 plate appearances. After division, that gives us -0.084 runs per PA. All right, now, I examined the historical window between 1969-2013, looking for players who batted at least 1,000 times. I calculated all of their respective batting run values per plate appearance, to see who might be closest to that hypothetical Simmons. Here, right here, is a list:

Four pitchers and a shortstop after whom the Mendoza Line was named. Four pitchers and a shortstop remembered specifically for the fact that he hit like a pitcher. The spreadsheet includes 1,778 different players. Twelve of them have lower batting run values than the hypothetical Simmons. All of them, of course, were pitchers, none active.

What if we look just at this season, so as to enhance your perspective? Some players who have posted similar batting run values per plate appearance:

If you take Simmons’ performance so far as legitimate, then in order to be approximately replacement-level overall, he could’ve gotten away with literally hitting like a pitcher. Not even necessarily a good-hitting pitcher. Seaver batted .154 and he sluggged .210. If Simmons were like a second pitcher in the Braves’ order, they could still be justified in playing him, because of his range and his arm and his hands.

Let’s say, though, that you don’t buy Simmons’ elevated defensive numbers so much. Let’s say you want to regress, and now this could double as a projection of sorts. Let’s knock off a full ten defensive runs. Who are some offensive comps, for a hypothetically replacement-level Simmons who is worth -0.071 runs per plate appearance?

What if we knocked off a full twenty defensive runs? That’s more than half Simmons’ career total. A replacement-level Simmons here would be worth -0.057 runs per plate appearance. Comparisons:

In order for Andrelton Simmons to be a replacement-level player, he’d have to hit like a pitcher, or one of the very-worst-hitting position players. This is true looking back, and this ought to be true looking forward, even as Simmons declines a bit. If Simmons hit like just another Braves starting pitcher, he’d be a borderline candidate for playing time. Instead, he gets on base almost 30% of the time and he slugs around .400. If you keep Simmons’ WAR the same, but transfer all of his fielding runs to his batting column, he’s a hitter like J.D. Drew or Josh Hamilton or Chase Utley. The difference between Simmons as a hitter and Utley as a hitter, so far, has been about equivalent to Simmons’ defensive value, not even counting his position.

So there are some answers to a fairly popular hypothetical. And while a team could justify playing a replacement-level Simmons, Braves fans don’t actually need to worry about that possibility, because his offense is far too good. Even assuming his defense declines, his offensive level is high enough that Simmons shouldn’t be any kind of problem for a long while. Rather, he’s a franchise building block.

And by the way, I was using UZR above. It’s UZR that puts Simmons at +34.9 career runs. Defensive Runs Saved puts him at +58.




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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


98 Responses to “A Replacement-Level Andrelton Simmons”

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  1. @indifferentdrum says:

    Did you consider labeling him a “defensive grand wizard,” or “grand dragon,” if you will?

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    • Antonio Bananas says:

      Supposed to be thumbs up. KKK joke, good job.

      -14 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Paul says:

        If you’re gonna make a KKK joke, it better be hilarious. This one wasn’t.

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        • Sn0wman says:

          Everyone should make KKK/Hitler/etc jokes whenever it isn’t a stretch. Rather than giving them the power of being some fearsome thing to only be spoken of in hushed terms and never to be joked about, let them be the pathetic objects of mockery that they deserve.

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        • Dwayne Carter says:

          I concur.

          Only time I ever made a Hitler reference “Like Hitler, it’s the New Orleans nightmare (…young money baby, yeah we right here, and I’mma make sure we ball ’til we bawl like tears).

          I’m just about rhyming. Only history I know is Benjamin Franklins wrapped in rubber bands or duffeled up, for the f’ of it.

          The guy under me, your comment is flawed logic. I’m no internet 5-0, just my two pennies.

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  2. Tim says:

    Don’t Braves pitchers historically hit better than pitchers in general?

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  3. Jake says:

    Do you think he gets any MVP votes?

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    • Antonio Bananas says:

      According to b-ref he’s as valuable as Matt carpenter and cards fans have been clamping for him to get votes.

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      • John C. says:

        He’ll appear on some ballots, but not finish in the top five, and probably not in the top 10. There are a lot of skeptics concerning defensive metrics, as well there should be – it’s fair to question the validity of a metric that is so inconsistent from year to year. And WAR (whichever calculation you use) is a tool/reference point, not a literal measure of wins delivered.

        And before the Barves chorus starts up, I love watching Simmons play defense. But even if you think he’s the best thing since Ozzie Smith, the Wizard of Oz never finished above 13th in MVP voting, except for 1987 when he finished second. In 1987 Smith hit .303/.392/.383, good for an OPS+ of 105 from a SS. Simmons isn’t so much better than a top-of-his-game Ozzie Smith that he can make up 20 points difference in OPS+

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        • cthabeerman says:

          As a Brave fan, I agree with everything you said. The only thing I’d add is that we’re not in the 1980s anymore, and defense is gaining traction with the people in charge of voting.

          I don’t think Simmons will post in the top-five this season, but I wouldn’t put it out of the realm of possibility as he comes into his own. If he can become an above-average hitter, I think there’s certainly an argument for it…and I think it’s an argument that will be made and accepted by many a few years down the road.

          -C

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        • Trotter76 says:

          He needs to get his hitting respectable in order to get MVP votes. Sabermatricians would say his OPS is under .700. For the newspaper stats, he’s hitting under .250. For the WAR guys, he’s not in the top 10. By comparison, you could argue that Carlos Gomez is a defensive master who also contributes mightily with the bat, and is more deserving of the MVP than Simmons.

          He’s a great player, but he’s gotta hit to be MVP.

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  4. CJ says:

    Outstanding article!! I had never thought about him like that. The very best part about him is that he is still learning as a major league hitter. He only played in the minor leagues a couple of years and was called up to the majors before his bat was totally allowed to develop. In the last 30 days he has hit .277 with a 136 wRC+. That is tremendous production from a guy who everyone thought would be a “glove only” shortstop.

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    • FDA says:

      He has hit only .000 with a wRC+ under 0 over the past three games, so his bat probably isn’t still developing.


      Your point still stands, and it’s quite possible he could hit better especially since has shown decent power and low K rates. It’s just kinda impossible not to make a joke of your “over the last 30 days” comment

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      • CJ says:

        Yeah, I thought that was over the top after I posted it. I should have just left it at….”he’s made a ton of progress with the bat as this season has progressed”.

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  5. D says:

    Curious, if you used his DRS #, could he hit like Tommy Hanson and still start?
    Guessing the is the theoretical max for worst hitting person (aside from guys like us).

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  6. Justin says:

    What if we did the same thing with a good-hit, poor-field player? Miggy Cabrera is a bad third baseman, but — considering his elite bat — how bad would he have to be to bring his overall worth down to replacement level? Has there ever been a fielder that bad in the history of baseball? Get cracking, Jeff!

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  7. RMD says:

    So… Brendan Ryan?

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    • vivalajeter says:

      When I saw the title, I honestly thought the article would be about Ryan, considering the timing.

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    • Anon21 says:

      I mean, Ryan’s not half the fielder Simmons is, but other than that, yeah.

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      • Peter Williams says:

        Check your facts! Nearly equal in the field.

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        • Anon21 says:

          I did check before I posted, and no, they aren’t “nearly equal.” Ryan’s highest UZR reading ever was 13.8 in 1170 innings in 2012. Simmons is at 23.9 in 1200 innings this year. Ryan career UZR/150 at short: 11.7. Simmons: 28.0. Ryan has logged 1 DRS every 56 innings at short. Simmons has logged one every 28 innings. (Pretty neat how that works out.)

          This is no knock on Ryan. He’s a great shortstop. It’s just that Simmons is generational. It’s not really fair to Ryan to compare them.

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        • Za says:

          Yankee fan, right?

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  8. edward says:

    can we point this analysis in the opposite direction? what superstar offensive player with average defense would generate the same runs added value as the number of runs that simmons has saved with his defense? what other player with average defensive skills has added 65.2 runs above replacement level?

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  9. Wil says:

    If Simmons doesn’t win a Gold Glove this year it’ll be the biggest crime of the award season.

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    • Wil says:

      Other than the various murders, rapes, etc.

      +20 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Antonio Bananas says:

        Not true, rapists often get put in jail and then anal raped themselves. So at least there is justice. Now, if everyone who didn’t vote for Simmons were given the same…

        -26 Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Brick says:

          If, when you refer to “everyone who didn’t vote for Simmons [being] given the same” justice you mean “not getting voted for,” then it would just be a stupid comment. However, looking at your joke I think you meant that “everyone who [doesn't] vote for Simmons” should get “put in jail and then anal raped”–not funny, making light of a serious topic (rape), and a poorly constructed refutation at best.

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        • Anon21 says:

          Also, rape for rape is not “justice.” It’s just another crime.

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        • Old Testament God says:

          Duly noted, Anon21.

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        • Graeme McDowell says:

          So, you think that Srixon golf ball ad I did is in poor taste, Brick? Apeelman could send the check back.

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        • Antonio Bananas says:

          Anthony Jeselnik makes a living off rape jokes. I apologize for being insensitive.

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      • Wobatus says:

        Kudos for clarifying your own words, but I had assumed you meant among all of the crimes having to do with the awards. Unless Murray Chass is being murdered. Or even if.

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        • Wil says:

          I’m the OP, someone else with the same name responded with the rape bit.

          I clearly meant among the crimes having to do with the awards.

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  10. Bob says:

    What Simmons “hit” like Shaq Thompson? Would this be infinity divided by zero?

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  11. leeroy says:

    idea for follow-up article: what replacement-level Barry Bonds’ defense would look like, keeping offense the same.

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  12. Antonio Bananas says:

    Can we get a table? Like “for 0.0 WAR, he could hit like X, for 2 WAR, Y” etc

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  13. fast at last says:

    comments from the player position rankings before the season.

    “Dear Jeff,

    Is Andrelton Simmons the best defensive SS of all time or just the best defensive SS of our generation?

    Sincerely,

    Every Braves Fan”

    Recently an article was posted by Jeff positing whether Simmons was having the best defensive season in the past decade. (He is by DRS)

    “Expecting truly ridiculous numbers? I could see Simmons breaking 12 runs at SS a couple of years in along career, but it makes no sense as a projection, which is what these are supposed to be.”

    Simmons at 39 DRS today.

    “Hurray. All the braves fans have come out to cheer because they’ve found a result that supports their own opinions.”

    This is in response to the win projections coming out and putting the Braves neck to neck with the Nationals when Dave Cameron said that the Braves would be closer to the Phillies than to the Nationals… hmm.

    anyways, trololololol.

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    • Tim says:

      Interestingly, by UZR Simmons isn’t even having the best defensive season this year.

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      • fast at last says:

        No! You’re right! Which is why I said DRS. Even though Simmons is having an exceptional defensive season by UZR it’s not the best ever, however we all know that UZR and DRS are not reliable in one year samples, but considering Simmons has put up the best single season DRS ever, we must take note and at least give consideration that he may be having the best defensive season since the stats were introduced.

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        • Brick says:

          “We all know that UZR and DRS are not reliable in one year samples”
          “You’re right [that Simmons does not have the best UZR]”
          “Simmons has the best DRS”
          “he may be having the best defensive season since the stats were introduced”

          Not that I disagree with the statement, but your logic(al progression) confuses me.

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        • fast at last says:

          I get you’re saying and I should have clarified, basically I’m trying to express that– even though defensive metrics are inaccurate over one season samples, Simmons is still at a mark that’s never been achieved, and there’s only so much of that you can chalk up to variance. Take away ~25% of Simmons DRS at the end of the season and he’s still probably going to be among the top of the all time DRS seasons.

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        • Tim says:

          I don’t and didn’t mean to bash Simmons here, but I don’t think people are really failing to take note of his impressive season, especially at Fangraphs. Whereas Manny Machado is having a top-ten defensive season ever by a third baseman, and so far the third-best UZR season ever and best by an infielder, and nobody even seems to be making GIFs about it.

          I’ve only seen about two games from each team this year, so I really appreciate the Simmons articles/GIFs/video and it would be nice to have some of Machado too.

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      • Mike says:

        While we can agree that Manny Machado probably should be getting more love for his defense this season, his numbers get a bit of a boost from playing 3rd base, a position where the defenses of Miguel Cabrera and Chris Johnson are taken into consideration when calculating UZR.

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      • Wil says:

        Nothing against Machado, but there is a big difference from 3rd to SS defensively.

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    • Butt-hurt Braves fans strike again! says:

      Those mean preseason projections by one guy! We sure showed them! *High fives all around*

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      • James says:

        We can’t rest until Simmons is #1 on the trade value column too! Mike Trout who?

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      • Rob says:

        Yes, because only one guy made the comment that Braves wildly overrated Simmons. It became a meme that appeared in the comments section here anytime Simmons name appeared. Obviously Braves fan were ridiculous for correctly pointing out that Andrelton Simmons was criminally underrated around these parts until just a couple months ago (I mean seriously how did he get left off the trade value series again?).

        Now that everyone has else has realized the obvious, you guys have to resort to making posts like these. Just eat the crow already.

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  14. bilbovibrator says:

    FRANCHISE BUILDING BLOCK!!!

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  15. The Humber Games says:

    Could this be an argument for defense being overvalued in WAR? Just throwing that out there

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    • The Humber Games says:

      Or to put it differently since you’re also using uzr – are the results you got here because Simmons is just that good, or are we just overvaluing defense in our metrics?

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      • Wil says:

        Your argument basically boils down to, is creating runs worth more than saving runs?

        Runs are runs and I think people have a tendency to underrate the impact of good defense on the game.

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    • Za says:

      Doubt it. The numbers match the eye test. The guy dramatically reduces the likelihood of the opposing team getting an actual hit when the ball comes his way, in a way other SS just don’t. I’ve seen good SS, but this guy’s combination of range and arm is the best I’ve seen. Better than Rey Ordoñez, and this guy’s offensive floor is obviously higher but his ceiling could be 25+ homers.

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      • Dan says:

        I’m with you, Za. I’m a Tigers fan, and I watch both Detroit and Atlanta play a lot. I can tell you that Jose Iglesias is just about the same kind of player as Rey Ordonez. Tons of range, incredible hands, and a knack for making really, really neat plays, but neither one of them is Simmons’ equal. Simmons is stronger than those guys, and he can make superb plays look relatively unremarkable, and he does it all the time. He’s the best I’ve seen in a long, long time.

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      • Phantom Stranger says:

        His arm is the biggest difference. Simmons can get outs from the SS position that no other SS in history has ever been able to duplicate on a regular basis.

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  16. JMN19 says:

    Most teams wouldn’t put up with a game plan to field replacement level players, I too would like to see what he would look like for 2 WAR, which is an average everyday player rather than a replacement player. If you lose Simmons to injury you probably bring in a replacement player for the short term, but if Simmons lost too much of his bat there has to be a consideration of an alternative in trade or development that would be considered to fill the hole.

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  17. Ozzy says:

    It’s crazy to think that, if you believe his power spike is real, the 2013 offensive version of Simmons could be his floor. Even with the ~10% jump in FB % between this year and last, it’s hard to believe that he’s a true talent .250 BABIP hitter. ZiPS puts him at .277 ROS (albeit with a drop in ISO), but if the power is real and his BABIP can creep closer to .280 over his career, we could be looking at a scary good player.

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    • Jason B says:

      “the 2013 offensive version of Simmons could be his floor.”

      I’m not sure that term (floor) means what you think it means…

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      • Rob says:

        What about this season makes you think he will regress? Beyond the fact that he just turned 24 a week ago and is still relatively inexperienced for his age (being a foreign born player who went the US juco route), he’s currently sporting a .248 BABIP and he has seemingly progressed since the ASB (124 wRC+ with more BBs than Ks).

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    • Phantom Stranger says:

      I think Simmons will eventually be a consistent 120 OPS+ hitter. Think Marco Scutaro with more power. Simmons definitely has solid power for his frame. If he only cuts down on the huge amount of pop ups he generates, he’ll eventually hit .290.

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  18. Spit Ball says:

    ” and his defensive numbers are on par with Barry Bonds‘ offensive-number porn.”-bahahahaha.

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  19. los says:

    Why do I remember Livan as a good hitter????

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  20. Za says:

    So I just looked up his numbers. Apparently Simmons, despite his 90 wRC+ has already hit fifteen homers this year?!? That’s a fantastic young player…who will be tormenting my team for the foreseeable future.

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    • Wil says:

      He has some great bat speed and he can really hit the ball far. What’s even crazier is his BABIP for this year is .249 well below league average, so this isn’t even the best he can be offensively.

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  21. Hurtlockertwo says:

    Ozzie Smith made a HOF career out of his fielding, same for Mazeroski.
    If he hits at all it’s a bonus.

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  22. tz says:

    Jeff, thanks for another great article.

    I mentioned a similar concept on an earlier post, which was about a “Personal Mendoza Line” that would be the batting average a player would have to hit to be at the replacement level:

    http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/david-dejesus-alex-rios-and-perception/

    It’s funny that Simmons’ “Offense Needed to be Replacement Level” projects to be about the same as Mario Mendoza (allowing for 10 DRS of regression)

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  23. JakeVic says:

    “Andrelton Simmons is a defensive king of the wizards, or president of the wizards, or whatever, the head wizard through which all other prospective wizards must go.”

    Finally a sentence that does Simmons skills justice.

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  24. awalnoha says:

    I’m a little late to the party but can I just say the play brings tears to my eyes it is so good. It’s like watching a good 3B do that on bunt but that was all the way out on the edge of the grass. He was paying really deep too.

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  25. fjrobinson44 says:

    I don’t like this exercise. We already had two guys in the lineup hit like pitchers this season. Thank goodness for Jordan Schafer.

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  26. Matt says:

    It would be fun to do the inverse of the article and see how bad Miguel Cabrera would have to be on defense to be replacement level. Is that level of defense even possible?

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  27. Jonathan says:

    I would like to see a comparison with Zach Cozart. Both hit about the same and it’s hard for me to believe Simmons’s UZR is 18 higher than Cozart’s.

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