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?
That’s pretty hard to b-
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:
- Fernando Valenzuela, -0.086
- Livan Hernandez, -0.086
- Tom Seaver, -0.085
- Steve Carlton, -0.078
- Mario Mendoza, -0.073
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:
- Danny Espinosa, -0.087
- Laynce Nix, -0.083
- Josh Thole, -0.082
- Cesar Izturis, -0.081
- Jimmy Paredes, -0.081
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:
- Jeff Mathis, -0.059
- Omar Quintanilla, -0.057
- Bob Forsch, -0.057
- Dann Bilardello, -0.056
- Peter Bergeron, -0.055
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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