Andrelton and Andruw and Defense and Offense

Andrelton Simmons and Andruw Jones have a few things in common: they grew up in Curacao, they came up with the Atlanta Braves, they are superlative up-the-middle defenders with good power for their position but some other offensive flaws, and their names both start with “Andr.” I think that the final similarity between the two is this: they help demonstrate just how hard it is for many fans to intuit that one win on offense is equal to one win on defense.

For Simmons, this can be shown by his relative absence in conversations about the league MVP. This year, Simmons’s preternatural play at short has inspired any number of articles exploring whether he’s having the best defensive season ever. But even so, he hasn’t come in for much MVP consideration, which is a bit intuitively bizarre — if a player were having the best offensive season ever, there would be no question of MVP buzz.

(Simmons is only 14th in the league in WAR at 4.3, but that’s partly because UZR likes his defense less than DRS — he has 41 DRS and “only” 31.1 UZR. In any event, he leads the Braves in WAR, and the Braves lead the league in wins, so there’s no question that he has been “valuable.”)

Similarly, Andruw Jones’s career is dismissed by many baseball fans as falling below the standards for Hall of Fame induction. But many of those same fans would argue that Vladimir Guerrero, who retired this week, would merit induction. The comparison is instructive: they were Grade-A prospects in the minor leagues at the same time, they both came up in 1996, and while Guerrero had incredible offense and flawed defense with a strong arm, Jones had incredible defense and flawed offense with strong power. But Jones was substantially more valuable than Guerrero over the course of their respective careers, by 11.2 WAR.

During his career, Jones was often the subject of articles similar to the ones that have been written about Simmons this season, speculating about whether he was one of the best defensive center fielders of all time. That did not do much for his Hall of Fame case, even though I think he would have sailed in if he were one of the best offensive center fielders of all time. (Mike Piazza, the greatest offensive catcher of all time, has 4.2 fewer WAR than Jones.)

A run prevented on defense is equal to a run created on offense. This equation is fundamental to our understanding of WAR. But it isn’t intuitive. It’s like the old schoolyard question about which is heavier, a pound of feathers or a pound of lead.

On the other hand, great defense may have created unrealistic expectations for Jones, who had trouble satisfying Atlanta fans who couldn’t grasp why a guy who could field like Willie Mays couldn’t learn to hit like Willie Mays. It didn’t work that way for Atlanta’s other great Jones, Chipper who came up four years after the retirement of the greatest third baseman of all time. Chipper Jones hit nearly as well as Mike Schmidt, but couldn’t hold Schmidt’s jock in the field. Fans didn’t mind Chipper’s defensive deficiencies nearly as much as they minded Andruw’s offensive deficiencies.

In a way, Simmons has been lucky: the consensus greatest defensive shortstop ever isn’t Honus Wagner or Alex Rodriguez, it’s Ozzie Smith, so the offensive bar is comparatively lower. Ozzie took a lot more walks than Andrelton has, but Andrelton has greater power, and his 2013 batting line of .246/.295/.386 looks pretty vintage for a shortstop. (Andrelton’s .299 wOBA this year is six points lower than Ozzie’s career .305 wOBA.) If the 24-year old can improve his walks, he’ll have no problem hitting as well as Ozzie did.

If he does that, he will not just be the best defensive player in the league. He might be the best player, period.



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Alex is a writer for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times, and is a product manager for The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @alexremington.


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jpomrenke
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jpomrenke
3 years 10 days ago

I said it earlier this year: There are two players in my lifetime who I have paid actual cash money to watch play defense: Ozzie Smith and Andruw Jones. Andrelton Simmons will soon be the third player to join that list.

Blasphemous
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Blasphemous
3 years 10 days ago

Omar Vizquel. You got such a warm and comfortable feeling every time the ball was hit his way..

Hobbes
Guest
Hobbes
3 years 9 days ago

this. Omar was absolutely brilliant

AA
Guest
AA
3 years 8 days ago

Vizquel gets unfairly maligned in the way Tim Raines does. Omar played a chunk of his career with Ozzie, and the rest right after Ozzie, so people remember him as second best. Same as Raines with Rickey. Omar was amazing, and incredibly sure handed for a guy who was flashy.

TKDC
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TKDC
3 years 10 days ago

Nice article, though I think the knock on Andruw is that he flamed out at such an early age. If he had the exact same career, but started five years later, I think he’d be a hall of famer. That’s pretty stupid.

Pirates Hurdles
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Pirates Hurdles
3 years 10 days ago

This. The complete collapse and mockery at the end of his career was so prolonged that its hard to see writers voting for him (despite his worthy credentials). Many players have collapsed at the end, but its usually a short lived fall. I raise the question whether Andruw would be the 1st US born player to make the HOF and play professionally in Japan.

AA
Guest
AA
3 years 8 days ago

The other knock on Andruw is his truly awful 2008 season with the Dodgers, one of the historic teams in a huge market. He just didn’t seem to care and was historically bad. Don’t think that won’t affect things.

IZZY2112
Member
IZZY2112
3 years 10 days ago

In the context of the Hall of Fame, defense is often undervalued unless the player is particularly memorable. I don’t think voters will see an adequately large difference between the defensive contributions of Jones vs. guys like Griffey, Beltran, Edmonds, etc.

How many guys who didn’t play SS are in the HOF because of there defense? Brooks Robinson, Bill Mazeroski. Not that many besides them.

The defensive contributions of guys like Keith Hernandez, John Olerud, Willie Randolph, Buddy Bell, Robin Ventura, Graig Nettles, and Kenny Lofton all have been ignored by the voters. It’s just what happens. People often see defense as a ternary thing. Good, Average, Bad. They often ignore bad defense too.

DSC
Guest
DSC
3 years 10 days ago

Thing is, 1B is any easy position if you can move your feet, really. A run prevented by a good D play isn’t equal to a run scored, as a game starts 0-0. 27 outs, yet often there are 10 K’s, so only 17 outs for defenders to deal with at all. A defender can succeed simply because no balls were hit to him.

Yet for a hitter, you have to bat. There is no hiding. You either succeed, or fail. You get on, you get XBH, you move along another runner, or you do none of the above and get an F, or F- if you strike out.

tyke
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tyke
3 years 10 days ago

“often there are 10 K’s, so only 17 outs for defenders to deal with at all”

Darvish only pitches every 5 days, bro

Wil
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Wil
3 years 9 days ago

Uhh and yet this comes from the article DSC.

“A run prevented on defense is equal to a run created on offense. “

Doug Lampert
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Doug Lampert
3 years 9 days ago

Ultimately, if a team is VERY good at preventing runs, enough so that it can be considered to be playing in a lower scoring run enviroment, this has a bigger effect on wins than the same number of extra runs scored.

In the extreme, allow roughly 670 runs less than average and you go 162-0, score roughly 670 more runs than average, and your pythagorean expectation is something like 130-32.

So if one is more valuable, it’s runs prevented.

koolherc
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koolherc
3 years 9 days ago

Doug Lampert, please say more.

RC
Member
Member
RC
3 years 9 days ago

“Yet for a hitter, you have to bat. There is no hiding.”

While this is true, if you are the worst hitter ever you are probably only going to impact 4 to 5 at bats a game.

If a terrible fielder has a bad inning, he can easily impact 3 to 4 at bats in an INNING (looking at you Dan Uggla).

AA
Guest
AA
3 years 8 days ago

Keith Hernandez was something different. The only reason he wasn’t a Gold Glove player at another position is because he was left-handed.

AA
Guest
AA
3 years 8 days ago

Ozzie is in for his defense. But he’s the best defensive player in history.

Bronnt
Member
Bronnt
3 years 10 days ago

A few points:

1) Defense is worth less than offense, which I can say without diminishing the fact that defense is a significant component of overall value. The most valuable offensive season ever means that a guy is producing 130ish runs above average. When we say that Andrelton is having possibly the best defensive season ever, that means he might be worth about 45 runs above average. That’s a significant discrepancy. It doesn’t mean Andrelton isn’t extremely valuable, and that guys should NEVER win MVPs on the strength of their defense, but the simple math says that an all-bat no-glove player can produce more value than an all-glove no-bat player.

2) When we say Andrelton is having the best defensive season ever, we’re talking about DRS. That’s only been around since about 2002. There is Total Zone, which we can use before that, but…

3) Part of the defensive numbers for Andruw’s career are Total Zone. I don’t even know how that works-there’s no batted ball data going back to 1999. What is it measuring? How the heck can we know if Andruw saved 36 runs in 1999, or if he saved only 25? Those numbers feel like they should be estimates, at best.

4) Even the numbers that are really good, there’s still some degree of measurement error. Andrelton Simmons has either saved 41 runs this season, or he’s saved closer to 24. Both metrics use the same batted ball data, they’re pulling from the same sample, and they pop out results that differ by 40%. We know Simmons is elite, that he makes many more plays than the average shortstop will, but we don’t have an exact figure. The fact is that we use zones, which will treat all balls in a zone as the same regardless where they are within that zone. They’re the best we have, but they’re not perfect. Sure, we’re confident about his talent level, but how certain are we of his exact defensive value? Less confident than we are about his exact offensive value, which is fairly average for a shortstop, but below average overall.

Travis L
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Travis L
3 years 10 days ago

I think your point 1 actually indicates that the spread of defensive run prevention is much more significant than offensive run creation. However, I would want to see the distribution of values before making strong conclusions — it’s possible that while the spread is huge, the majority of hitters are between 40-90 runs created, while defense seems to span +15 to -15. That makes it a bit closer.

Your points 2-4 are valid, but boil down to the difficulty we still have in measuring defense.

I agree with you overall, but think that WAR might be a better tool to use instead of runs created/saved because it makes a comparison a little more valid.

Urban Shocker
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Urban Shocker
3 years 9 days ago

completely agree. It’s hard to make the defensive case for post-season hardware when the relevant stats don’t even agree about how good the player is.

In any rate, even at Andruw’s peak, he was always the king of striking out on the slider away, so once that bat speed inevitably slowed down, he quite literally couldn’t hit anything. Sigh. what a joy he was to watch in the OF. He was my second favorite Brave on those teams (Maddux first, duh).

Jonathan
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Jonathan
3 years 10 days ago

The other issue is that while a defensive run saved is equal to an offensive run created in a vacuum, baseball isn’t played in a vacuum. The numbers seem to indicate that the maximum impact you can make on the field falls well short of what can be done at the plate. Simmons’ or Machado’s incredible performance of 30+ runs above average falls well short of the 50+ runs above average elite hitters can give you, not to mention that to even get that high on defense to begin with you have to play where you would get a nice positional bump, like short or center or third.

While over a lengthy career you can argue that a special player can use defense value to close the gap with the hall of fame, in any single season it’s difficult to compete with the best offensive years. I doubt Simmons gets any real MVP consideration without hitting at least a little.

TKDC
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TKDC
3 years 10 days ago

Is 15 homers not “hitting at least a little”?

I get your point, but I think it is a bit of a straw man. Nobody is making the argument you seem to be refuting. I think the only point the author is trying to make is that usually the best player on the team with the most wins in the league gets at least some chatter about the MVP. Simmons hasn’t, and I would be surprised if the top Brave in the MVP voting is not Freddie Freeman.

DSC
Guest
DSC
3 years 10 days ago

Easy to explain. A game starts 0-0. It doesn’t take much effort to keep it at 0-0. A player who hits, like Vlad, and is great at it, can only rely on himself. He has to succeed, nobody else can do anything to help him make contact. A defender, however, has teammates. If you miss it someone else might get it. And of course a good pitcher makes it so easy to be a decent defender. And Atlanta had an awful lot of good pitchers and other players.

I saw a game when Jones was young. One play, a simple pop up to straight center, easy catch, so easy. He dropped it, then made a worse mess of it. The runner got to second easily. The scorer gave the batter a double, no errors to Jones. When you’ve got a good reputation as a defender, you get a lot of freebies like that. Guerrero, conversely, who was quite a good defender in his own right, was not thought of as highly so got worse defensive scores to reflect that bias. One game in the same year he bobbled a single, the runner stayed at 1st but Vlad got an error anyway, although nothing happened. Pure bias coming into play.

Bronnt
Member
Bronnt
3 years 10 days ago

That’s a specious argument. The Braves’ pitching had absolutely nothing to do with how much range Andruw Jones had. Heck, you might even think that if he’d had WORSE pitching, he’d have had more opportunities to use his range in centerfield, get to more balls, and create more outs. In the end it probably evens out to the extent that it doesn’t matter, but the idea that the Braves’ pitching made him look good? I don’t see how that’s possible, and the inverse is much more likely-that Andruw made the Braves’ pitching look good. The Braves’ team ERA was lower than their FIP EVERY SINGLE YEAR from 1998, his first year playing full time in center, until his last year with Atlanta, 2007. In 2008, when he signed with the Dodgers…their FIP was lower than their ERA.

Your anecdotal evidence tells us nothing, except that (probably) the greatest centerfielder in history can occasionally screw up, and that other guys can also screw up.

Harry
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Harry
3 years 10 days ago

I dont think you can attribute the Braves staff have an ERA lower than their FIP to Andruw Jones’s D in CF. Let’s not forget that they had 3 HOF caliber pitchers throwing then. Their ERA was lower than their FIP, bc they were not striking out a ton of batters, but rellied on pitch location movement to get batters out, keeping their BABIP lower than league average for pitchers. Really, had very little to do with Jones…

ned
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ned
3 years 10 days ago

A pitcher who outperforms his FIP in ERA would of course have a boost from excellent defense. It wouldn’t be the ONLY reason – the other reasons you mention are valid as well, along with an excellent bullpen to strand runners, etc. But the hits Andruw was robbing were, unlike Simmons, not all singles. To think that pitchers get very little benefit from a CF who consistently took away extra base hits is not correct.

Wil
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Wil
3 years 9 days ago

Ned, it can also be more complex than that. For instance because FIP is calculated with K/9, BB/9 and HR/9 guys like Maddux who don’t strike out guys at a huge clip (Maddux averaged around 6 k per 9, pretty average)their FIP is usually going to lower than their ERA.

Whether it’s a product of the defense lowering his ERA in the first place, I couldn’t say. I am sure it does have some effect however good sinker ballers and guys who induce contact to make outs are almost always going to outperform peripherals like FIP. Just look at Tim Hudson, he has consistently done so and he hasn’t always had the best D behind in in Atlanta.

AA
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AA
3 years 8 days ago

Indeed, the Braves’ staff was anchored by 2 GB guys – Maddux and Glavine. Even fewer chances.

TKDC
Guest
TKDC
3 years 10 days ago

This is just dumb. First, while this is possible, your inability to make a coherent argument leads me to doubt your ability to remember something that happened over 10 years ago. Second, Andruw Jones was an otherworldly defensive center fielder and arguments to the contrary are quite simply retarded.

Also, Guerrero got a lot of errors throwing the ball 15 feet over the catcher’s head into the stands. Jones got a lot of assists realizing the runner was going to score and instead nabbing the runner going to third. In every way, Jones was a superb defensive player. He probably dropped 4-5 easy fly balls in his whole career. He also caught dozens of balls each year that pretty much no other center fielder would. Do the math.

The Royal We?
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The Royal We?
3 years 9 days ago

and the real reason for the ridiculous argument finally comes out.

bilbovibrator
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bilbovibrator
3 years 9 days ago

Yeah the game starts with a tied score. Defense just keeps it the same, you need offense to WIN. In high pressure situations run prevention can give you the edge but this is just a manipulation of what the two offenses provided in runs.

Harold Reynolds
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Harold Reynolds
3 years 10 days ago

If only Andruw had a few more 100RBI seasons…

Feeding the Abscess
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Feeding the Abscess
3 years 10 days ago

People really complained about Andruw Jones’ offense? From 1997-2006, he triple slashed .268/.346/.506, good for a wRC+ of 117. And he topped 124 wRC+ four times. Carlos Beltran put up .291/.355/.492 for a wRC+ of 114 during that same time. Carlos Lee, .286/.340/.495, 112 wRC+, and he was an all-bat corner OF. Ichiro put up a 116 wRC+. What more do they want? An apology for not being Barry Bonds?

Bronnt
Member
Bronnt
3 years 10 days ago

The complaints about Andruw Jones come down to two things. The first is that he had a wRC+ of 113, 112, and 127 in his age 21, 22, and 23 seasons. People expect guys who are already hitting that well so young to turn into absolute monsters in their prime. He did hit really well, but he hovered around that 120 mark, with one truly disappointing year (by his standards) when he had a 97 wRC+ in 2001.

The other part of it is that fans were obsessed with his batting average. They thought a speedy outfielder should always be hitting around .300, and his line of around .268 looked disappointing. There wasn’t a great deal of appreciation at the time for his above average walk rate, which translated to some good OBPs even in an offensive era. Also, frankly, the comparisons with Willie Mays did him no favors-he played like Mays on defense, but people wanted him to hit like Mays also, which was a ridiculous expectation.

AA
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AA
3 years 8 days ago

Again, 2008 may have been the thing that really killed his career.

Phantom Stranger
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Phantom Stranger
3 years 10 days ago

Andruw Jones in his prime was the best defensive CF I ever saw play and I’ve watched a lot of baseball across both leagues. Unfortunately that defensive prime was cut short by the additional weight he kept gaining, I guess to hit all those homers as he started hitting free agency.

AA
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AA
3 years 8 days ago

Jones always had big power. The weight gain was a lack of discipline, and robbed him of speed. Despite this, he was still so incredibly gifted with his arm, instincts and positioning, he could still play defense.

jh
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jh
3 years 10 days ago

This article is based on a flawed premise, namely that great defense is as valuable as great offense:
“This year, Simmons’s preternatural play at short has inspired any number of articles exploring whether he’s having the best defensive season ever. But even so, he hasn’t come in for much MVP consideration, which is a bit intuitively bizarre — if a player were having the best offensive season ever, there would be no question of MVP buzz.”
But defense isn’t as valuable as offense. By Fangraph’s own numbers: the greatest defensive seasons in recent history put up by Machado and Andrelton Simmons are worth a grand total of 30-35 runs. To put that in perspective, hitters like Hunter Pence, Jayson Werth, and Edwin Encarnacion put up that much value in offense (about 33 Offensive runs each). Werth is only 10th in offensive value, so essentially the numbers say that the best defensive season anyone can reliably quantify is worth about the 10th-best offensive season in a given year. So, conclusion: defense isn’t as valuable as offense; being the best defensive player in a season doesn’t really put you in the MVP-type category unless it is paired with substantial offensive value (this year, about 20-30 runs of offense). It’s still an important part of the game, probably an undervalued skill, and a lot of fun to watch, though.

Mekons5
Guest
Mekons5
3 years 10 days ago

I think the Willie Mays comparison is apt. I grew up a Braves fan back in the 60s and got to see Willie play a few times and Andruw was the closest I ever saw to him. But even as big an Andruw fan as I was, I kept expecting him to be Willie at the plate. Which is stupid. But even I, a rabid Braves fan, fell for the false comparison. He was actually a very, very good hitter, but Willie was one of the greatest hitters of all time.

Andrelton really only has Ozzie as a serious comparison, and the bar is nowhere near as high. If he continues to play like this for 12 or 15 more years, he will be HOF. I think the numbers say Andruw belongs there too, but he is just held to an impossible standard. Left fielders don’t get compared to Ted Williams, but Andruw is always going to be thought of along with Willie and he comes up short, as does every other CF since Willie.

Echo Echo Echo....
Guest
Echo Echo Echo....
3 years 10 days ago

Didn’t I just read this in an article somewhere?

Dwayne Carter
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Dwayne Carter
3 years 10 days ago

Andruw’s weight gain was the same year the amphetamine ban started, I believe. I would complain about the MLB’s drug policy (arbitrary, knee-jerk, integrity of the game), but in the context of the United States drug laws, it’s a flawless document.

Feeding the Abscess
Guest
Feeding the Abscess
3 years 10 days ago

He had been putting on weight for a few years prior to 2008. Here’s a pic from 2006, hardly the body of Yasiel Puig:

Wil
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Wil
3 years 9 days ago

It looks more like he started to age and simply didn’t adjust and start putting in the harder work it requires to stay in shape as you get older.

Antonio Bananas
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Antonio Bananas
3 years 10 days ago

I don’t get how you can deny Andruw as a hall of famer. If he were a snubbed defensive guy, maybe. But he had what? 10 straight gold gloves? Well over 400 home runs? You don’t need sabermetrics to tell you he was great.

tz
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tz
3 years 10 days ago

If only he had retired at age 30 because of glaucoma….

Adam G
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Adam G
3 years 9 days ago

Or died in a plane crash or lost a limb to a land mine or insert disastrous career ending event.

I met Andruw Jones once at an autograph session towards the end of his time in Atlanta. He looked bad. And sad. He didn’t act like he wanted to be around the fans, he never smiled, and he had a group of people standing around him coddling him at all times. I was not impressed.

I’m a life long Braves fan, and I would rather be sitting at a table with Dale Murphy, Jeff Francouer, or Otis Nixon (not because he’s nice, but just because he’s Otis Nixon) than Andruw Jones. I think that’s another reason no one will worry about him getting snubbed by the HOF. He came across as extremely talented, extremely lazy, and ungrateful for the amazing career he did/could have had.

Adam G
Guest
Adam G
3 years 9 days ago

In a sense you are right, and I thank you for helping me down off my high horse. But I still disagree in general. You don’t earn a reputation as being lazy over the course of a long career if it isn’t true. No one has ever complained about Pujols being lazy. And I’ve had enough interaction with players to know that some are happy to be there, and some are just simply there.

Andruw Jones had multiple episodes with Bobby Cox, the pentultimate players-manager. If Cox thought you were lazy, it’s probably because you were. As a manager, there was no other guy in the dugout that would give you as many chances as Bobby Cox. Some might call it lazy, or immature, or easy going, or whatever. But the bottom line is that Andruw Jones was not on the same level mentally as Pujols/Jeter/Rose/etc. He did not “act” like a HOFer, and that will always plague him.

Twon2012
Guest
Twon2012
3 years 9 days ago

This may not be “statty” enough to post here but when I consider guys for the HOF I always think; “How would his plaque read?” If it takes more than a few sentences to describe a guy’s career… he’s probably not good enough.

Andruw Jones: Widely considered the best defensive center fielder of his era, he won 10 consecutive gold gloves from 1998-2007 while also hitting 25 or more HR in each those years. Over those 10 years he was top 3 in OF put-outs and CF assists every year. Totaling 434 HR in his career, he hit 30 or more HR 7 times, and his 51 HR led the league in in 2005. He is also the youngest player to hit a home run in the World Series, hitting two in his first two WS at-bats at age 19 in the 1996 Series.

Preston
Guest
Preston
3 years 9 days ago

Guerrero and Jones is an interesting comparison, they line up on opposite ends of the defensive spectrum Jones has +281 runs and Guerrero has -115. Obviously I believe the numbers enough to know that Jones was a great defensive player and Guerrero was below average but I’m not entirely prepared to say these numbers are reliable enough to bridge the gap between a .318/.379/.553 batting line and a .254/.337/.486 line in roughly the same number of PAs. Maybe defensive stats are good enough or will be good enough, but the offensive numbers are way more reliable at this point. So while I get that a run saved on defense equals a run gained at the plate, I don’t think the way that we count the two are equally accurate and valid. That said Andruw Jones is still a HOFer in my book (as is Vlad).

ssj316
Guest
ssj316
3 years 9 days ago

The issue I have is that people do not seriously consider defense (for HOF purposes) for players who are already VERY GOOD offensive players. Even if you argue that offensive contributions matter more than defensive contributions, most of these borderline candidates (Jones, Edmonds, Rolen) aren’t defense-only players. Their offensive statistics alone make them very good players. It’s hard to argue that being one of the best defenders of your generation doesn’t bump you from “hall of very good” to “hall of fame.”

bilbovibrator
Guest
bilbovibrator
3 years 9 days ago

“A run prevented on defense is equal to a run created on offense.” Don’t agree.
You cant technically win a game with run prevention, you have to score to win.
All defense does is try to inhibit the decisive factor of winning(scoring runs) of the other team.

jdbolick
Member
Member
3 years 8 days ago

There’s also an inherent bias against defense because it’s reactive instead of active. Pitchers and hitters initiate, whereas fielders may only impact the play if the ball comes their way.

Roy J
Guest
Roy J
3 years 7 days ago

Andruw Jones is certainly the greatest defensive center fielder I’ve ever seen play. And yes, despite the fact that he’s flamed out after 10 years with the Braves, you could still argue that he might be the greatest defensive player ever. That’s how good he was for 10 years.

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