Andrelton Simmons is solid with the glove. He makes all the plays he should. Andrelton Simmons is spectacular. You should see his arm. Really, though, Andrelton Simmons is spectacularly solid.
Growing up, he and his family were Braves fans in the Dutch Caribbean island of Curacao. Andruw Jones, Curacao’s biggest breakthrough star — sorry Hensley Meulens — pretty much made everyone on the island a Braves fan. So when it was time for Simmons to take his game to the next step, it could have been as easy as playing some ball in the Dominican Republic and signing with the team as an international free agent. “No, no” laughed Simmons, “my mom would not have been happy.” His mother made clear that college was the next step.
After a little more than a half season at Western Oklahoma State College, a second-division junior college, Simmons was drafted by the Braves in the second round as a two-way player that might end up being an asset on the mound. Though he thinks he still has a good slider — “Every time we get into extra innings, I’m like hey Fredi I’m ready!” — Simmons has made his mark as a shortstop.
And he’s made that mark by making all the plays that he is ‘supposed’ to make. According to Baseball Info Solutions’ Plus/Minus data, Simmons has only failed to make a play that 80% or more shortstops make one time in 170 opportunities. You can see the leaderboard here in Mark Simon’s excellent article from last week. Simmons raised an eye at that stat, but he was definitive about his job as a shortstop: “I feel like as a shortstop I have to make all the plays. Not just try to make all the plays. It’s my job to make all the plays.”
If you were going to build a prototype shortstop, he might have the brilliance of an Ozzie Smith and the steadiness of an Omar Vizquel. After all, Ozzie was the wizard, but he also ended up ninth all time in errors by a shortstop. Vizquel made 100 fewer errors. When you hear Simmons say “I — have — to make the routine plays, I feel like that’s my job,” you can hear a little Vizquel in him. But he does superlative things with the glove, too.
When you bring up the play, Simmons says “God blessed me with some arm strength.” You might notice that Simmons goes over the top on his throws — Vizquel, and many many other middle infielders usually go sidearm. Simmons says that he goes over the top if he has the time, just because he has more strength that way. If he is in the hole, and he’s got distance to cover, he feels stronger that way.
That arm strength allows Simmons to position himself deeper in the hole than many shortstops, but it’s not the arm strength alone. “Sometimes I feel like I play more in the hole because I feel like going to my left side, I still have a good chance to get that guy,” Simmons said, adding that since he is comfortable there because he has his “arm protecting that hole,” he can still make the play from his deeper position. Baseball Info Solutions has Simmons +14 on balls hit to his right and +7 on balls hit to his left. This could highlight the fact that his positioning puts him in a great position to vacuum in balls hit to the hole, while his comfort going left still allows him to be a bonus up the middle.
The coaching staff hands out scouting reports at the beginning of each series, but Simmons is largely responsible for his own positioning. Once the game starts, he’ll only look to the bench in tight moments or perhaps when a pinch-hitter is at the plate. Once the game is on? “I just read the swings, and I get a little better as each series goes on.” As with Brandon Crawford, Simmons does credit familiarity with his pitchers, too: “playing behind the pitcher a couple times… you already know the outcome with some hitters.”
It seems like Simmons knows how to get the most of his range and showcases his best asset in his arm. He studies film to make sure his mechanics are right in the field — “If I don’t get to a ball, I try to watch and see how I could have done better.” But there’s also a quickness that allows him to react on the fly. There was this play against the Reds, where they had Shin-Soo Choo picked off. The throw from Freddie Freeman came in a bit wide:
To listen to Simmons explain the feat, you might think nothing exciting happened: “After I caught the ball, I was like ‘Okay, I’m falling over, I can’t wait for him to slide, I can’t stop, my body is going to fall.’… I might as well try, so I thought about coming all the way around, but thought his leg would have gone under my arm, so I thought I would just go between my legs, and hopefully he’ll slide into it, and he did.” No biggie, just a between-the-legs-falling-over-swipe-tag.
Maybe the prognosticators that wondered about his range undervalued his quickness by focusing on his speed. “I definitely feel quicker than I am fast,” Simmons admits. That’s why stealing bases is still “a work in progress” as Simmons puts it. Even if he did try to steal a lot of bases one year in the minors (26, in High-A), he was just doing that to see where he was. With this Braves team, he feels he doesn’t have to steal much anyway. In any case, he’s an asset on the basepaths if not a Jose Reyes with the wheels, as his positive baserunning numbers can attest.
The quickness also helps him at the plate — where his wrists showcase it. Simmons is in the top 20 in contact rate this year.
He’d like to add some power, and think it will come naturally. “I’m still growing — I feel like I just hit puberty actually. I’m getting stronger, and I’m learning a lot of stuff with these guys around me here.” In a long hitting session during a rainout last week, Justin Upton had a tip for him — no surprise, because according to Simmons the Braves talk to each other often about hitting. “He said I was moving too quick to the ball,” Simmons said, and he worked on slowing down his swing that day. The next day he hit two doubles and went on to have a great series in Cincinnati, including his first two-homer game.
The change must have been subtle. On the left is a swing on a single against lefty Gio Gonzalez on April 30th. On the right is one of his two doubles against lefty Jon Niese on May 5th, the day after the rainout hitting session.
These are but two swings, so maybe it’s not surprising if we don’t see anything. Either way, Simmons says this change is helping him see breaking stuff better in particular. Maybe he’s just waiting longer to swing.
Simmons has already gone far. His 2012 season was the 27th-best by a rookie shortstop of the free agency era by fWAR, and he only went to the plate 182 times. His fielding value in his freshman effort was tied for ninth in that same sample, tied with Rey Ordonez and Edgar Renteria in their first seasons. His defense passes the smell, eye and spreadsheet tests. He’s building his offense.
“I’ve done everything I dreamed of growing up,” the shortstop said when we talked about playing with Andruw Jones in the WBC and Chipper Jones last year on the Braves. Studying his game has helped him take the most advantage of his athletic gifts. Thanks to the values instilled in him by his mother, and this effort, Simmons has become a solid shortstop. Spectacularly solid even.