Only three NL teams have a higher BABIP against than the Braves, a number which would be even worse if not for a top notch defensive outfield. Martin Prado, Michael Bourn, and Jason Heyward are all plus defenders in the outfield, but the Braves have struggled tremendously on the defensive front in the infield. Dan Uggla is annually one of the worst defensive second baseman in the league, Chipper Jones and Juan Francisco are both below average in the field, Freddie Freeman maintains a solid glove but very limited range, and Tyler Pastornicky has been the worst defensive shortstop based on pretty much every metric.
To help the team’s poor defense and struggling run prevention, the Braves are calling up shortstop Andrelton Simmons to replace Pastornicky, who has subsequently been demoted to triple-A. Keith Law stated yesterday on twitter that Simmons has an 80 arm and 80 defense. Simmons pitched in college and there was still a reasonable chance that he ended up as a professional pitcher when he was drafted in the second round in 2010, but his skills at shortstop made him too valuable to be moved to the mound. The Braves have developed some very good defensive shortstops over the past number of years, such as Elvis Andrus and Yunel Escobar, but Simmons may already be a better defender than both.
In spring, Simmons pushed Pastornicky for the starting job, but the team eventually decided to give the position to the player who had experience in the upper minors. Pastornicky hit well last season across double-A and triple-A while Simmons only reached high-A last season. He could have held onto the starting job if he hit like a league average shortstop, even his troublesome defense. However, his 67 wRC+ was far too underwhelming to continue playing him in combination with such poor defense. Simmons likely will not hit much better, but his defense will add value where Pastornicky was hurting the team most.
Even though he is not expected to produce much at the plate, Simmons did hit well enough to warrant the call, batting .292/.372/.421 with three homers, 10 steals in 12 chances, and 20 walks to 20 strikeouts in 200 double-A Mississippi plate appearances. The power and speed will likely diminish in the majors, along with the dead even BB/K rate, but an empty average and relatively consistent contact should allow him to hit enough to warrant every day play.
The decision to let Simmons get at least some experience at double-A was still the correct one. Even if the Braves felt as if Simmons was the best player at that time, pushing him all the way through the minors without at least some experience in the upper minors could have proven to be detrimental to his development. Add in the fact that Pastornicky hit well enough to warrant a shot, and the decision to start the season with him rather than Simmons did make sense. What this eventually means for Pastornicky is yet to be determined. Many already saw him as a utility type, and if Simmons excels in the starting role then that may indeed be where Pastornicky ends up.
The people most happy about this move are likely the Braves’ pitchers. The Braves do not have the ground ball heavy staff that they have had over the past few seasons, but they still have the number 12 ground ball rate in the game. The addition of an 80 defender over arguably the worst defensive player at the game’s most important position is about as big of an improvement a team can hope to make from an in house solution. And who knows, if the Braves end up in a Darnell McDonald vs. Chris Davis type situation, at least they can turn to a 98mph heater to finish the game.