The Hit-Maker and the Hit-Taker

Being a Mariners fan, I’m spoiled by the fact that I get to watch Brendan Ryan play defense almost every day. I’m anti-spoiled by the fact that I also have to watch Brendan Ryan play offense almost every day, but memories of watching Yuniesky Betancourt in the field are still fresh in my brain, and it’s difficult for me to imagine that there’s a better defensive shortstop than Ryan currently in the major leagues. I don’t even know what such a shortstop would look like; seems to me that, if there’s a fieldable ball in play, Ryan will turn it into an out or two, provided it’s somewhere within screaming distance of his starting position.

Ryan, absolutely, is one of the best. Some of the numbers suggest that he is indeed the very best. Even ignoring the numbers, his ability is readily evident to the casual observer. If there’s one guy who’s better, though, he plays in Atlanta. And he isn’t Tyler Pastornicky.

I don’t know if Andrelton Simmons is a better defensive shortstop than Ryan is, but I’m most open to that argument. Simmons is just a rookie, a 23-year-old with all of 39 games of big-league experience, but he came with a reputation and he’s most certainly backed it up when he’s had the chance. Simmons was billed this past spring as an unbelievable defender. Turns out he’s an unbelievable defender who can also hit a little bit, which is better than the hype.

And it’s interesting that Simmons has broken out in the same season in which Pastornicky blew an opportunity. I remember writing in spring about the Braves’ shortstop competition between Simmons and Pastornicky, and at that point Simmons was the underdog, justifiably. He held on later into camp than people thought that he would before the Braves ultimately went with Pastornicky to start. Pastornicky lost the job, in large part because he didn’t hit, and Simmons took over the job until he got injured, but this post doesn’t have anything to do with their respective bats. This is all about the opposite extremes of their defensive contributions.

Forewarning: this post uses advanced defensive metrics based on very small samples. I’m more inclined to trust infielder ratings than outfielder ratings, but I’m not trying to prove any specific numbers. The metrics are used to illustrate a simpler point: Simmons has been an awesome defender, and Pastornicky was a very unpleasant defender. You can either believe the argument or not, depending on how you feel about the metrics. I really don’t care what you believe. I am not that controlling. I don’t even know you!

Respective performances:


Starts: 40
UZR: -12
DRS: -16


Starts: 39
UZR: +8
DRS: +15

Just based on raw, unprocessed UZR, there’s been a 20-run difference between Pastornicky and Simmons in the field. Based on DRS, there’s been a 20-run difference, plus another 11 runs. Those would be very large gaps over a full season of play. Combined, Pastornicky and Simmons haven’t even played 700 innings. Whenever you see extreme performances like this, you should automatically regress the numbers a little bit in your head. You can regress the crap out of these numbers and the differences are still significant.

As another exercise to try to support the same conclusion, why don’t we take a look at the Braves’ team BABIP allowed with Pastornicky and Simmons in the field? There’s noise in this data, but the Braves’ roster outside of shortstop has remained fairly consistent. We’ll also include something of a control group, which is the Braves’ team BABIP allowed with neither Pastornicky nor Simmons in the field. The remaining innings at short have gone to Paul Janish and Jack Wilson.

With Pastornicky: .305 BABIP (1,020 balls in play)
With Simmons: .271 BABIP (938 balls in play)
With Neither: .299 BABIP (1,821 balls in play)

Obviously, we can’t pin all of those differences on the shortstop position. What we can infer, however, is that the Braves’ defense has been the best with Simmons in it, and that probably isn’t a fluke. It’s been the worst with Pastornicky in it, and that also probably isn’t a fluke.

Here we include a .gif of the Andrelton Simmons Defensive Experience, and Tommy Hanson reacting to the Andrelton Simmons Defensive Experience.

Here we include a couple other Andrelton Simmons Defensive Experience highlights:

I don’t know if Andrelton Simmons is the best defensive shortstop in baseball, and I’ll forever be haunted by memories of Betancourt seeming amazing in the field when he first showed up. It didn’t take long for Simmons to get in the argument, though, and he may very well be better than Brendan Ryan and everyone else. The numbers think so, and while the data pool is limited, the eyes don’t need much convincing. When the numbers and the eyes disagree, it’s worth examining further. When the numbers and the eyes agree, they exchange an invisible high-five in the empty space between your head and your monitor.

It’s funny — even though Simmons has played just a quarter of a full season and Pastornicky played just a quarter of a full season, by WAR there’s a full three-win difference. A big chunk of that, expectedly, is defense; a big chunk of that, unexpectedly, is offense. Braves fans started the season with Pastornicky. That was what they got used to, that was their baseline. Then they were introduced to Simmons, and now it’s Simmons they’ll take into the playoffs. Braves fans probably couldn’t be a whole lot happier about things.

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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.

16 Responses to “The Hit-Maker and the Hit-Taker”

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  1. Bob in San Bruno says:

    Metrics aside, just watching them play is night and day too. Simmons is smooth as silk, gliding effortlessly while gaining ground and then flicks his wrist to throw 90 to 1B. Pastornicky plays like his pants are on fire, spinning his wheels trying to get to balls with jerky, rushed and abrupt movements followed by having to wind it up a bit to make the same throws Simmons does. Just on the eye ball test it’s not close and the numbers completely agree. Pastornicky looks like a 2B or trying to play SS. Add to the fact that the Braves already have a brutal claw attached to Dan Uggla playing 2B and they simply can’t afford to have substandard D at SS too.

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  2. YanksFanInBeantown says:

    That D is as sexy as Iglesias’s

    and he can hit too?!

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  3. Grant says:

    Adeiny Hechavarria at least matches those two in the field, simply an incredible fielder. It’s just going to take some time for people to see him play.

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  4. astrostl says:

    I’m hoping that Ryan’s sub-.200 average makes him stand out a bit more to the managers/coaches during the Gold Glove voting this year.

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    • Westside guy says:

      He’ll be the anti-Palmeiro, in that case.

      I’m really pulling for Ryan because I think he deserves it – but I expect there will be a non-trivial number of voters who’ll see his batting average and immediately move on because they think “Gold Glove” refers to a player’s batting gloves.

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  5. chiefglockandhummer says:

    even if it’s way too early to tell if he can really hit, a couple of his stats have at least stabilized per pizza cutter: his contact rate at 87.1%, and his K rate at 11.5%. and those aren’t bad or anything.

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  6. Anon21 says:

    No, no, no, Jeff. You can’t be open to the idea that Simmons is the best defensive shortstop in the majors. Dave Cameron has decreed that to be ridiculous.

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  7. Gollum says:

    “Fredbird…Fredbird…why does it cry, Fredbird?…Seattle tricksed us…Of course it did, Fredbird. I told you they was tricksy, I told you they was false…no, Seattle is our friend…sneaky little Marinerses, they stole it from us.”
    “What did they steal from you?”

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  8. Bryz says:

    That video clip with Venters pitching is cash money all around the infield.

    Now whenever someone asks me, I can say with gusto that I am Experienced.

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  9. Wood says:

    Some of those other shortstop innings have gone to Prado. Particularly cool when you notice he was playing two different positions in those two clips.

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    • carpengui says:

      What’s even funnier, though, is the clip in which he takes the throw at first base and then acts like it’s just another ho-hum routine play from Simba. Yeah, just another day at the office…

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  10. ron says:

    any impartial, non-Giants fans that have informed thoughts on Brandon Crawford’s D. We think he’s pretty special in San Francisco

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  11. Jon L. says:

    And then he said, “When the numbers and the eyes agree,” and I was 100% ready to disagree with that sentence, no matter how it ended…

    You win this round, Jeff Sullivan! *shakes fist*

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  12. Mike says:

    Having watched a lot of Andrelton Simmons this year, I can honestly say that he has the quickest release of any shortstop I have ever watch play. Seriously, its like the arm never goes back. It just goes up and forward. I don’t know how he is able to get so much velocity on those throws with such a compact throwing motion.

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