Will Andrelton Simmons Hit?

One of the major pieces of breaking baseball news in recent days was the Braves’ signing of shortstop Andrelton Simmons to a seven year, $58 million contract extension. This is big news partially because Simmons is arguably the first, youngest and least experienced player to earn such a deal primarily because of his defensive excellence. That excellence is supported by both the metrics and the scouting eye, and he is almost universally regarded as the single most valuable defensive player in the game. We’re not going to focus on his glove today, however. Simmons was far from a total zero with the bat last year, hitting 17 homers, not an insignificant sum at his end of the defensive spectrum. It will be Simmons’ development with the bat that will eventually determine whether the Braves get great value from this deal instead of an average to solid return. Today we’ll take a closer look at his offensive profile to get a better feel as to what the future holds.

Andrelton Simmons was a somewhat perplexing prospect in the 2010 draft. A native of Curacao, he was a two-way player at Western Oklahoma St. Junior College, a raw but athletic defensive specialist at shortstop as well as a fireballing righthanded pitcher who reached the upper 90′s with his fastball. Many teams thought he would never hit, and projected him as a pitcher. The Braves, among other clubs, saw it differently, and stepped up and popped Simmons in the 2nd round. Their role in developing Simmons, and helping to transform his raw tools into useable skills, has been impeccable to date, and they have been handsomely rewarded to date with his performance. His glove rocketed him through the minors to a NL Gold Glove Award in 2013, with his bat fighting to keep up, as he has been far from the automatic out at the major league level that many thought he would be. Let’s take a deeper look at the 2013 plate appearance outcome frequencies for Simmons and a couple of his youthful shortstop peers, to get a better feel for their respective offensive games.


Andrus % REL PCT
K 13.9% 77 23
BB 7.4% 92 45
POP 5.5% 70 26
FLY 20.8% 72 4
LD 20.2% 93 30
GB 53.6% 128 96
Castro % REL PCT
K 18.3% 101 56
BB 4.3% 53 9
POP 5.0% 63 20
FLY 25.9% 90 29
LD 22.1% 102 58
GB 47.0% 113 79
Simmons % REL PCT
K 8.4% 46 3
BB 6.1% 75 25
POP 12.4% 157 91
FLY 28.3% 99 48
LD 18.0% 83 8
GB 41.3% 99 51

For each player, the frequency of each plate appearance outcome is listed in raw percentage form, relative to MLB average (scaled to 100), and is also expressed as a percentile rank.

Elvis Andrus, 25, possesses the classic high-floor, low-ceiling offensive profile possessed by many long-haul shortstops over the years. A low K rate coupled with a low popup rate is the surest road to someday batting .300 in the major leagues. Derek Jeter represents the absolute offensive apex that can be reached by this type of shortstop, while later-career Ozzie Smith and Omar Vizquel are more emblematic of the type of production to which Andrus can aspire. Keep your head above water in the early years, and then perfect your offensive game as you physically mature and learn to even better manage at-bats. 2013 was in many ways a step backward for Andrus, as his popup percentile rank of 26, while still well better than average, was his first percentile ranking higher than 7 in his five-year career. Andrus’ line drive percentile rank of 30 was also by far a career worst.

Starlin Castro‘s frequency distribution suggests both a significantly higher floor and ceiling compared to Andrus. Like Andrus, Castro, 24, stepped backward offensively in 2013, with his K rate jumping from a previous high percentile rank of 31 to 56, and his always low BB rate dropping from a career “high” percentile rank of 16 in 2012 to 9 in 2013. While his 2013 line drive percentile rank of 58 was still above the MLB average, his previous career low percentile rank was 73. Castro is approaching a crossroads in his career – if he can spruce up his K and BB rates while solidifying his line drive percentile rank above 70, all while gaining physical strength, he can still become a star. If he continues down the slippery slope he was on in 2013, however, he could become an unplayable OBP sinkhole.

Before we delve into Simmons’ frequency profile, let’s put his 2013 offensive season into some sort of big-picture context. Since 1901, 2,334 regular player-seasons have been logged at the shortstop position. Those seasons result in an average slash line of .261-.321-.360, and an 87 OPS+. In 2013, Simmons slashed .248-.296-.396, with an 87 OPS+. I’d call that about exactly average performance for a shortstop in a historical context. Only 14 23-year-old shortstops since 1901 have hit more than 17 homers in a season, and it’s quite a list – Alex Rodriguez, Nomar Garciaparra, Hanley Ramirez, Cal Ripken, Dale Sveum, Jhonny Peralta, Denis Menke, Vern Stephens, Jose Reyes, Arky Vaughan, Ernie Banks, some guy named Eric McNair, and Rico Petrocelli.

Only four of these players – Garciaparra, Peralta, Banks and McNair, were in their first full year as a regular shortstop at age 23, as was Simmons. Petrocelli’s line in 1966 – .238-.295-.383, with 18 HR and an 85 OPS+ – is eerily similar to Simmons’ 2013 performance, but he was notably the only player of the 14 with an OPS+ lower than Simmons. Of course, if Simmons were to go on to post Petrocelli’s career numbers – .251-.331-.420 with 210 HR, including 40 in a season, and a 108 career OPS+, the Braves would be overjoyed.

Simmons’ 2013 frequency profile is unusual in several respects. On the positive side, his K rate was one of the lowest in baseball, with a percentile rank of 3, confirming the exceptional hand-eye coordination that drives his defensive excellence. On the negative side is his extremely high popup rate (91 percentile rank) and extremely low line drive rate (8 percentile rank). While line drive rates fluctuate from year to year more so than the other batted ball types, it must be noted that Simmons’ line drive rate was almost as low in his two-month major league debut in 2012, so this may be in fact indicative of his true talent level.

Simmons’ walk rate was also low, with a 2013 percentile rank of 25, though that is not an unusual level for a first-year regular shortstop. This odd confluence of frequencies, unfortunately for Simmons, has only one peer among recent-vintage shortstops – Yuniesky Betancourt, who posted a .289-.310-.403 line with an 86 OPS+ in his first season as a then-flashy defender with exceptional hand-eye coordination at the shortstop position in 2006 at age 24.

Now that we’ve looked at the outcome frequencies, let’s look at the actual production these three generated on the various batted ball types in 2013, and then adjust that production for context:

Andrus AVG OBP SLG REL PRD ADJ PRD
FLY 0.183 0.385 32 35
LD 0.647 0.735 86 91
GB 0.268 0.279 124 107
ALL BIP 0.305 0.370 71 70
ALL PA 0.258 0.314 0.313 82 81
Castro AVG OBP SLG REL PRD ADJ PRD
FLY 0.243 0.551 62 68
LD 0.640 0.825 93 93
GB 0.208 0.212 73 108
ALL BIP 0.302 0.427 80 92
ALL PA 0.244 0.276 0.344 75 86
Simmons AVG OBP SLG REL PRD ADJ PRD
FLY 0.278 0.669 87 84
LD 0.642 0.874 99 94
GB 0.186 0.200 61 96
ALL BIP 0.269 0.421 69 77
ALL PA 0.245 0.291 0.383 88 96

For each of the three major batted ball types, the 2013 actual AVG and SLG is listed. In the “REL PRD” column, the actual AVG and SLG is compared relative to MLB average, scaled to 100. In the “ADJ PRD” column, that relative figure is adjusted for ballpark, luck, etc.. The next to last row for each players includes the relative and adjusted production for all balls in play, and the K’s and BB’s are added back in the last row, which lists the same information for all plate appearances. All SH and SF are included as outs, and HBP are excluded from the OBP calculation for purposes of this exercise.

Andrus does very little damage on fly balls (35 adjusted production), but this doesn’t hurt him much, as he hits so few of them. He generates less extra-base power from his line drives compared to the MLB average, largely due to his relative lack of physical strength at this stage of his career. His performance on ground balls was much better than the MLB average, largely due to the premium derived from his speed, and also because he sprays the ball around – an important factor, as we shall see later.

All in all, in 2013 Andrus seems to have reached his high offensive floor, as his relative solid K and BB rates push his very low adjusted relative production on balls in play of 70 up to a more respectable 81, not far below average for his position. I would not be surprised if Andrus never again has as bad an offensive season as 2013 in what will very likely be a long career. With an eight-year, $118 million contract extension that doesn’t even begin until 2015 in place, however, the potential for significant excess value over Andrus’ contract is somewhat limited given his lack of power potential.

Castro had more success on fly balls (adjusted relative production of 68) than Andrus in 2013, but was still well below average. Like Andrus, he gets below average power out of his line drives, as he is still gaining physical strength at this stage of his career. In fact, Castro’s frame, when compared to Andrus, would seem to be able to accommodate more bulk down the road, suggesting more power potential. Castro was flat unlucky on ground balls, with 73 relative production, while his hard/soft ground ball rates, as well as his solid speed, would suggest a better than MLB average 108 adjusted production figure.

Adjusted for context, Castro’s relative production of 92 on all balls in play is solid for his position – but his poor K and BB rates drop him down to 86. Basically, without his bad luck on grounders last season, Castro would have been just as productive as Simmons before adjustment for context. Castro is signed to a fairly comparable contract to Simmons, an 8-year, $60.6 million deal that runs through 2019. The value could go either way here, with the Cubs getting a massive bargain with offensive growth, or a potential albatross if .280ish OBP with inconsistent defense remains the norm.

Simmons was more productive than the other two on fly balls last season, with a relative production figure of 87, adjusted slightly downward for context to 84. His line drive authority was almost identical to that of Andrus and Castro, with an adjusted production figure of 94. Like Castro, Simmons performed poorly on ground balls last season, batting .186-.200, for a relative production mark of 61. His hard/soft ground ball rates suggest an upward adjustment to 96 – but not so fast.

Simmons is an “extreme ground ball puller”, and can easily and at low risk be overshifted by opposing infield defenses. Thus, I would expect his future actual production to be much closer to his 2013 actual rather than the adjusted level. On all balls in play Simmons (69 relative production) did less damage than Castro, and about the same as Andrus, if you don’t adjust Simmons ground ball production upward. Once the K’s and BB’s are added back, however, Simmons becomes the most productive of the three, thanks to his very low K rate.

About that “extreme ground ball pulling”…….let’s look at the pull tendencies of these three, using a very simple tool. For each of these righthanded hitters, the pull ratio for each batted ball type equals balls hit to (LF + LCF)/(RF + RCF):

FLY PULL LD PULL GB PULL
Andrus 0.74 0.93 3.25
Castro 0.41 0.86 2.77
Simmons 2.49 2.59 6.88
RHB MLB AVG 1.18 1.63 3.32

This is very interesting data to add to the discussion. When you hit the ball to all fields, defenses must play you relatively honest and avoid the overshifting that can drastically cut into batting averages. At this stage of Andrus and Castro’s respective careers, they rarely burn opposing outfielders by hitting the ball over their heads, but once they can, especially in Castro’s case, the ability to use the field will open up additional areas of opportunity all over the field.

Both players also have plenty of slack to selectively pull the ball in the air more for additional power, as many more experienced players do without pulling their liners and grounders at excessive rates. Simmons would already seem to be tapped out with regard to selective pulling. The numbers above clearly indicate that Simmons is looking to pull the ball almost all of the time. In fact, he had a higher overall pull percentage than Raul Ibanez in 2013, if you can believe that. This is yet another Betancourt-esque trait, and we all know where his offense has gone over the years.

Simmons’ bottom line is likely this – he very likely snuck up on a lot of MLB pitchers last season, pulling a lot of their mistakes over the left field fence. Now a “book” has begun to be compiled on Simmons, and he is going to be peppered with pitches on the outer third of the plate and beyond, with the occasional hard one out of the zone inside to keep him honest. His excellent hand-eye coordination will likely minimize the swings and misses, but weak contact will often ensue if he doesn’t learn to better manage the strike zone and increase his walk rate. As someone who watched Yuni and Jose Lopez make weak contact on pitchers’ pitches on a regular basis, take it from me, the offensive downside of an Andrelton Simmons who is either unwilling or unable to make the necessary adjustments is quite low.

Andrus and Simmons possess fairly narrow but normal platoon splits, while Castro’s is a much larger normal split, doubling down on the notion that Castro is the risk/reward guy of the three. All are very likely to be MLB regular shortstops for quite awhile, with Andrus likely to find a niche somewhere in the Luis Aparicio/Ozzie/Omar lineage offensively, and Castro having the potential to jump up to the Ian Desmond/Edgar Renteria level at best or lapse into late-career Garry Templeton mode at worst.

Andrelton Simmons, the offensive player, is a pretty tough call. I could easily pigeonhole him as a Yuniesky Betancourt in waiting with the bat, but his overall lack of reps as a hitter, his very high contact rate, plus the fact that he has been a very quick study to date in all facets of the game gives me pause. Extreme defenders such as Simmons became that good thanks both to natural gifts and extreme work ethic. Applying such a work ethic consistently over time – something Betancourt did not always do – will keep Simmons above the danger zone with the bat, and will not endanger the value of the Braves’ substantial investment in him.




Print This Post



59 Responses to “Will Andrelton Simmons Hit?”

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
  1. Braves Fans on Fangraphs says:

    Look, his BABIP was anomalous in a bad way, so that will definitely regress. His power was anomalous too, but that was in a good way so it counts as true talent and won’t regress.

    Basically his floor is Troy Tulowitzki with better defense and he literally doesn’t even have a ceiling. There is at least a 40% chance that he never makes another out.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Ben Duronio says:

      Good comment. Bringing a lot to the table here. Great contribution to the discussion.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Za says:

      His floor definitely isn’t Troy Tulowitzki offensively.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Preston says:

      To answer a joke comment with a serious answer, I actually think this is true. He’s 24, a .022 spike in ISO over what he posted in 2012 doesn’t sound anomolous at all. Maybe it regresses. But it wouldn’t be the first time a 24 yo grew into a little bit of power. I’m willing to accept that maybe Andrus is going to have a low BABIP, but considering that he’s fast and he does have some power a .247 seems unsustainably low. One thing that could be contributing to the low BABIP is his high contact rate. I think he could probably stand to lay off more pitches, just because he can make contact so well doesn’t mean he should, being more selective might help him drive the ball better and raise his BABIP.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Pirates Hurdles says:

      Almost posted something along these lines about Tony’s cajones taking on the angry Braves fanbase. How dare anyone question the great Andrelton?!

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Cool Lester Smooth says:

      That’s a little bearish, man.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Chicago Mark says:

      I like it Braves fan. I’m sure Ben, Za and Anon have all done some kind of humor\wit in the past too. Maybe jealousy. I don’t know. But you did get about 14 other negative hits……Minions? Enjoy it boys and girls. It really is too short to be so negative.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Tim says:

      Now that he’s got $58m coming to him, hopefully he can buy, or at least rent, someplace with a ceiling. After all, that contract would look pretty bad if he were struck by lightning.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Leo Mazzone says:

      Hey, he’s already better than Derek Jeter, A-Rod and Arky Vaughn combined! And it’s gonna be closer to 99% he never makes another out. BRAVOS!!!

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  2. Ben Duronio says:

    Good piece. As a Braves fan and big Andrelton advocate this has me concerned for sure.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  3. sgnthlr85 says:

    I’m surprised there was no mention about Simmons’ very good 2nd half last year. His line drive rate, walk rate, and K rate all improved. His ISO more than doubled from .105 to .217. Slugging went from .348 to .472. If the pull batted ball data was available by half, it would be interesting to see if there were any significant changes in the 2nd half. You’d think by the 2nd half teams would start to play him to pull a little more, and maybe he decreased how much he was pulling it enough to make them pay? Regardless, his .255/.316/.472 2nd half slash line makes me believe he will be a decent hitter.

    +6 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Surrealistic Pillow says:

      With the already limited offensive data available on Simmons, there is no reason to break it out into even smaller sample sizes. I would read nothing into 1st half / 2nd half splits.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  4. Subversive says:

    Interesting stuff. The charts would have made a lot more sense with Andrus, Castro, Simmons across the top and the various categories down the left side. Would be much easier to visually compare the 3.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Jack Zduriencik says:

      Just what I was about to say.

      Good comment. Bringing a lot to the table here. Great contribution to the discussion.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  5. tz says:

    Your last paragraph sums up the bottom line very well. He needs to keep his wRC+ in the upper 80′s to have an Omar/Ozzie type career. His raw skills have enabled him to get there thus far, but he’ll have to stay one step ahead of pitchers by closing off any exploitable weaknesses in his hitting.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  6. larry says:

    IIRC, he won the batting title in 2011 while in high A ball, his only full year in the minors. Interesting to see his batted ball profile change from higher BABIP lower ISO to lower BABIP and higher ISO. Obviously the pitching is on a completely different level, but he did show the ability to hit for a high average. curious as to how his offensive profile changed so quickly.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  7. dl80 says:

    As concerning as the pull tendencies are, the BABIP almost has to regress. Since 1920, the lowest career BABIP for anyone with at least 3000 PA is .239 (Wayne Gross). Those are admittedly random constraints, but going back too far creates problems with missing K stats.

    If we do 1500 PAs, the lowest non-pitcher is .223 (Mike Ryan). The lowest non-leadfooted catcher is .234 (Rusty Torres).

    Those are lots of exceptions and qualifications, but it makes me pretty confident that an athletic young shortstop with an average Spd score isn’t going to post a .241 BABIP for his career. Whether that means it regresses (part way or all the way) this year, or next year, it is eventually coming.

    If his BABIP gets to .280-.290, his average should at least be in the .260s. If he maintains his BB/K rates, that plus his defense should make him at least a 3-4 win player going forward.

    I have no investment in him or the Braves, but I think his floor is not as low as it might at first seem.

    Betancourt’s career BABIP is .273, but he never learned to walk at all (something Simmons can already do quite a bit better), so Betancourt’s .261 average meant a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad OBP.

    If Simmons can hit at least .261 I think he’ll be fine (for the Braves at least, if not in fantasy).

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Catoblepas says:

      you’ve got some definite survival bias issues with those numbers, though. Most players who make weak enough contact to have an abysmal BABIP get pulled out of the lineup quickly, and don’t end up crossing your PA threshold. Simmons didn’t, because a) he still posted reasonable numbers, leaning more on power, and b) he is an excellent fielder, so can still be of value without a bat. Not saying he definitely will stay this low, but instead of saying “virtually no one has ever been as low as him consistently”, you’re saying “virtually no one has ever been as low as him consistently and been allowed to continue playing”.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  8. Hurtlockertwo says:

    If Simmons never hits more than he did last year and continues the great fielding then he is worth the cash. A great fielding shortstop is such a game changer on the field, good hitting is just gravy.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Anon21 says:

      The danger is that he will hit a lot less than he did last year as defenses and pitching approaches adjust. If he drops off to a 70 wRC+, he’s still startable, but he’ll be overpaid.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Snowman says:

        The other concern is how much his defense will have suffered by the end of the deal, when he’ll be 30 and making $15 million a year. He has a long, long way to fall to just reach average, but how far does it have to drop to make him a negative if he also never learns to hit?

        Personally, I think he’ll improve some offensively and make it a moot point, but that’s just my opinion. Nothing to back that up.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  9. Tbird says:

    His BABIP is so low because he hits an insane amount of infield flys, which are are always turned into outs and thus not fueled by luck. His infield flys result from his uppercut swing, which also leads to his low line drive %. Unless he stops hitting so many infield flys, he may be a guy who always runs a low BABIP. And no, this is not my theory, I stole this from Dave Cameron in this week’s podcast with Carson.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Matt says:

      “he hits an insane amount of infield flys, which are are always turned into outs”

      Even when they are not caught and not even close to being in the infield (yes, it was Simmons who popped up in the 8th inning of the 1-game playoff against the Cardinals).

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Adam M says:

      His xBABIP in 2013 was .300. He does hit a lot of pop ups, and that’s a problem. But his batted ball profile suggests that, yes, some of his low BABIP was bad luck.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • larry says:

        unfortunately xBABIP does not appear to be much more predictive of future BABIP than BABIP is, and neither are good predictors of future BABIP at that. Interesting article from HBT about it last week. BABIP only has a .35 correlation from one year to the next.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Adam M says:

          Interesting. That said, I was merely pointing out that his 2013 BABIP was not deflated solely by a poor batted ball profile. Simmons hits pop ups, but not so many that his BABIP should be .247. Indeed, in his 2012 cup of coffee he posted a .310 BABIP with an even worse batted ball profile. None of that is predictive, I’ll grant. I just wouldn’t be surprised to see a better average on balls in play down the road–provided that he keeps doing exactly what he did last season.

          Hopefully, of course, he’ll improve.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

  10. Russell says:

    I think your last paragraph sums it up quite right. Simmons is so inexperienced at the plate relative to his peers, I think it’s impossible to pigeonhole him as anything at the moment. AS a braves fan, his issues with patience, IF pops and lack of a willingness to go the other way have all been very apparent. He may very well spend the next 3 years tirelessly working on his patience, pop-up problem and learning to go to other way occasionally. His floor should rise with each issue he figures out and I think his relative success at this point points more towards him figuring things out than not.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  11. papasmurf says:

    Hitters who are predictable in where they tend to hit the ball should underperform their expected BABIP because the defense can be better positioned to field their batted balls. If you have immense bat speed and can rip liners past the fields anyway than it won’t matter much, but I don’t think Simmons is there.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Anon21 says:

      Anecdotally, from watching most Braves games in 2013, I don’t remember Simmons being shifted. Certainly if he was, it wasn’t frequently enough to catch announcers’ attention the way it does for dead-pull lefties like Brian McCann and Ryan Howard. Further anecdotally, it seems like extreme shifts are more often deployed against lefties than against righties. (I would guess that’s because the dead-pull lefty hitting against a normal infield alignment takes the strongest defender, the shortstop, mostly out of play whereas the dead-pull righty does not.) But this is another use case for shift data being associated with individual hitters. Doesn’t BIS track shifts, at least for PAs that end with a ball in play?

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Tim says:

        I think it’s more that the first baseman can’t play in the middle of the right side of the field, so there’s a huge hole.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Chauncey Gardner says:

        Also watched a lot of Braves baseball. I will back up your anecdotal, gut-feeling with my own and second (or third) it with Jeff Zimmerman’s piece about defensive shifts in Hardball Times. According to the piece, Simmons was shifted on only 8 times compared to 123 for McCann and over 200 for Howard.

        Source: http://www.hardballtimes.com/tht-live/expanded-2013-infield-shift-data/

        And yeah, most of the highly shifted batters are extreme pull lefties.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Anon21 says:

          Which is obviously not to say it won’t be a tactic teams employ more against Simmons going forward; it’s just to reinforce the point that his 2013 BABIP really was flukily low.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

  12. Jon L. says:

    Was anyone else confused that the batting outcomes for each player totaled more than 100%? The text indicated that percentages were per plate appearance, but in reality the batted ball percentages are per ball in play, and independently total 100%. Then, the walks and strikeouts, which really are per plate appearance, brings the total percentage well over 100%.

    I vote for changing that.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  13. Brian says:

    I be curious to see how Simmons career path compares to Yadier Molina.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  14. Go Nats says:

    Boo the Braves!!! I hope Simmons never gets another hit!

    Vote -1 Vote +1

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Current day month ye@r *