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Andrelton Simmons: The New Jose Altuve?

They both weigh 170 pounds! Okay, one’s a lithe 6-foot-2, quick-twitch shortstop, and the other is a stocky 5-foot-7 second baseman, and actually we’ll get to many more differences as we go, but in the world of fantasy middle infielders, is there room for a comparison? Andrelton Simmons could be the late sleeper we all need at a tough position, just like Jose Altuve was last year.

Neither of these men is a guy you’ll own for power. Both hit the ball on the ground almost twice as much as they hit it in the air, and neither is likely to approach the league average in home runs per fly ball (although Simmons was closer, and as the taller man, might have more power projection in the future). If you capped either of their projections at ten home runs, you wouldn’t hear many complaints. OLIVER has Simmons with seven home runs, Bill James has him with ten, and the fans are casting the deciding vote with seven. Altuve’s projections are all within a homer of seven himself. So far, so good.

There’s enough speed in both of these middle infielders, and enough ground balls in both of their bats, that they should hit for a good batting average. They both hit for great batting averages in the minor leagues, too, although Simmons never quite had a season like Altuve’s .389/.426/.591 monster 2011 across two levels. Set the over/under at .280, though, and most would take the over for both of these young men. Still going strong.

Obviously the three-Altuve gorilla in the room is the respective speed of the two players. Altuve stole 33 last season and generally stole close to 30 most seasons on the way up to the majors. Simmons stole one in the majors last year (11 total), topped out at 26, and his 69% success rate in the minors doesn’t suggest he’ll get the green light even more. To make matters worse, Simmons took 64% of his at-bats in the eight hole, more commonly known as “Where Stolen Bases Go To Die.” This is why Bill James has Simmons at 18 stolen bases, and OLIVER has him at 14 per 600 plate appearances. This is how you steal one base in close to 200 plate appearances despite having speed and looking like an athlete out there. This is why it’s a stretch to compare the two.

But this isn’t quite over. As Brian Cartwright, the creator of OLIVER said to me on twitter, “being an effective stealer (good jumps) doesn’t correlate was well with speed.” Apparently, it’s “easier to predict who will attempt steals than success.” And so Simmons’ position in the batting order matters. The Braves have let it be known that they’d like a table-setter if they get another player this offseason, but other than Michael Bourn, the cupboard for top-of-the-order free agents is getting bare. The Bill James projection has Simmons with an average walk rate and a .351 OBP, which would easily beat the .319 OBP that the National league showed from the leadoff position last year. Even the fans’ more muted .337 OBP would do that. Simmons has speed, makes contact, and might be able to take a walk at a league average rate… if he ended up in the leadoff role, he certainly would get more opportunities to steal. And if he beat his stolen base projections by even just a handful, he’d inch that value into mixed-league starting shortstop territory.

It’s tempting to say that this is a lot of “ifs,” but it’s not like Altuve was without his. Even while he was being productive in the major leagues, we wondered about his size. And so with Simmons, we wonder about his speed. At a certain point in the draft, it’s worth taking a shot at a .290/10/30 middle infielder, that much we learned from Jose Altuve last season.