Andrelton Simmons Trades Speed For Power

This quote from FanGraphs commenter Scott pretty much sums up Andrelton Simmons‘ season perfectly:

Simmons hit 17 hrs? I thought he was mr defense. Guess he added some pop while I wasn’t looking.

After hitting just nine home runs in 1,096 professional at-bats previously, Simmons tapped into his power by nearly doubling that total in 45% fewer at-bats. But instead of also showing the above average speed he flashed during his minor league days, he stole just six bases at a poor success rate. We know that Simmons is a defensive wiz, but where does his offensive game go from here?

Although his home run total alone suggests a real power surge, his HR/FB rate actually barely budged from his 2012 Braves debut and his ISO wasn’t significantly higher than what he produced then or at Double-A that year. With just 27 doubles, I would speculate that he hit a bunch of balls that just barely cleared the fence and the breakdown between his doubles and home runs will diverge next year.

ESPN Home Run Tracker is the perfect place to learn if my speculation proved correct. Sure enough, a whopping 8 of his 17 (47%) long balls were of the “just enough” variety. In my studies of this data, I have found that about a third of all home runs hit were classified this way, so Simmons’ rate was well above the league average. His average batted ball distance was also just 269 feet, which ranked 240th out of 300.

There were two primary reasons why he was able to pop that many homers, despite obviously below average power. First, his fly ball rate skyrocketed from below 30% in 2012 to nearly 40%. You usually don’t see that type of batted ball distribution from skinny shortstops, so I would imagine it isn’t optimal for his skill set. Next, he improved his already strong strikeout rate. He posted the 4th lowest K% and 24th lowest SwStk% in baseball. Obviously, all else being equal, the more contact made, the greater the opportunity for fly balls to leave the yard.

His HR/FB was still just below 8%, so he would have a reasonable chance of coming close to those 17 homers again if he maintained the near league leading strikeout rate and a 39% FB%. But, I wouldn’t bet on the fly ball rate to be repeated, so a decline of a couple of dinkers is probably in the cards.

For a guy who makes such strong contact though, how on Earth did he manage just a .248 batting average? It’s quite simple really — he has a pop-up problem. In fact, he led all of baseball in IFFB%! That’s a surprise though because pop-ups are correlated with fly balls and Simmons’ fly ball rate is near the league average. But combining his small sample 2012, he has now recorded 772 at-bats with an IFFB% above 17%. That’s not good. Still, even with all those pop-ups, his xBABIP was significantly better at .296. He would be in even better shape if he maintained his 2012 ground ball and fly ball rates, as that season’s xBABIP, even with an identical IFFB%, was .306.

Steamer projects a slight BABIP rebound to .273 next year, which remains well below the league average. But even with that minor jump, he would still move into respectable territory with a .267 projected average. With such excellent contact skills, it shouldn’t take much for him to really boost his average.

One of the other big questions is that of his speed. While no one expected him to be a great asset in the stolen base category, most expected 20-25 swipes. Unfortunately, he attempted a steal at a low frequency and succeeded just 55% of the time. A primary culprit was the Braves philosophy. They just didn’t run this year. It makes sense though as their offense was composed of lots of power and tons of strikeouts. Those are precisely the types of players a manager would be hesitant to run in front of. You don’t want to miss out on a two-run homer, nor do you want to end an inning with a strike ’em out, throw ’em out double play.

Fredi Gonzalez had no issues running in 2012, though Simmons stole just one base in his only attempt, so with the same lineup returning, one has to wonder if he will continue to flash the red light. We know that Simmons has better speed than this, so the upside of 20+ steals remains if the team does decide to run again.

Despite the potential for some home run regression, there are still multiple paths to improvement for Simmons. He ranked 12th in fantasy value among shortstops, which was respectable, but it shouldn’t take much to push him into the top 10 in 2014.

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Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. He also sells beautiful photos through his online gallery, Pod's Pics. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

10 Responses to “Andrelton Simmons Trades Speed For Power”

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  1. Zach says:

    Great analysis on his surprising power display and his amazing ability to hit tons of pop-ups. However, there should have been no expectations of him to steal 20-25 bases. Sure, he’s plenty fast and athletic but he had an atrocious success rate in his one full season in the minors. Scouting reports even stated he had some speed but wasn’t a base-stealer. Combine that with the Braves history and all signs pointed to 15 steals as an absolute ceiling for him. A ceiling he still woefully missed.

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    • FanGraphs Supporting Member

      He did steal 10 of 12 at Double-A in 2012 over just about 200 plate appearances, which is a 30 steal pace in 600 PA. The Fans projections from last year were at 21 steals, so I think that actually was the consensus.

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      • Zach says:

        It may have been the consensus but I guess my point is that it shouldn’t have been. All signs pointed to less than 20 steals. Sure, if I glanced at his minor league steals column, I would have predicted 20-25 steals. Anything more than a glance though should have thrown up some major red flags.

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  2. Train says:

    His GB/FB ratio went from 1.37 in the first half to 0.74 in the second. This reeks to me of a change in approach at the plate. I don’t see signs of regression in his FB rate unless he decides to revert to his first half approach. Given Atlanta’s focus on pop I’d lean towards him continuing to try and lift pitches.
    It’s also interesting to note that despite the number of just enough homers his hr/fb rate was just about the same as last year. He’s also heading into his peak power age.
    I’ve got his xBabip down at 0.303 vs his actual Babip of 0.247. Given his history of being able to hit .290ish I’d pencil him in for that.

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  3. Tom says:

    In the playoffs, Simmons looked to me to be slow home to first. Are there speed stats on home-to-first time, or other objective measures of speed besides SB and taking extra bases?

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  4. Nate says:

    It was clear in the WBC he was looking to pull and lift pitches. Do his home park dimensions contribute to the “just enough” factor? Many HR there have “just enough” most of the time.

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    • FanGraphs Supporting Member

      Not sure if Turner Field specifically contribute to the JE factor, but I could tell you that the home park dimensions and environment does play a role. A park with bigger dimensions would yield more JE homers, because they are classified based on how far past the wall they fall. So a home run could go the exact same distance, but be classified as JE in one park and Plenty in another.

      But that doesn’t matter if the hitter is hitting in the same park. We’re not trying to determine a hitter’s true talent power, just how many homers he should have hit that season.

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