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.