FOXSportsSouth.com’s team of Braves writers are taking a look back at 2015, position by position, and breaking down what we know heading into what figures to be another busy offseason. We continue the series with shortstop.
450 — Number of games that Andrelton Simmons has played in since 2013, his first full season in the majors. Only one National League shortstop, the Nationals’ Ian Desmond, has played more at 468.
95 — Simmons’ defensive runs saved over the past three seasons, which is 25 more than the next closest player, his former teammate Jason Heyward at 69.
6— Times Simmons was hit by a pitch in the 147 games in which he played in ’15. That figure was two more than in his first 352 career games.
Two years ago, Simmons tore up the World Baseball Classic, hitting .333 for the Dutch team with three doubles, two home runs and a .382 on-base percentage. He followed it with his most potent season in the majors, totaling 17 home runs, 27 doubles and six triples.
Those power numbers were eye-opening, considering Simmons had hit a combined nine in his first three seasons as a pro, topped by six in 2012 with Double-A Mississippi and Atlanta. Those numbers, it appears, were also a mirage.
In the two seasons since, Simmons has hit a total of 11 home runs and had 29 extra-base hits each year. But while the promise of the long ball has disappeared, Simmons has at least shown some progress under new hitting coach Kevin Seitzer.
This past year saw a slash line of .265/.321/.338, a batting average and on-base percentage that represented his best of any full season in the majors. He also had his lowest strikeout rate (8.2) and highest walk rate (6.7), the former of which was a monumental drop from last year’s 10.4 K-rate.
Simmons showed better plate discipline under Seitzer, an approach Simmons credited to the hitting guru allowing him to use his quick hands with a more compact swing. But he remains an enigma at the plate.
Is Simmons the guy that flashed power in ’13? Is he the the guy who won a batting title in the Carolina League in ’11?
The answer likely lies in the middle. If Simmons can progress toward a .280 hitter, with continued elite defense, he could be a threat for his first All-Star Game selection, one thing that has eluded him in his young career.
When it comes to Gold Gloves, Simmons is expected to get his third straight in the coming weeks, which still leaves him seven shy of tying the 10 consecutive that Andruw Jones won patrolling center field for the Braves. He’s also behind the franchise record dWAR 26.2 that Jones set during his Gold Glove streak.
But consider this: during Jones’ run, he had a career-high dWAR of 3.9 in 1998 and followed it with a 3.8 a year later. Simmons has already surpassed Jones in that department with a 5.4 in ’13 when he was named the NL’s Platinum Glove winner, and matched Jones’ best a year later.
Just fours years in, Simmons has a dWAR of 15.2, and should he match his career average of 3.8, it will put him within range of a career figure of 20. He already has the highest dWAR of any player in MLB history through Years 1-4, surpassing Ozzie Guillen’s 12.0 from 1985-88.
Inching toward 20 would be a monumental achievement for Simmons, given that Ozzie Smith, the player he’s most compared to, had just a 12.3 dWAR after his fifth season. That all but puts Simmons in a class all his own.
The reality is Ozhaino Albies is just 18 years old and has played no higher than Single-A Rome at this point. He’s also hit .328/.395/.417 the past two seasons, including .310 with Rome, where he hit 21 doubles and eight triples in 394 at-bats.
He’s coming and the fact that Albies also plays shortstop only kick starts the talk about how the Braves are going to handle having both he and Simmons, who, like Albies, is a native of Curacao.
Ranked as the Braves’ top prospect by MLB.com, he’s generating more and more attention and was a Futures Game pick in July and the prevailing thought is that he could open ’16 in Double-A Mississippi if he doesn’t return to Rome.
Scouts love Albies’ range and arm, but with Simmons under contract through 2020, chances are he’s not going anywhere. If we eventually see the two together, it’s going to include a position change for Albies. While Jace Peterson showed his effectiveness there as a rookie, if Albies is as good as advertised, that would be his best avenue to Atlanta.
It’s something to keep an eye on during the upcoming season, because if Albies makes the transition, it tells us a lot about the future middle infield new general manager John Coppolella is envisioning.