Andrelton Simmons Has Gone Back to His Roots

There’s dizzying loop hidden within the effort to build better baseball players. Because every player possesses a different body, it makes sense not to be prescriptive with mechanics. There are no one-size-fits-all solutions in baseball.

But there are still some underlying truths. All things being equal, power is good. Velocity is good. And so on. If coaching is tailored too closely to a perceived type, it might prevent the player from developing the sort of power or velocity to transcend that type. It’s possible that this is what happened to Andrelton Simmons for a few years.

We all know and love Simmons for his defense — though the metrics can be volatile in that space, he’s been steady over his entire career. It’s the bat that has jumped up and down.

As the graph above suggests, this season has been a return to form for Simmons. “Some more experience,” Simmons thought was key when I spoke with him, and “a little bit of adding what I had at first, with the first two seasons with the Braves.” He agreed that a big part of what he had and then lost was pull power.

Since a nadir in late 2015, Simmons has generally improved with the stick while pulling the ball more. So why did he zap that pull power? He was a good soldier, working with coaches. “There was some emphasis from some coaches to go the other way,” Simmons admitted. “It helps in ways, but it also hurts in other ways.”

This is not to heap scorn on a particular hitting coach or team. Simmons wasn’t pulling the ball much in Atlanta or in Anaheim. And you also can’t blame his coaches for looking at the player and thinking that an athletic, glove-first shortstop who’d only once hit double-digit homers should focus on putting the ball on the ground, spraying it, and running to first.

The problem with that plan is that Simmons actually has some pop. Take a look at his exit velocity without launch angle. He’s a guy who can put a ride on the ball, particularly on his best swings.

Andrelton Simmons’ Exit Velo Ranks
Ball Type Exit Velo Percentile
All 39
FB/LD 36
Max 59
Pull FB/LD 45
SOURCE: BaseballSavant

The good news about personal development — for all of us, not just baseball players — is that even getting it wrong can make us better. That time isn’t wasted. “I worked on my weaknesses a lot the past couple of years, trying to get better at going the other way and staying through the baseball, and got away from what I do well,” Simmons said. “This year, I went back to what I do well and also added a little bit of what I’ve learned over the years — using the whole field and recognizing the pitches better. I can now cover more pitches and drive the ball, as well.”

Heat maps do a great job of showing how Simmons is a better hitter now than he was in 2013, even as he returns to some of the things that led to his 17-homer season in 2013.

Here’s Simmons, hitting for power in 2013 with the heaviest pull/fly-ball approach of his career. He had pull power on the inside.

Nobody wants to throw it down the middle, though, and his coaches intervened and told him to go the other way, and he moved his hot zone outward in 2015.

Of course, the inside pitch had become a weakness and he wasn’t hitting for power. Bring back some of that pull mentality, and, voila, the player has two hot zones this year.

There’s still a chance for further improvement, considering his work down the middle. That can provide hope for all of us as we try to improve: all it takes is hard work, because we can learn from the good and bad advice over time. “I work on my swing every day,” laughed Simmons. “I’ve been working on my swing since 1989. I’m still learning: tomorrow might bring something new that’s a little bit different.”

[Note: I changed the last three graphs from wOba heat maps to isolated slugging heat maps to reflect the fact that the analysis centered on swings rather than takes.]

With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.

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5 years ago

The last heat map appears to show that Simmons is a much better hitter of pitches well out of the zone? Or maybe the frame is only the center of the zone?

Also, the second graph shows several periods when his pull % and wOBA go in opposite directions–including right now.

Pwn Shop
5 years ago
Reply to  Eno Sarris

So if that is the case, doesn’t that mean he is now below average on strikes where he used to be above average? And that implies his value is now from taking pitches outside the strike zone? I do not think the heat maps mean what you think they mean.

Ryan DCmember
5 years ago
Reply to  Eno Sarris

Would you mind putting some kind of editor’s note when you change a graph or something after an article is published? Just for the sake of transparency (and also making the comments more intelligible).

5 years ago
Reply to  Eno Sarris

Eno, your thoughtful articles along with your ability to have constructive debate and insightful responses with your audience are what make you a true joy to read. Please keep up the great work.

Sorry for the excessive flattery. But too often we are either asking questions or arguing a point and we rarely step back and simply say thank you for your hard work.

Pwn Shop
5 years ago
Reply to  Eno Sarris

Hey now that is better!