Andrelton Simmons Is Avoiding Strikeouts Like Tony Gwynn

Andrelton Simmons draws comparisons to Ozzie Smith for his defensive prowess. Both players are recognized as once-in-a-generation all-time greats at their positions, though Simmons has yet rival Smith’s Hall of Fame career.

Apart from the defensive skills, similarities have emerged between Smith and Simmons offensively, as well. Consider that, through the 2016 season, Simmons had taken roughly 2,500 plate appearances and put up a weak 85 wRC+. Compare that to Smith’s first seven seasons, through 1983, when he put up an even worse 74 wRC+ in more than 3,500 plate appearances.

Smith eventually turned his career around offensively, however, putting up a 103 wRC+ from 1984 through 1992 while producing 37 runs by means of the stolen base, a total which might even understate his total offensive value. Smith was bad on offense for quite some time, then he improved and was a good offensive player for a decent portion of his career. It’s possible we are seeing the same type of transformation from Simmons. The Angels shortstop put a 103 wRC+ last season at 27 years old; thus far this season, he’s doing considerably better, with a 143 wRC+ on the strength of his .331/.402/.466 batting line. Most remarkable about Simmons’ hitting numbers are the strikeouts — or lack thereof, rather — as Simmons has struck out in just 10 of his 200 plate appearances.

In 1998, Tony Gwynn stepped up to bat 505 times and struck out on just 18 occasions. The league-average strikeout rate of 17% at that point was nearly five times Gwynn’s 3.6% mark. Preston Wilson made his debut that season and struck out more times than Gwynn despite receiving only 60 plate appearances. Gwynn’s 3.6% strikeout rate isn’t the greatest of all-time. Joe Sewell struck out in under 1% of his plate appearances five times, while 68 players between 1919 and 1951 had qualified seasons with rates lower than 2%. There were 413 seasons during that time where a player’s strikeout rate was lower than Gwynn’s in that 1998 campaign. Gwynn himself even had four seasons with a lower strikeout rate than 1998, but when considering the overall context of strikeouts in the game, Gwynn’s 1998 season is probably the best of all-time. If Andrelton Simmons can keep this up, his season is going to be better.

Comparing across eras can be difficult. To try and differentiate between Gwynn’s 1998 campaign and Simmons’s currently season — as well as the seasons authored by Sewell more than 80 years ago — I first broke down the last 100 seasons into different eras depending on the strikeout rate. I then took all the qualified batters during those eras and found the average strikeout rate as well as the standard deviation (SD) of all the qualified batters. I ended up making some judgment calls, but the eras are broken down in the table below along with walk rates for perspective.

Strikeout and Walk Rates Since 1919
Years BB% Avg BB% SD K% Avg K% SD
1919-1951 9.1 3.6 6.8 3.2
1952-1962 9.5 3.5 10.2 4.0
1963-1973 8.8 3.5 12.7 4.7
1974-1985 8.9 3.4 12.0 4.4
1986-1996 9.4 3.5 14.0 5.1
1997-2008 9.4 3.7 15.3 4.8
2009-2013 8.8 3.0 17.1 5.4
2014-2018 8.7 3.4 19.0 5.6
Qualified batters only.

One thing to note is that walk rates haven’t moved significantly over the years. The other thing to note is that the strikeout rates presented here are lower than the MLB-wide rates for the corresponding periods, as we are dealing with qualified batters — that is, the sort who are generally going to be better than hitters on the whole (including pitchers who’ve batted, as well). We see a big shift in strikeouts moving into the pitchers’ era around 1968, followed by a period of stability before picking back up in the late 80s and early 90s. Rates have risen ever since.

With the information above, I created an IQ-like score for individual strikeout rates, with 100 representing average and 15 points added or subtracted for every standard deviation away from 100. In normal distributions, around two-thirds of all batters will be within one standard deviation either way — i.e. between 85 and 115. Below are the best seasons by that measure, including both Simmons’ current stats as well as the number he will end up with (7.9%)if he hits his projections the rest of the way.

Best Strikeout Seasons Since 1918
Season Name Team K% K% IQ Score
2018 Andrelton Simmons Angels 5.0 137.5
1998 Tony Gwynn Padres 3.6 136.6
1976 Dave Cash Phillies 1.8 134.8
2001 Juan Pierre Rockies 4.2 134.7
1997 Tony Gwynn Padres 4.3 134.4
2005 Placido Polanco – – – 4.5 133.8
2000 Mark Grace Cubs 4.5 133.8
1995 Tony Gwynn Padres 2.6 133.5
1997 Ozzie Guillen White Sox 4.6 133.4
1993 Felix Fermin Indians 2.7 133.2
2014 Victor Martinez Tigers 6.6 133.2
2007 Placido Polanco Tigers 4.7 133.1
2004 Juan Pierre Marlins 4.7 133.1
2003 Juan Pierre Marlins 4.7 133.1
1992 Tony Gwynn Padres 2.8 132.9
2002 Jason Kendall Pirates 4.8 132.8
1979 Tim Foli – – – 2.4 132.7
1974 Felix Millan Mets 2.4 132.7
1970 Matty Alou Pirates 2.5 132.6
1999 Eric Young Dodgers 4.9 132.5
2002 Paul Lo Duca Dodgers 4.9 132.5
1993 Ozzie Smith Cardinals 3.0 132.4
1952 Dale Mitchell Indians 1.6 132.3
1958 Nellie Fox White Sox 1.6 132.3
1997 Gary DiSarcina Angels 5.0 132.2
1954 Nellie Fox White Sox 1.7 131.9
1961 Nellie Fox White Sox 1.7 131.9
2001 Fernando Vina Cardinals 5.1 131.9
1997 Gregg Jefferies Phillies 5.1 131.9
43 Others
2018 Andrelton Simmons (Projection) Angels 7.9 129.7
Qualified batters.

One could argue that, if strikeouts are likely to be significantly higher this season than in years’ past, Simmons should place even higher up on this list than Gwynn. As the Simmons’ projected numbers suggest, however, Simmons isn’t likely to end up atop the list at the end of the season. His season should still be impressive, nevertheless. To put Simmons’ numbers in context with the current season, the scatter plot below shows all qualified batters by strikeout and walk rate.

Simmons is all on his own at the bottom of the screen. Michael Brantley is the only other player even below 9%, and he has half the number of walks of Simmons.

To follow up with an interesting exercise that has less to do with Simmons, I repeated the IQ methodology above with walk rates, and then combined the walk IQ scores with strikeout IQ scores via their geometric mean to determine which players have been the best this season in terms of both walks and strikeouts.

Best Strikeout and Walk Combination in 2018
Name Team BB% BB% IQ Score K% K% IQ Score GM BB and K IQs*
Bryce Harper Nationals 20.3 151.2 17.5 104.0 125.4
Joe Mauer Twins 16.8 135.7 13.2 115.5 125.2
Mike Trout Angels 20.8 153.4 19.0 100.0 123.8
Alex Bregman Astros 14.5 125.6 11.2 120.9 123.2
Jose Ramirez Indians 13.0 119.0 9.2 126.3 122.6
Carlos Santana Phillies 15.3 129.1 13.8 113.9 121.3
Denard Span Rays 15.5 130.0 14.3 112.6 121.0
Justin Bour Marlins 20.4 151.6 20.4 96.3 120.8
Andrelton Simmons Angels 10.0 105.7 5.0 137.5 120.6
Joey Votto Reds 15.1 128.2 15.6 109.1 118.3
Nick Markakis Braves 10.6 108.4 9.3 126.0 116.9
Freddie Freeman Braves 14.3 124.7 15.7 108.8 116.5
Mookie Betts Red Sox 11.0 110.1 11.0 121.4 115.7
Robinson Cano Mariners 12.4 116.3 13.6 114.5 115.4
Jesse Winker Reds 12.3 115.9 14.7 111.5 113.7
Buster Posey Giants 10.5 107.9 11.7 119.6 113.6
Lorenzo Cain Brewers 14.7 126.5 18.3 101.9 113.5
Max Kepler Twins 11.7 113.2 14.0 113.4 113.3
Aaron Hicks Yankees 13.7 122.1 17.1 105.1 113.3
Kris Bryant Cubs 12.9 118.5 16.0 108.0 113.2
Manny Machado Orioles 11.6 112.8 14.0 113.4 113.1
Didi Gregorius Yankees 10.9 109.7 13.0 116.1 112.8
Brett Gardner Yankees 14.7 126.5 18.8 100.5 112.8
Daniel Robertson Rays 18.4 142.8 23.1 89.0 112.7
Andrew Benintendi Red Sox 13.0 119.0 16.9 105.6 112.1
*GM = Geometric Mean.
Qualified batters through 5/23, except Simmons, whose numbers are through 5/24.

And for fun, here are the greatest seasons of all time calculated the same way.

Best Strikeout and Walk Combination Since 1918
Name Team Season BB% BB IQ Score K% K% IQ Score GM BB and K IQs*
Barry Bonds Giants 2004 37.6 214.3 6.6 127.2 165.1
Barry Bonds Giants 2002 32.4 193.2 7.7 123.8 154.6
Barry Bonds Giants 2003 26.9 170.9 10.5 115.0 140.2
Ted Williams Red Sox 1954 25.9 170.3 6.1 115.4 140.2
Elmer Valo Athletics 1952 20.4 146.7 3.2 126.3 136.1
Ted Williams Red Sox 1941 24.3 163.3 4.5 110.8 134.5
Barry Bonds Giants 2001 26.7 170.1 14.0 104.1 133.1
Joey Votto Reds 2017 19.0 145.4 11.7 119.6 131.9
Joe Morgan Reds 1975 20.7 152.1 8.1 113.3 131.3
Wade Boggs Red Sox 1988 17.4 134.3 4.7 127.4 130.8
Joe Morgan Reds 1976 19.0 144.6 6.8 117.7 130.5
Albert Pujols Cardinals 2009 16.4 138.0 9.1 122.2 129.9
Ferris Fain White Sox 1953 19.1 141.1 5.0 119.5 129.9
Gary Sheffield Marlins 1996 21.0 149.7 9.7 112.6 129.9
Barry Bonds Giants 1996 22.4 155.7 11.3 107.9 129.6
Willie Randolph Yankees 1980 18.5 142.4 7.0 117.0 129.1
Ted Williams Red Sox 1957 21.8 152.7 7.9 108.6 128.8
Mark Grace Cubs 2000 15.3 123.9 4.5 133.8 128.7
Ferris Fain Athletics 1950 20.2 146.3 4.0 113.1 128.6
Brian Giles Pirates 2002 21.0 147.0 11.5 111.9 128.3
Mickey Cochrane Tigers 1935 18.4 138.8 2.9 118.3 128.1
Luke Appling White Sox 1949 19.5 143.3 3.9 113.6 127.6
Eddie Collins White Sox 1925 16.3 130.0 1.5 124.8 127.4
Mike Hargrove Indians 1981 15.1 127.4 4.0 127.3 127.3
Mickey Cochrane Athletics 1933 19.6 143.8 4.1 112.7 127.3
*GM = Geometric Mean.
Qualified batters through 5/23, except Simmons, whose numbers are through 5/24.

No surprises at the top, right? Andrelton Simmons might not be hot on the trail of Barry Bonds, but so far he’s been a lot like Ozzie Smith and Tony Gwynn. That’s pretty good company, too.

We hoped you liked reading Andrelton Simmons Is Avoiding Strikeouts Like Tony Gwynn by Craig Edwards!

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Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

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sadtrombone
Member
sadtrombone

Oh, nothing to see here, just your standard 7+ win player. Just move along. Only a guy who plays defense like Ozzie Smith and hits like Tony Gwynn. Nothing special.

v2micca
Member
Member
v2micca

Every so often, I think MLB was too harsh on John Coppolella giving him a lifetime ban. Then I remember this trade and think he got off with a wrist slap.

KingSupreme
Member
KingSupreme

No big deal, just the best defensive shortstop, and one of the best offensive shortstops, in the game going against the grain of a strikeout heavy league. But hey, MLB will just keep making money off of Correra and other inferior shortstops.

374285942768
Member
374285942768

im wondering if this comment is a joke. since the beginning of last season Carlos Correa has more than twice the offensive runs above average that Simmons does. were you trying to make a joke?