On Sunday night, Andrelton Simmons orchestrated what has to be one of the top assists of the year, certainly the most creative. On one play, within one sequence, he created two separate rundowns. If it’s not one of the most watchable chain of events all season, I have to see the full list of contenders. It featured all the athleticism, artistry, and anticipation that we’ve come to associate with Simmons.
With two outs in the bottom of the third, the count full, and Jose Altuve on first base, Carlos Correa ripped a single to right. With Altuve off and running, Simmons moved into position to cut off the throw from Kole Calhoun. Instead of holding his glove up near his chest, however, to intercept the ball, Simmons allowed his hands to hang freely at his sides. His intent, it seemed, was to let the ball carry through to third base with a view to catching Altuve.
Simultaneously, Correa proceeded to make a wide turn around first base. Perhaps anticipating this — indeed, perhaps having caused it — Simmons reached up at the last moment to cut off Calhoun’s throw. Immediately, he turned to first, throwing it behind Correa and creating the opportunity for a rundown.
That’s actually only half the play. Instead of describing the rest, though, I’ll just present the whole video. Here it is:
It’s a remarkable sequence.
The extended play is another example of how special a defender Simmons is at shortstop. He leads all defenders with 33 Defensive Runs Saved this year, doing so while occupying the position at the top of the defensive spectrum. He’s tied with Franklin Gutierrez for what is the fifth-best DRS mark of all time, trailing only Kevin Kiermaier (42 DRS in 2015), himself (Simmons posted 41 DRS in 2013), Manny Machado (35 DRS in 2013) and Adam Everett (34 DRS in 2006).
Simmons is the best shortstop of the DRS era, which dates back to 2003.
Simmons has totaled 164 DRS since his debut. The next-best shortstop is Jack Wilson, who totaled 116 DRS. They’re the only two shortstops to have recorded 100-plus career DRS. Only 10 have totaled more than 20. Simmons is absurdly good at defense.
The Simmons trade is one the Atlanta Braves would perhaps like to have back. He ranks 19th in the sport in WAR (4.7), and the 28-year-old is under contract for the next three seasons at $39 million.
Simmons has all sorts of gifts that can be measured by Statcast. He has an incredibly quick exchange, a strong and accurate arm.
I suspect that, to have converted 12.9% of “remote” plays for his career (those with a 1-10% chance, according to Inside Edge) and 44.4% of “unlikely” plays (10-40%), Simmons must also possess an outstanding first step and well above-average range.
But what’s notable about the play Sunday night is the imagination and anticipation it required.
Consider all the choices made by Simmons in an instant. To set the trap for Correa, to immediately assume a role in the rundown between first and second, to remain aware of Altuve’s movements at the same time: these are all things Statcast can’t easily measure. Yet it’s evidence of a player who’s completely focused on the game, who must be something of an elite student of the game, who knows his opponents well, and can think two steps ahead to set up plays. Simmons here is the equivalent of an expert point guard on multiple fast breaks simultaneously.
Some of the skills on display fall under the umbrella of baseball makeup, that quality demonstrated by players who are good bets to maximize their talent, while also suggesting who will add hidden value on the field and in the clubhouse.
Simmons is fun because of his tools. Statcast and defensive metrics love him in part for those tools. But the play from Sunday night should also be of comfort to evaluators, some of whom are fearing redundancy in this age of player- and ball-tracking. Not everything that makes Simmons special, or that play special, can be counted or quantified. And that should still mean there is a place for human evaluators for a while, perhaps for all time. There is still magic and imagination in the game.