Let’s Not Forget About Andrelton Simmons

There was a time, not very long ago, when Andrelton Simmons mesmerized us on a regular basis. You couldn’t go more than a week without some preposterous defensive play flooding into your Twitter timelines attached to phrases like “whoa,” “wut,” and “OMG.” Yet over the last year or so, that interest in Simmons’ plays has died down.

One reason might be MLB’s stringent social media policing that has deterred sharing GIFs and Vines of baseball-related content, but it’s not like those rules have shut down our collective love fest with Giancarlo Stanton home runs or Noah Syndergaard fastballs. Perhaps there is something about good defense that requires a visual aid in a way that other things don’t, but there’s probably more to it than that.

To understand this troubling decrease in Simmons-related online joy, we first have to ask ourselves if Simmons is still the elite defender he was at the peak of his internet glory. If he is, we must then wrestle with the reasons why he no longer seems to impress us to the same degree.

The first question is relatively easy to answer. While defensive metrics aren’t perfect by any means, they’re collectively good enough to determine if he’s a great shortstop. Here are his DRS and UZR numbers scaled to 1,350 innings over his career (2016 inning count through Wednesday).

Andrelton Simmons, SS
Season Innings DRS/1,350 UZR/1,350
2012 426 60 35
2013 1352.1 41 25
2014 1277 30 16
2015 1279.1 26 18
2016 676 22 17

In the simplest sense, the worst thing these numbers tell us is that Simmons has gone from an unfathomably good defender to an exceptionally good one since 2013. In reality, we probably wouldn’t even go that far. Given the relatively small number of non-routine defensive plays per season and the measurement error that exists within the two systems, it’s probably safest to say that the data indicates he’s performed a bit worse over the last couple years and that his 2012-2013 numbers were probably flukishly high to some degree. We don’t know for sure, but that’s probably the most responsible way to put it.

So Simmons remains one of the best defensive players in the game, if not the best. Inside Edge indicates that he’s made four plays in the “remote” category this year, which is well above what you’d expect given he’s only had 13 chances to make such plays. Granted, he’s only made two of seven “unlikely” plays, which would put him below his career norms. These are minuscule, but given how gray the distinctions are, I wouldn’t allow either data point to move me from the belief that Simmons remains great. Simmons was clearly great before, given the numbers and what we’ve seen, and the numbers haven’t moved in a way that would make us worried he’s no longer making awesome plays.

Here are two examples:


Keep in mind, it’s not just that Simmons is good. Simmons is historically good, as best we can tell. If we take all of the age 22-26 runs (Simmons’ career) from 2003 to 2016 (the DRS/UZR era) and sort them by our Defensive Runs (positional adjustment plus UZR/DRS for catchers) he is way ahead of everyone else.

Defensive Runs Above Average, 2003-2016 (Ages 22-26)
Andrelton Simmons 2307 102.8
Yadier Molina 2307 85.3
Jason Heyward 2787 72.7
Evan Longoria 2726 69.5
Salvador Perez 2381 68.9
Matt Wieters 2031 63.1
Troy Tulowitzki 2866 62.3
Adrian Beltre 1915 61.7
Brian McCann 2734 60.2
J.J. Hardy 2298 59.9
Kevin Kiermaier 1133 56.2
Franklin Gutierrez 1513 54.8
Corey Patterson 2016 54.3
Carlos Gomez 1991 52.6
Billy Hamilton 1457 51.9

We can do the same thing using DEF/600 PA to make sure we catch people who didn’t get the same playing time within the window. Only Kevin Kiermaier tops Simmons over many fewer PA:

Defensive Runs Above Average, 2003-2016 (Ages 22-26)
Name PA DEF DEF/600
Kevin Kiermaier 1133 56.2 32.2
Andrelton Simmons 2307 102.8 29.0
Peter Bourjos 1136 44.3 25.3
Juan Lagares 1338 50.8 24.7
Yadier Molina 2307 85.3 24.0
Franklin Gutierrez 1513 54.8 23.5
Billy Hamilton 1457 51.9 23.2
Adrian Beltre 1915 61.7 20.9
Matt Wieters 2031 63.1 20.2
Ender Inciarte 1368 40.9 19.4
Salvador Perez 2381 68.9 18.8
Corey Patterson 2016 54.3 17.5
Carlos Gomez 1991 52.6 17.2
Jason Heyward 2787 72.7 17.0
J.J. Hardy 2298 59.9 16.9

And if we want to get slightly irresponsible and look back to 1974 using the same method:

Defensive Runs Above Average, 1974-2016 (Ages 22-26)
Ozzie Guillen 2976 140.1
Andruw Jones 3419 132.9
Ivan Rodriguez 2872 115.9
Andrelton Simmons 2307 102.8
Omar Vizquel 2355 95.2
Cal Ripken 3584 94.4
Gary Carter 2725 86.9
Yadier Molina 2307 85.3
Barry Bonds 3159 85.1
Robin Yount 2933 85
Adrian Beltre 3065 83.7
Charles Johnson 1809 81
Jim Sundberg 2018 80.1
Willie Wilson 2694 79.3
Royce Clayton 2470 77.2

Here it is per 600 PA:

Defensive Runs Above Average, 1974-2016 (Ages 22-26)
Name PA DEF DEF/600
Kevin Kiermaier 1133 56.2 29.8
Ozzie Guillen 2976 140.1 28.2
Charles Johnson 1809 81 26.9
Andrelton Simmons 2307 102.8 26.7
Scott Fletcher 1247 51.2 24.6
Omar Vizquel 2355 95.2 24.3
Ivan Rodriguez 2872 115.9 24.2
Jim Sundberg 2018 80.1 23.8
Peter Bourjos 1136 44.3 23.4
Andruw Jones 3419 132.9 23.3
Mike Cameron 1581 60.5 23.0
Juan Lagares 1338 50.8 22.8
Yadier Molina 2307 85.3 22.2
Rick Wilkins 1009 37.1 22.1
Franklin Gutierrez 1513 54.8 21.7

Of course the metrics aren’t nearly good enough for us to put stock in a specific historical ranking over the course of 42 years, but this gives us plenty of support for the fact that Simmons is both still great, and among the best we’ve seen. So there’s no reason why we should appreciate him any less.

There are a few reasons why the Simmons Appreciation Society is less active these days. The first, as mentioned earlier, is that baseball fans are simply less able to share highlights than they were a couple of years ago before MLB began more stringent policing of online media. Another potential explanation is that Simmons was traded from Atlanta to Los Angeles this offseason, meaning that a good portion of the baseball viewing public isn’t awake when he plays many of his games. Maybe west coast fans are appreciating him plenty and it’s just not catching on in the same way because part of the audience is non-responsive.

There’s also something to be said for complacency. Our brains are now used to Simmons’ defense much like we’re used to how good Mike Trout is. Every Simmons play used to be an event, but they’ve become such a normal part of baseball after five years that we treat them as part of the scenery. There’s also the actual Mike Trout factor, as Simmons now has the second most interesting skill set on his own team.

Finally, I think part of the explanation is that we just do not appreciate great defense to large enough degree across the league because the quantity is smaller. For this reason, Simmons’ glove is not as as valuable as Trout’s bat, but there’s a case to be made his performances are as aesthetically pleasing. What makes Trout remarkable is his hand-eye coordination and swing quality. You have to watch him a lot to see the difference between Trout and the game’s other great players, but you get four or five Trout plate appearances per game. You might only get one great Simmons play every three or four games.

This is why hitting is more important than defense for a position player, but there’s a difference between value and enjoyment. A great play by a shortstop in the hole is a lot more interesting than a 400-foot home run, even if the 400-foot home run is a more useful event.

We pay very close attention to players who do things on offense that put them in historic company, but very little attention has been thrown Simmons’ way lately despite his place among the best modern defenders. Part of that is due to the measurement issues, but part of it is because we’ve gotten use to talking about how valuable something is rather than how impressive something is. We should make more of an effort to appreciate the truly remarkable defense of Andrelton Simmons before he ages out of his peak abilities.

Neil Weinberg is the Site Educator at FanGraphs and can be found writing enthusiastically about the Detroit Tigers at New English D. Follow and interact with him on Twitter @NeilWeinberg44.

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Thank you! I’m getting tired of people saying “this guy is the best defender” “this guy is the best defensive SS” everybody keeps forgetting that Simmons still plays and very well.