The slow MLB free agency market is creating quite the off-season conversation around possible fits. Yankee fans wrestle with the possibility that DJ LeMahieu may walk in free agency and are looking for options to replace him. While a reunion with Didi Gregorius has been rumored as a possible fallback option, former Angel shortstop Andrelton Simmons has been floated out there as well. It’s no secret that Simmons has had health concerns over the last two seasons and that it has greatly affected his play, but the former gold glove shortstop is still worth any team’s interest and your look in fantasy drafts.
A Historic Glove
When you hear the name Andrelton Simmons, one thing comes to mind. Defense. He is one of the greatest defensive infielders baseball has ever seen. Since the creation of Sports Info Solution’s defense metric Defensive Runs Saved, DRS for short, Simmons ranks 2nd all-time in the statistic. He has half the innings the all-time leader, Adrian Beltre has. There have been 20 seasons with at least 30 DRS. Simmons has three of those seasons and the only season with 40 DRS ever back in 2017. He is special in the field and you don’t need me to tell you that, he can show you that.
The question about his defense is more how good it will be as he ages. Simmons has always had great range but isn’t the fastest player in the field. Simmons’s highest sprint speed percentile ranking is 61.5 in 2017. It’s not a coincidence that his fastest sprint speed time is the same year he had 40 DRS, but it also shows that Simmons doesn’t rely on his speed. In 2019, Simmons had an ankle injury that affected large parts of his game both offensively and defensively. Yet in that same year, Simmons still had 12 DRS, good for 5th at the position, and 16 OAA, good for 2nd at the position. He was the only player who was in the top 5 with under 1000 innings at the position. Even when labored with an injury that could affect your speed, Simmons still found a way to be an elite defender.
In 2020, Simmons battled an injury to the same ankle again, making him move at the slowest speed of his career that statcast has available. Keeping an eye on how well he moves around in 2021 will give you a good idea of how healthy he is. The 2020 defensive statistics are subject to a small sample size so players like Simmons who hovered around average for the season should be taken with a grain of salt. Defensive metrics also aren’t predictive over year-to-year trends. If a player saves 12 runs one year by DRS, he could still be a negative value defender the next year. Keep that in mind when looking at any player’s defensive metrics in 2020.
If Simmons is healthy, we can look to other all-time great defenders to see how they played in their postage 31 seasons. I’ll be using dWAR because pre-2003 defensive metric numbers are not the most accurate. I understand that using dWAR is flawed because it accounts for positional adjustment and uses those shaky metrics, but I think we can trust the evaluation of the top names listed by dWAR and to show the value of defense in comparing eras.
Some pretty iconic defenders on that list. While I believe Simmons is comparable to Ozzie Smith (he may be better than him but that’s a different piece for a different time) even if Simmons were to age like Mark Belanger in the field, he’d end his career with a 45.5 dWAR according to baseball-reference. The highest value ever in baseball history.
Now, maybe that’s a bit bullish and liberal in my projection but the point is if Simmons is healthy, there’s no reason to believe that he won’t be the same elite defender that he has proven to be. We can all enjoy plays like this for many more years.
Makes Contact with Everything
Simmons is an unusual breed offensively in today’s game. The three true outcomes that have become more popular for hitters in the realization that hitting home runs is the most effective way to score, Simmons doesn’t do any of that. Simmons has hit 32 home runs total since 2017. His career high in home runs is 17 back in 2013. Simmons has just never hit for power, and nor does he seem to want to do that. He doesn’t hit the ball hard or in the air. In both 2019 and 2020, Simmons’ ground ball rates hovered at 55%. To quote Josh Donaldson, ground balls are outs. In his best offensive seasons of 2017 and 2018, Simmons hovered around 50% for his ground ball rate. Take a look at his wRC+ in his career on batted ball type.
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For Simmons, it seems that he needs to maximize the number of line drives he hits. He doesn’t have the strength to hit the ball over the fence and past the age of 30, that ability is not going to magically appear. He needs to find a way to keep his swing more consistent. Connor Kucron’s TruwOBA has had Simmons being consistently higher than his wOBA and xwOBA. While all that says is that Simmons has the potential to improve his bat, it is meaningless without the right approach or adjustments to his swing.
Simmons’ success comes from limiting pop ups and hitting line drives. In Simmons’ best years at the plate he had roughly a 23% line drive rate and 8% pop up rate. In the past two seasons that pop up rate has risen to over 10%, while his line drive rate fell dramatically in 2019. The good news is the line drive rate climbed again in 2020, but it’s hard to make judgments on a sample size of 150 plate appearances. He did have a 99 wRC+ on the year, which is a good sign that he may bounce back at the plate again in 2021.
The problem for Simmons is that he doesn’t walk, ever. Since 2017, Simmons has walked in just 6.1% of PAs. The good part is that he doesn’t strike out much either only striking out in 9.1% of PAs. As I’ve written before, one of the most sustainable skills to offensive success is controlling the strike zone and getting on base. Simmons doesn’t do that and he is more susceptible to BABIP luck. Hitters like Simmons can be successful, but it is hard. Since 2017, there have been 171 qualified hitters with a sub 10% walk rate, only Joe Panik has a sub 10% strikeout rate with Simmons. Simmons makes a lot of contact and that might make him more susceptible to poor offensive performance as he ages.
Simmons has never hit the ball hard or had good quality of contact statistics. Looking and pointing to those as a potential sign of decline is not the way to go for Simmons. In his best offensive season, Simmons was still below average in Hard-Hit rate. It’s taken a tumble since then, but injuries and a small sample size of 2020 could be a factor in that.
There’s also the question of health on the offensive end. If Simmons’ declining speed is a larger trend rather than a symptom of an injury, his offensive performance may begin to dip as well. It’s still worth taking the chance on him offensively because the ankle injuries were apparent in 2019 and 2020. If he proves to be healthy and moving around again, then this concern falls by the wayside.
A Chance Worth Taking
For Major League baseball teams, Andrelton Simmons is not going to come at a steep price. He is likely going to get a one year deal and then join the stacked shortstop class of 2021, making him an ideal fit for teams that need defense. The Yankees, the Reds, and the Twins are teams likely to be in on him. Simmons for one season can easily be a 5-win player or more if he can make the necessary adjustments offensively. That’s something teams should want to be in on.
For fantasy draft purposes, Simmons is going to be relatively low on boards in comparison to previous years. Simmons’ health concerns and low defensive metrics may scare some people away from drafting him, making him a good buy-low candidate. We need to see more from him on the field to know if he is truly beginning to regress, but I don’t think he is. He can still bring great defense and average to slightly above average offensive production if he is healthy. That’ll be the question he has to answer, but it shouldn’t give you pause in drafting him.
Andrelton Simmons is one of the best defensive players we have ever seen, and one day when looking back at his career, I hope people will say he was more than an Omar Vizquel type player. (He already is more than that but that’s not the point). 2021 could be a big year in the legacy of Andrelton Simmons, and I think he will still provide great value to a team. Let’s hope to see some stellar defense again in 2021.
Photo by Juan DeLeon/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Doug Carlin (@Bdougals on Twitter)