Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Favorite Braves List - Shortstop

It's time to add an important position to our list. Without a shortstop, our group of starters might get very upset. To appease them, I'm going to add the best defensive shortstop many never got the chance to play with. In addition, with our catcher defecting to New York and the #3 starter enjoying the San Francisco scene, our new shortstop is the only active member of our team still in Atlanta. Fortunately, he'll be here for awhile.

(Previous information on this series can be found here. Of importance, this is not a best list, but a favorites list since I started to follow the Braves. That limits options from 1991-to-now.)

Favorite Braves List (so far)
Ace Starter - Greg Maddux
#2 Starter - John Smoltz
#3 Starter - Tim Hudson
Catcher - Brian McCann
First Base - Fred McGriff
Second Base - Marcus Giles

Some Honorable Mentions - Rafael Furcal would have likely gotten this spot before his super public contract spat with the Braves. Now, he probably wouldn't have held it for long, but it would have been his. Edgar Renteria was a guy you could count on. Special honorable mention to Rafael Belliard. My dad got me into watching the Braves. Maybe we were too lazy to change the channel after WCW Saturday Night went off. Anyway, he loved Belliard and I even chose #2 in little league because of it. My father passed 20 years ago, but every time I read or think of Raffy, I think of him.

Favorite Braves List - Shortstop
Andrelton Simmons

While there have been some half-way decent shortstops that have played in Atlanta over the last few years, including some pretty good defenders, none come close to the greatness that is Simba. Still only 24 for another few months, Simmons arrived in the majors in 2012 and for 265 games, he has showed a maddeningly inconsistent bat, but a knack for defensive gems. When the Big Three pitched with Andruw Jones in center, they were giving an advantage that was unique...a player with defensive capabilities that were well above the good defenders at their position and to make things better, that player played a prime defensive position.

Simmons was picked out of the second round in 2010 from Western Oklahoma State College. While many teams were intrigued his ability to pitch, the Braves were more interested in Simmons playing shortstop than striking out batters while coming out of the pen. For his part, Simmons was overjoyed as he wanted to play in the field, not pitch.

After a year at Danville where he hit .276/.340/.356, Simmons headed to Lynchburg in 2011, skipping right past Rome. He spent the entire season as a Hillcat, where he led the league in hitting among players that received 350 PA or more. While he is not a great basestealer, he did finish 10th in the league with 26 steals, a mark that led the Hillcats. He added 35 doubles while playing defense that was too good for the Carolina League.

His minor league time would come to a close 44 games into the 2012 season. Simmons was hitting .293/.372/.420 with a career best 9.9 BB% for Mississippi when, tired of the defense and weak production at the plate from Tyler Pastornicky, the Braves handed shortstop over to Simmons. An injury sustained sliding hands-first into second limited Simmons to just 49 games, but he posted a 2.2 fWAR on the heels of a good stick and an even better glove. Expectations were deliriously high in 2013 when Simmons was penciled in for his first full season and a leadoff spot, setting the table for a contender.

The glove was, if anything, better than advertised and the hype was already pretty big. He posted a series of historic marks including the second best short-stop UZR and the most DRS (overall) since 2004. The series of youtube videos bringing focus to how amazing his defense is can be easily searched, viewed, and re-viewed. At the risk of going too far, it's practically porn watching Simmons do his thing because it is so above even good shortstops.

Unfortunately, his promising bat has not been nearly as productive. He doesn't need to hit to be one of the best shortstops in the game, but it would be nice to hit a little. He has good pop, as evidence by his 17 homeruns last year and .140 career ISO. But he makes a ridiculous amount of outs and his career .302 OBP is disappointing considering what he was posting before 2013, especially considering his his bat was so good when he came up.

Regardless of his hitting prowess, or lack there of, Simmons is easily my favorite shortstop since I started to follow the Braves. I could watch him and Jason Heyward play defense all day. Their skills are just too sweet. If he starts to hit...watch out. Simmons could become a 6 fWAR guy rather quickly.

In the mean time, I'll be overjoyed to watch him play defense at short through, at least, the 2020 season as the Braves inked Simmons to a mega deal before this season. He'll earn every dollar he's paid.

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