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Andrelton channeling Gwynn by avoiding Ks

Halos shortstop on pace for lowest strikeout rate in 20 years @AndrewSimonMLB

Throughout his career, Andrelton Simmons has worked defensive magic at shortstop.

This season, he has become something of a magician at the plate, too. His trick? He has stopped striking out.

Throughout his career, Andrelton Simmons has worked defensive magic at shortstop.

This season, he has become something of a magician at the plate, too. His trick? He has stopped striking out.

Since returning from a short stint on the disabled list June 16, Simmons has gone just 2-for-20, but he has run his streak to 21 games without a K -- the longest by an Angels player since Spike Owen went 27 straight in 1994. Going back to May 3, Simmons has just one strikeout over 153 plate appearances, spanning 36 games (all starts).

Across the Majors, Ks continue to climb. MLB hitters struck out in a record 21.6 percent of their plate appearances in 2017, and they are ahead of that pace in '18 (22.4 percent). Yet while enjoying easily his most productive season with the bat -- .a 311/.379/.430 slash line for a well above-average 128 wRC+ -- Simmons is avoiding punchouts at a rate not seen in 20 years.

Simmons' 3.8 percent strikeout rate is the lowest for a qualified player since Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn's 3.6 percent in 1998. Gwynn, one of the game's great pure hitters, had a strikeout rate that was about 21 percent as high as the MLB rate that season. Simmons' current K-rate is about 17 percent as high as the league-wide rate.

So how is it that the Halos shortstop has dropped his strikeout rate (from 10.4 percent) while MLB hitters as a group rack up more and more whiffs against an army of pitchers with sizzling velocity and physics-defying offspeed stuff?

"Honestly, I have no idea," Simmons told Angels beat reporter Maria Guardado. "I try to do basically the same thing -- just pitch recognition has been a little better. Approach has been a little better, so I think those are the factors for me that have helped me."

Simmons theorized that harder swings and more home runs could be linked to the overall strikeout trend, and he may be right. But when it comes to his own enviable ability to avoid the K, he insists it's not the result of a concerted effort.

"I hope I don't strike out a lot, but I don't really mind striking out," Simmons said. "I just happen not to. … That's a result of having better at-bats, I think, and taking pitches I shouldn't swing at."

That last point is an important one. Compared with the previous few seasons, Simmons' swing rate against pitches in the zone is about the same, as is his contact rate. But what has changed significantly is his chase rate, with Simmons ranking in the top 10 percent of MLB hitters in terms of laying off those out-of-zone pitches.

Simmons' chase rate by season, 2015-18
2015: 25.3 percent
2016: 26.2 percent
2017: 26.7 percent
2018: 18.8 percent

When Simmons does swing the bat -- at any pitch -- he has missed just 11.9 percent of the time, which gives him for the fourth-lowest such rate of 240 batters with at least 300 swings (teammate Ian Kinsler ranks first, at 10.6 percent). Simmons doesn't fall into two-strike situations often, but when he does, he has avoided the K on more than 94 percent of pitches he has seen.

It all adds up to a stat line that seems like an anachronism: 265 plate appearances, 25 walks, 10 strikeouts.

No qualified hitter since Placido Polanco in 2007 has finished with a strikeout rate below five percent. None has finished below six percent since Nori Aoki in '13. Joe Panik's 8.9 percent in '16 was the lowest mark of the past two seasons, and this year, Cleveland's Michael Brantley is the closest to Simmons, at 8.7 percent.

Meanwhile, Simmons is on track to become the first qualified hitter to finish with at least twice as many walks as strikeouts since slap-hitting second baseman Luis Castillo (2005), who was preceded in each of the previous three seasons by Barry Bonds.

Simply avoiding strikeouts isn't enough, of course. Many top hitters succeed while striking out more than 20 percent of the time, and some of the lowest-strikeout hitters are not particularly productive.

For Simmons, however, the formula is working. His batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage all are career bests. His wRC+ -- a park-adjusted offensive metric in which 100 is league average -- has climbed for the fourth straight year, up from a low of 71 in 2014. His 128 wRC+ this year is about equal to what Nolan Arenado posted in '17.

So while Simmons' glove has retained its glory, it's no longer his only source of magic.

Andrew Simon is a research analyst for Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB.

Los Angeles Angels, Andrelton Simmons