Simmons honored with first Gold Glove Award
Curacao native is first Braves shortstop to win Rawlings defensive prize
ATLANTA -- When asked to name the best play he has ever seen Andrelton Simmons make, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez has simply responded, "The next one."
While it might be difficult to determine which of Simmons' jaw-dropping gems has been his best, it is quite difficult to argue against the widespread belief that he currently stands as baseball's premier defensive shortstop.
Without any hint of surprise, Simmons' defensive excellence was rewarded Tuesday night when he learned he had garnered his first Rawlings Gold Glove Award, which is presented to the top defender at every position in both the National and American Leagues.
"It's an honor," Simmons said during the award announcement on ESPN2. "I've always been praised growing up. But to do it on the biggest stage is the biggest of honors."
Simmons and Jason Heyward were the only Braves who were named finalists at their respective positions for the award. Heyward's bid to win a second straight was denied as Arizona's Gerardo Parra was recognized as the NL's top right fielder.
Simmons becomes the first shortstop in Braves franchise history to win a Gold Glove. The 24-year-old infielder is following in the footsteps of fellow Curacao native Andruw Jones, who won 10 straight Gold Gloves from 1998-2006 while playing for the Braves.
Before Simmons, the last Braves infielder to win a Gold Glove was Terry Pendleton, who captured the award while playing third base for Atlanta in 1992. Pendleton, now Atlanta's first-base coach, spent the early portion of his career playing alongside the great Ozzie Smith.
Having played just 206 career games, Simmons has much more to prove before he can be placed in the same category as Smith. But Pendleton has already seen some similarities between the two.
"I know they were both born to play shortstop," Pendleton said in early August. "[Simmons] is just so fluid. It's like, 'Put me there and leave me alone, I know what I'm supposed to do.' Ozzie was that way."
Since its inception in 1957, balloting for the Rawlings Gold Glove had relied solely on votes cast by Major League managers and coaches.
But for the first time, this year's voting process also included ballots cast by a committee of experts in baseball analytics and defensive measurement. This group -- which accounted for 25 percent of the 30 total votes -- devised the SABR Defensive Index, which draws on and aggregates two types of existing defensive metrics: those derived from batted-ball, location-based data, and those collected from play-by-play accounts.
The three metrics representing batted-ball data include defensive runs saved (from Baseball Info Solutions), ultimate zone rating (developed by sabermetician Mitchel Lichtman), and runs effectively defended (created by SABR's Chris Dial).
The 41 defensive runs saved credited to Simmons this year stands as the highest total recorded by a shortstop since the metric was first used in 2003. Adam Everett previously owned the record with the 36 DRS he recorded in 2006. No other Major League shortstop had a DRS greater than 12 this year.
"He's got a knack," Gonzalez said. "He's got a clock, court awareness, whatever you want to call it for the game that you can't teach."
Heyward's attempt to win a second straight Gold Glove was tarnished by the two month-long disabled-list stints he endured. But when he was healthy, he was every bit as impressive from a defensive perspective as he had been last year. His tremendous athleticism and instincts were highlighted as he handled the center-field position during 20 regular-season games and in the postseason.
While playing just 86 games in right field, Heyward did not have the opportunity to match the numbers produced by Parra, who led all Major League outfielders with 41 DRS -- the best mark produced by an outfielder during the 11 seasons the metric has been calculated.
Accounting for just the games he played in right field, Heyward was credited with 15 DRS and an 11.6 UZR. While playing 68 more games at that corner outfield spot last year, he was credited with 20 DRS and a 24.2 UZR.