Andrelton's slick glove is unmatched at shortstop
Just 24, Braves defensive whiz combines athleticism and smarts at position
After you combine all of the sabermetrics that measure the defensive effectiveness of baseball players, Andrelton Simmons is the game's most prolific shortstop, and it's not even close.
Before we continue, users of those newfangled statistics prefer to go by initials. You have UZR (ultimate zone rating), and you have DRS (defensive runs saved) along with defensive WAR (wins above replacement).
Ever hear of YOE?
That stands for your own eyes.
Anybody with just one of them can't watch Simmons at shortstop during a stretch of any game for the Braves without uttering words such as amazing, sensational, incredible and unbelievable.
Help me out, Craig Kimbrel.
"What Andrelton does is phenomenal, but it's more than that," said Kimbrel, the Atlanta closer who found several more words to describe his teammate with the slick glove, cannon arm and ever-churning mind when it comes to fielding his position. "What he does every game he plays, I would say it's better than magic. He makes the really hard plays look routine, and you get to the point where you expect him to make a particular play, even though it's a hard one."
Such is the price for consistent greatness. And get this: Simmons just turned 24 on Wednesday. Not only that, this is his first full season in the Major Leagues after a hand injury in the middle of last summer limited him to 49 games.
It didn't matter. Simmons was named ESPN's Best Defensive Shortstop of the Month for June 2012. He also shined brightly enough on offense that month to win NL Rookie of the Month honors courtesy of a .333 batting average. Simmons eventually cooled at the end of the year to hit .289, but his glove and his arm remained sizzling.
Nothing has changed. Simmons is as fearless as ever during his sophomore year in the Major Leagues, not only in the field, but also at the plate and on the bases. Still, it's his defense that makes you gasp the most while trying to put your heart back into your chest.
This gawking over Simmons begins with his inability to play less than full speed at all times. More specifically, he is a 6-foot-2, 170-pound bundle of constant energy who doesn't believe there is a railing he can't conquer while in pursuit of a fly ball. Simmons also couldn't care less about runners snarling in his direction with cleats up high. Plus, he gives you the impression that he never has entertained the thought of allowing a sizzling grounder to scoot past his glove to the outfield without a well-timed dive or just a mighty stretch of his long arm.
There have been so many great plays for Simmons, but the following one tells the story of all of them, and it happened during a loss.
Let's return to last month in Atlanta at Turner Field, where the Braves and the Nationals were tied in the top of the 14th inning. With one out and runners at first and second, Nationals reliever Craig Stammen squared to bunt, but then he yanked the bat back to swing away to send a lazy two-hopper in the direction of shortstop. The thing is, Simmons was moving toward third base when Stammen threatened to bunt. But along came the majesty of Simmons -- both physically and mentally -- at shortstop.
As soon as Simmons saw the batter move away from bunting, he rushed back toward his regular position at shortstop to grab the grounder on the run. That was impressive, but it gets better -- much better -- because Simmons tagged second base on the run with his right foot. While his momentum carried him toward short center, he zipped the most perfect of side-armed throws to first to complete the double play. It's enough to make you wonder: What is Simmons thinking before, during and after his various miracles?
Turns out, Simmons is thinking a lot.
"When the pitch is inside to a hitter, you take a step to the right, or whatever," Simmons said, always pleasant enough to make you wish to adopt him as your son. "If you see changeups away, you know they're going to be pulled. Or if there is a guy who has an inside-outside swing like Miguel Cabrera, no matter if you throw him a fastball [inside] or not, he's still going to hit that ball up the middle. So it's stuff like that. You start noticing stuff with time, I guess."
I guess. It's just that, when it comes to longevity, we're talking about a kid who hasn't exactly been around as long as, say, Derek Jeter, the Yankees icon who Simmons idolized despite growing up in Curacao as a Braves fan. When Jeter was winning the first of his five World Series championships with the Yankees in 1996, Simmons was in his early stages of grammar school. Then there was Omar Vizquel, who retired from baseball after last season with 11 Gold Gloves at shortstop. He also was one of Simmons' favorites, and the first of Vizquel's 24 seasons in the Major Leagues came during the year that Simmons was born in 1989.
"Growing up, I just liked the way Jeter went about his business, and I really liked the crazy and athletic stuff that Vizquel did," Simmons said. "He also had really good hands."
Which brings us to the obvious question: Does Simmons see a sprinkling of Jeter or a bunch of Vizquel in himself? He frowned, paused and then said, "I don't know. I really can't see myself playing. I can't tell you what I do, because I just go out there to try to catch as many balls as I can."