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Ah Zabenya! “Simba” offers hope

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A look into Andrelton’s improvement offensively and the fact that the Angels finally have a franchise shortstop.

MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Cleveland Indians
A “wizard” defensively.
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Perhaps Josh is the only other one to notice, but Andrelton Simmons is having a damn good season. Like reeeeaaally good season. Off topic as well as off the top of your head, who would you guess is the third ranked shortstop in Major League Baseball by FanGraphs’ WAR tool? Francisco Lindor? Xander Bogaerts? Surely Carlos Correa and Corey Seager have to be in the top 3? Well, you were correct on the latter. Correa and Seager are numbers one and two based off of fWAR (4.0 and 3.9, respectively). Right behind them, that’s our very own Andrelton Simmons with a shiny 3.6 fWAR.

For some context on how good that is, he’s a tick better than Zack Cozart, who has a .317/.402/.568 line, and comfortably sitting ahead of some very good Major Leaguers in Didi Gregorius, Francisco Lindor, Xander Bogaerts, and Jean Segura (note, I glazed over Elvis Andrus for the sake of this being an Angels site).

Andrelton is having a very good, and perhaps a breakout, season. According to projection sites like ZiPS, Steamer, and Depth Charts, Andrelton is projected to finish the season accumulating roughly another 1.4 fWAR. Meaning he would end the season with a nice, even 5.0 fWAR. No small feat, especially considering the, I’d like to call it illustrious but can’t, history of Angels Baseball. This will give older readers some warm nostalgia feelings. Your past and current fWAR leaders from the shortstop position:

Jim Fregosi’s 1964 season (7.0 fWAR), followed by his 1970 season (6.8 fWAR), then his 1965 season (5.4 fWAR), then 1967 (5.2), and then he added a 5 fWAR campaign in 1966 just for good measure. Past that, you have Orlando Cabrera’s 2007 season (4.8 fWAR), David Eckstein’s magical 2002 season (4.5 fWAR), Erick Aybar’s 2014 (4.2 fWAR), Rick Burleson’s 1981 season (4 fWAR), back to Jim Fregosi for his 1963 season of 3.9 fWAR, and finally, Dick Schofield’s 3.7 fWAR in 1987. Andrelton’s right behind Schofield’s ‘87 mark.

As you can see, a whole lot of Jim Fregosi. He has the five highest fWAR seasons from an Angels shortstop. While Andrelton won’t catch up to his 7 fWAR season or most likely anything above his 5.2 fWAR season in 1967, it sneaks Andrelton into the top 5 seasons from an Angels shortstop. Second best if you want to look at it from an individual players standpoint. Andrelton is on his way to being, arguably, the second best shortstop in Angels history if the offensive uptick is for real.

About the improvement offensively. Andrelton has shown some glimpses of having offensive potential in the past (he hit .289 with a .335 OBP his rookie season in a small sample size, and then he swatted 17 homeruns his sophomore season), but for the most part, he’s been just below league average (career 90 wRC+ and 90 OPS+ along with a career OPS of .689). But because of him being a defensive god, that’s been okay. The bat was an afterthought because he’s so good at such an important position defensively. I don’t need to link anyone to the defensive highlight videos, you’ve probably seen them already. Most people were just hoping he would take that next step forward offensively as he entered his prime. Looks like that finally happened.

Andrelton has a career high average (.297), OBP (.348), SLG (.454), wOBA (.343), wRC+ (119), OPS (.802), OPS+ (116), stolen bases (13), BB% (7.4), ISO (.157), you name it. Andrelton is having career year in any of them. He’s 6 homeruns away from his career high of 17 and a little under 30 runs away from his career high of 76. All while striking out at a minuscule clip of 11.1% (the Major League average in 2017 is 21.5% for some context).

We gotta watch Ricky Nolasco serve up dingers like it’s his job, so I’m going to cut to the chase, Andrelton has seen a huge improvement in his BB% (7.6 BB% this year vs. a career 6.3%), his hard hit percentage (32.2% vs. a career average of 25.8), and his overall numbers as a result. He’s about to be 28-years old, his prime, and is showing no signs of slowing down offensively or defensively. It turns out, the progress his made last season after coming back from his thumb surgery turned out to be an aberration. A shortstop as good defensively as Andrelton (the Major League leader at shortstop in FanGraphs’ defensive rating stat and Defensive Runs Saved with 17) who can provide an OPS above .800 with some stolen bases all for an annual average price tag of just over $8 million dollars entering his prime? That’s irreplaceable and, perhaps most importantly, the exact sort of thing the team needs to pair with Mike Trout moving forward.

The Angels have another star in their possession. A modern day Ozzie Smith, a well-rounded shortstop who can anchor the position for the foreseeable future. So that leaves us with one last question...where are the haters of the trade now?

Update: right before publishing this, Nolasco served a dinger to Bradley Zimmer. I hate that man so very much.