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Andrelton Simmons and the importance of Defense

How valuable is Andrelton Simmons anyway?

MLB: Texas Rangers at Los Angeles Angels
The best defensive SS in the game
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Defence. It is the least understood part of baseball from a metrics standpoint. Of the trio of Hitting, Pitching, and Defense, it is the least valued by fans, executives, and HOF voters. It does have value though, and quite a lot of it, as anyone who has seen bad defense can tell you. For much of baseball history however, the only way to assign value to defense has been using your eyes with the best having watched 4,000 games to determine who is a good catcher.

Yet even now as sabermetrics have become more mainstream, the value of defense is not agreed upon even amongst sabermatritions. Which is the main problem. Fangraphs and Baseball Reference disagree on many things, but OPS+ and WRC+ for the hitters do not differ too much. Defense though, cannot be agreed upon by these sites at all.

Which brings up the main subject to this piece, Andrelton Simmons. Simba has been a fan favorite ever since he came to Anaheim. This is almost solely due to his amazing defense. (Not striking out is pretty nice too, as is his nickname) Him being one of if not the best defensive SS in MLB today isn’t a question or an issue, but rather, how valuable is that?

DWAR tends to be extreme in both directions. A player can be worth negative DWAR (Pujols’ -1.7 in 2016) that can completely cancel out any offensive production (Pujols 1.7 OWAR in 2016) and can be so high that it can be over 5 (Simmons 5.5 DWAR in 2013). As DWAR is part of the overall BR WAR, that can impact rankings of the best players.

According to Baseball Reference WAR, Simba has been tied for THE best player in baseball to have debuted in 2012 with Macchado, both more than Harper. This is great if you are in the camp that values defense a ton. Simba, with his average at best offensive numbers, is better than the others because of his defense.

Simba vs Manny vs Harper in Baseball Reference WAR

However, when it comes to Fangraphs’ own FWAR, Simba is far behind Harper and Machado. Fangraphs take on defense is not as drastic as BR So which is right? Well of course the answer is whatever supports your opinion, but seriously, the right answer has yet to be made clear.

If you are a GM, what do you do? Harper was paid over 300 million and by some accounts, Simba has been better. Sure, Harper is younger by years, which plays a factor in this, but Simmons would want a raise of some sort if he is to come back to Anaheim, which he says he wants to do. His agent will boast how good his BR WAR is and how Simba deserves to be paid handsomely. With 19.4 BR WAR (23rd best in Angels history) that is almost 5 wins a year(4.85), making him second to Mike Trout over that span and well ahead of anyone else on the team by a ton. Surely this means that, even if he isn’t paid 30 million a year for a decade like his fellow debut Machado has, then that means he will at least get paid more right?

However you clearly know that Fangraphs values him and defence in general, far, far less. BR treats Simba as if he is on a HOF path. This graph tells a vastly different story.

WARGRAPHS of Simba vs Manny vs Harper

Simba has averaged 4.85 BWAR in his Angels career, while only averaging 3.7 FWAR in the same span. Over 4 years that is 4.6 WAR. That is more WAR than what separates Jered Weaver and Nolan Ryan in their Angels careers (which is 4.5 according to BWAR). Almost an entire season’s worth every 4 seasons. This is most obvious when comparing Harper and Machado between the sites. Harper takes the lead in FWAR and Machado loses a few but they are both neck and neck at Fangraphs and Baseball reference. Simba drops from more than 5 above Harper to over 10 behind Harper. 15 WAR swing between sites. In comparison, Harper gained less than 4 and Machado lost less than 4. 10 WAR is a great Mike Trout season, and 15 WAR is a peak Babe Ruth season in Fangraphs. That is how much Simba has lost in 8 seasons between their two calculations.

Yet even this is not the only issue with comparing defense between these sites. Which seasons are the best defensively are not even the same. Baseball Reference has Simba’s 2013 season at 5.5 DWAR as his best by far while Fangraphs says that 2015 2017 and 2018 are all better defensive seasons for Simba.

The difference between the best SS and an average SS defensively means something, what that something is, well that is the question. A good way to do that is to compare the best and an average SS. So who better to compare Simba to than Jean Segura?

Jean Segura would be the Angels SS right now perhaps, if he wasn’t traded for a half season of Zack Grienkie. He is almost exactly Simba with lesser defense. Similar OPS+, came up at the same time, same age just months apart, sure SImba strikes out less, but Jean hits into less double plays. Yet their WAR differs greatly. 36.9 to 19.6 in BWAR and 24.9 to 17.8 in FWAR. Replace Simba with Jean and how much value is lost? That is your answer, whatever way you put value to it.

So who would you rather have, Jean Segura or SImba? Seeing how they make the same amount, getting Simba extended won’t be cheap unless he takes a discount. This gives some fuel to trade him while he has value. Yet with this team, I do not think it would be wise.

With Anthony Rendon now besides him and David Fletcher at second base (probably) the infield defense for the Angels will be the best in the MLB. This should, in theory, make the starting pitching that the Angels do have (which, despite everyone’s best hopes, is still not that good) suck less.

Maybe that is where the value is, not in the numbers or eye testing, but context. Having the best defensive shortstop in the game is worth more to the Angels because of how terrible the pitching is, and as such he won’t be traded because anything Simba can fetch on the trade market won’t be worth the downgrade to an average defensive shortstop for the rest of the pitching staff.

Of course the question then pops up about the rest of your teammates. Does having better defensive teammates actually make you less valuable? Fewer balls to get to because your range decreases due to your teammates. Mike Trout hasn’t had a defensive season like 2012. Is that because of more time in CF with Kole in RF? Does knowing your teammate is competent or elite make you not as aggressive and thus ruin your value?

Unlike offense, defense is indeed dependent on your teammates in a much greater fashion. If anyone has played baseball in high school you may know of a certain player who is better than everyone else and goes and gets balls that he shouldn’t get to and let someone else do it, but because of showing off or just being that good, he gets them anyway. Same thing happens on the MLB level. Simba dives and gets to balls no one else can and shows off because he can and he needed to. But this comes with injuries and missed time.

In the end, I want to keep Simba, although i won’t give hjim a ten year deal, there is something about having the best defensive shortstop in the MLB.


What to do with SImba?

This poll is closed

  • 28%
    Keep him for 2020 and see what to do later
    (106 votes)
  • 57%
    Extend him
    (211 votes)
  • 13%
    Trade him for pitching
    (50 votes)
367 votes total Vote Now