Andrelton Simmons: Getting in at the Top Floor

This probably wasn’t the type of year most fantasy baseball players who drafted or bought Andrelton Simmons expected from him. The Atlanta Braves’ shortstop finished with a .244 average, a mere seven home runs, and a measly four stolen bases. Even in a year of depressed offense and especially at a position starving for some of it, the third-year player failed to be replacement-level in the average mixed league, according to Sr. Zach Sanders’ shortstop standings.

Simmons seemed to have the makings of an underrated fantasy asset coming into this year. He hit .248 in the previous season yet struck out in only 8.4% of his plate appearances and hit .247 on balls in play, so he appeared to be destined to be a plus – or at least not a minus – in batting average. He swatted 17 long balls, demonstrating that he could be a power player. And he’d stolen as many as 26 bases in a season on the farm, so the possibility of more speed tantalized. None of those things materialized, unfortunately.

Simmons isn’t a bad prospect as a hitter. He has the makings of someone who can hit .275 or better at the major league level, something he did at each of his stops in the minors. His high contact rate, low swinging-strike rate, low reach rate, and low BABIP all supported that. His mediocre line-drive rate suggested perhaps not, but that batted-ball data isn’t the most reliable determinant of success. He’s basically maintained those elements of his profile in AVG that he showed in the minors, as seen at Minor League Central.

There are at least two potential problems that contributed to Simmons’ disappointing AVG in 2014. One is the 17 home runs he hit in 2013. The other is the myriad changes Atlanta attempted to have him adopt in the follow-up, discussed at length on the FG side by Drew Fairservice. Basically, it appears as if the organization concluded that the former was definitely an issue. Those 17 bombs have, according to the Braves, led the youngster to believe that he’s a power hitter, which is the opposite of the type of hitter the Braves see him as.

I’m not sure how right the club was. Yes, the evidence indicates that they’re correct about Simmons: He’d hit nearly 40% fly balls in 2013, but swinging and missing wasn’t on the regular. He’s aggressive, and they should have learned with Jeff Francoeur that they can’t change a guy entirely. Their plan of action could have been a little too drastic, forcing him to adopt an approach instead of tweaking something with which he’s comfortable. Perhaps I’m reading too much into what Atlanta tried to do, but this was Simmons’ age-24 campaign, so he wasn’t just some big ball of clay.

At any rate, Simmons has the tools to hit for a respectable AVG. Perhaps some combination of the club’s backing off a bit and the hiring of a new hitting coach will allow him to show them a little more. Simmons won’t win a batting title, but he can hit .275. I like Fairservice’s J.J. Hardy comp.

And that comp does come with some power. Simmons has displayed that skill. Scouts must like those strong wrists and forearms of his. But he doesn’t have the kind of swing plane that Hardy does, as is plainly evident in Hardy’s batted-ball data. Simmons could produce somewhat similarly, but he’s not the same, so don’t set the bar at 20 homers, please – at least not while he calls the somewhat power-unfriendly Turner Field home.

And Simmons’ stolen-base totals from the minors came with a caveat. When he swiped 26 in 2011 at Class A Advanced Lynchburg, he was also caught 18 times. He has yet to demonstrate that he’ll be an efficient base-stealer as a professional. He isn’t extremely fast. But he has a little speed. The Braves may ask him to utilize it more often if he learns to do it more efficiently.

The reality regarding Simmons heading into this past campaign is that expectations were too high in two of those three core fantasy cases. He was the ninth shortstop drafted, on average, at the most well-known league hosts around the Web, according to Fantasy Pros. Granted, there are reasons to believe that this top-notch fielder can be the kind of commodity on offense for which some folks hoped. But they bought in at close to the ceiling, factoring in hardly any of the floor. They can be forgiven for the fact that Simmons’ club probably contributed to how much the latter was in play.

Regardless, Simmons had shown some promise with the bat on the farm, but he hadn’t played more than half of a season above Class A ball before his 2012 debut. Fantasy owners seemed to forget that Atlanta summoned him to The Show at that time because they had no doubt that his glove would carry him until his bat matured. It’s just another case among those of young players who exceed expectations initially only to set up fantasy owners who believe that the next step is even bigger things.

What’s next, then? It’s possible that, heading into 2015, Simmons has left a bad enough taste in fantasy owners’ mouths that he’ll be an attractive sleeper to opportunists. That’s about where he belonged this past season: Pay for replacement-level offense, or not a whole lot more than that; be willing to top a rival in the end game because he has the talent and room to grow statistically.

Nicholas Minnix oversaw baseball content for six years at KFFL, where he held the loose title of Managing Editor for seven and a half before he joined FanGraphs. He played in both Tout Wars and LABR from 2010 through 2014. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasMinnix.

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