The best player on the best team in the NL

Posted: 09/14/2013 by levcohen in Baseball

If you asked a casual baseball fan who the best player on the Atlanta Braves is, I would assume that you would get a bunch of answers. The most popular ones would probably be the young and hyped members of their outfield, from Jason Heyward to Justin and BJ Upton. Then, you would probably get some ‘Brian McCann’s’ (he is one of the best hitting catchers in baseball) and ‘Dan Uggla’s’ (he has a lot of power for a second basemen). And lets not forget about the RBI machine, Freddie Freeman, or the second leading hitter in the NL, third baseman Chris Johnson. A few other people might look to the bench and the insanely powerful Evan Gattis, the 27 year old with an amazing back-story and 19 homers in limited playing time. Or you can look at Jordan Schafer, the fourth outfielder who leads the team in steals and has hit leadoff admirably with Heyward injured. And that is just the hitters. It’s clear that this is a balanced team.

But you know who would get very little credit? Starting shortstop Andrelton Simmons. Yep, the guy with a .296 on base percentage (129th of 142 qualifiers) and a 6.1 walk percentage (#111), leads the team in WAR, at 4.2. How could it be? Well, it’s because of his defense. He passes the stats test defensively (he has a 5.2 DWAR- the next highest shortstop is 2.4- to go along with the third best range factor and just 10 errors, incredible for a shortstop with his range), but, more importantly (and I say that only because defensive stats aren’t perfect), he passes the eye test. In the field, Simmons is just so smooth. There are players who have terrific range (Alexei Ramirez comes to mind) and players with soft hands (like Yunel Escobar), but the player who does both better than any other shortstop in baseball is Simmons.  He makes routine plays, well, routine, but he also makes incredible plays look routine. And back to the stats, where these conversations all eventually return to, Simmons’ ultimate zone rating (a better and more advanced version of range factor) is 23.9, according to Fangraphs. The next best? Troy Tulowitzki, at 11.4. He has saved 40 runs. The next best shortstop is Pedro Florimon at 15. He has saved six more runs than the next best position player. That’s insane.

Do you ever wonder why the Braves can be good defensively with below average defensive players at second and third base? It’s because of Simmons. So not only is Simmons the best shortstop in baseball, but he is also directly responsible for the production that the Braves have gotten out of Uggla and Johnson (well, not really, but the point is that most contending teams couldn’t afford to play two liabilities in the infield. The Braves can because they have a guy with freaky range at shortstop, so Simmons has to get some credit for Johnson’s success in particular).

In general, a lot of the Braves offense has underperformed. Their three highest profile players, the outfield, has a combined 5.5 WAR. They have one of the five or six worst defensive regular third baseman, and their second baseman is also below average both offensively and defensively. They’ve suffered a bunch of injuries to their rotation (Brandon Beachy, Tim Hudson) and to their bullpen (Eric O’Flaherty, Jonny Venters), as well as to their starting lineup (mainly McCann and Heyward). But they are an NL-best 88-59, and that is in no small part thanks to the man with a sub-.300 on base percentage.

  1. philabundant says:

    15 homers doesn’t hurt either. Might be the best player ever from the Netherlands Antilles.

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