One of the main issues that plagues the Los Angeles Angels in the Mike Trout era is developing a core to go along with their star center fielder. At first, it seemed that Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton would ride shotgun, but that utterly failed.
After a rift sent former general manager Jerry Dipoto out of Anaheim, the organization hired Billy Eppler. His task: help rebuild the Angels while still trying to compete. One of his first moves involved trading longtime shortstop Erick Aybar along with top pitching prospects Sean Newcomb and Chris Ellis to the Atlanta Braves.
In return, Eppler received a defensive wizard at shortstop, Andrelton Simmons. During his time in Atlanta, Simmons was regarded as the best defensive shortstop in the game. His bat, though, would be most generously described as average
However, since arriving in Anaheim, Simmons has shown that he can do more than field groundballs. Last season, the 26-year-old became more of a consistent hitter. His batting average improved immensely with the Angels, putting up an average of .281, the best of any full season in his career.
In nine games this season, he has shown that his performance last year was no fluke. His batting average stands at .344 with an on-base percentage of .417 and an .885 OPS. Here’s a visual (via FanGraphs) that displays Simmons’ batting average throughout his time with the Angels. After a rough start, he has found a consistent average, proving he’s more than a glove.
He’s still good with the glove, though
Simmons has seen an improvement at the plate, but that hasn’t affected his defensive ability. Although his defensive numbers didn’t pop out (due to him missing a month with a thumb injury last year), they were still solid.
His UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) was solid last season for having missed a month. If you are unaware of this statistic, UZR informs us how much better or worse a player is, relative to the average player at their position. In his first year with the Angels, Simmons’ UZR was at a +15.4 last season, which is Gold Glove material. However, this actually represents a down year for Simmons, who previously recorded UZRs of +24.6, +15.5, and +17.3.
Another defensive stat that Simmons excels in is DRS (Defensive Runs Saved). Again, Simmons’ numbers reflect that he missed a month, but he had +18. For those that aren’t aware how DRS works, his +18 means that he’s 18 runs better than the average shortstop.
Both UZR and DRS are “counting stats,” which means that the numbers would be higher had he not missed a month of the season.
For those who want to see visuals to appreciate how good Simmons is with the glove, here are two graphs depicting the missed and made plays by him.
Becoming a core piece
Defensive specialists are vital parts to any team; they can take away hits, prevent runs, and get pitchers out of tight situations. Nonetheless, they are replaceable, but when they add an offensive game, they become a core member of a team.
With a depleted farm system, the Angels took a gamble when they sent two of their top prospects for a shortstop with excellent defensive awareness but a spotty history with the bat. However, since arriving from Atlanta, Simmons has grown at the plate becoming more consistent.
Eppler made a shrewd move that has paid off as Simmons has taken strides with his bat to accompany his Gold Glove defense. As a result, they now have a core piece to place alongside Trout going forward.