I was a big proponent of letting Tyler Pastornicky work through any troubles he may have and just sticking with him. After all, I reasoned his defense can’t be that bad. Well, I was wrong. His defense was atrocious and that, probably more than even his hitting, got him demoted toward the end of May. Pastornicky carried a -1.1 fWAR into his demotion and again, the hitting certainly hurt, but his defense dragged it that low. As a middle infielder, you really have to either (1) be below average in the field and above average at the plate or (2) vice versa (+fielding, -hitting). Ideally, you would be both but not everyone can be Troy Tulowitzki, although I’m probably not the only one who has had that dream. If you also have had it, I have some questions that maybe you can help me with in regards to my masculinity and sexuality.
Anywho, Pastornicky forced the Braves to demote him to Gwinnett where he will probably start to get introduced to his future as a potential utility guy and promoted Andrelton Simmons from Mississippi to take his place. I was skeptical of the move. While I figured Simmons would at least be a plus in the field, I felt he would be fortunate to even reach Pastornicky’s meager offensive effort of .248/.281/.324.
The results thus far have been amazing. Playing in his sixth game, the shortstop who I loved watching last year in Lynchburg has stepped in and provided the Braves a spark both in the field and at the plate. His work at shortstop has already turned hits from two weeks ago into outs. That really cannot be understated. It’s not that Simmons is the most amazing shortstop I have ever seen, but because his defense is above-average and because Pastornicky’s defense was comparable to a statue playing shortstop, that jump is tremendous.
The hitting almost certainly will come down, but allow me a short moment to relish in the offensive production. Simmons is hitting .316/.381/.474 with a .354 wOBA. He has walked twice and struck out twice. He’s doubled, he’s tripled, and he’s saved a burning orphan. The guy is like a Godsend and I’m not even sure about God’s existence.
Okay, moment over. As I said, the hitting is certain to take a nosedive, but how much? Pastornicky’s one saving grace coming into the season was that he had produced against competition above A-ball, but that didn’t help him against the big boys. But we should have known that. We really should have. Instead of progressing as a complete hitter, Pastornicky regressed last season. His walk rate, which reached double figures during 2010 when he was traded to the Braves in the Yunel Escobar deal, fell to six points last season. Sure, the average was up, but the on-base didn’t get much better because he wasn’t walking anymore. The power, which wasn’t great, took a small step back. Pastornicky was a singles hitter who relied heavily on getting singles past the defense to get on base and that really doesn’t work unless you have amazing bat control and super speed. The Pastornicky experiment was doomed from the start. Exposed as an everyday starter (aside from Tim Hudson’s desire for a personal shortstop…kinda can’t even blame him anymore), Pastornicky became an out machine and a defensive hole the likes the Braves have not seen since the Great Garrett Anderson Debacle of ’09.
Enter…Simmons. This season, while making the sometimes harsh jump from A-ball to AA, Simmons has about doubled his walk rate from a shade over 5% to 10%. This is growth and so far, Simmons has continued that rate as a major leaguer. His ISO went over the century mark this year as well, a sign of growth both as a man and a player. A bi-product of increased patience typically is strikeouts and while that rate has increased, it’s not at a debilitating rate. Now, I’m not saying Simmons will sustain these rates all season. After all, that was just two months of AA-ball and a week of major league experience, but while a review of Pastornicky’s numbers should have clued us in on how things could go bad, a look at Simmons’s numbers give us hope that the defensive whiz has a much better idea of what he’s doing at the plate than the year before.
One of my big things when I look at minor league numbers is seeking out growth in the numbers. I’m not very impressed with a guy who sustains his numbers year-after-year unless those numbers are outstanding. I want to see a player fine-tuning his craft in efforts to better prepare himself for the Show. When I look at Andrelton Simmons, that growth, while unfortunately not over a longer sample size, is pretty clear. He’s probably not going to hit .316, but if he can sustain his rates to a degree, a fall to the .260ish range will not cause his spot in the lineup to turn into a black hole. So far, I’m more than happy to be wrong.