Finally Comfortable

Finally Comfortable

Andrelton Simmons is a young pup.  Just over three years ago, the Curacao native was playing (and pitching) for Western Oklahoma Junior College.  Almost 14 months ago, he arrived on the scene, straight from Mississippi.  On September 4th, he celebrates just his 24th birthday.  I’m trying to say he’s young and his career is just beginning.

Miscast as a leadoff hitter, Simmons seemed to put too much pressure on himself to perform on par with other leadoff hitters.  Considering that Fredi Gonzalez seems to think the only two leadoff hitters in history are Rickey Henderson and Vince Coleman, I guess Simmons was reasonably putting a good deal of pressure on himself to succeed.  However, Simmons’ profile was not the kind of profile you would expect out of a leadoff hitter.  He’s hyper aggressive at the plate leading to one of the smallest K% in the game at 7.6%, third lowest in the NL.  To put that in another way, 1 in every 5 at-bats by an NL team ends in strikeout.  On the flipside, his aggressiveness has led him to just 5.1% rate, 12th lowest.  For people who complain about strikeouts and needing to put the ball in play, Simmons is your guy.  He leads the National League by putting the ball in play 84% of the time he steps up to the plate.

His numbers as a leadoff hitter were awful with a slashline of .223/.261/.338 in 61 starts out of the first-slot in the order.  Only twice did he leadoff a game with a walk.  To put that in another way, he had more leadoff homers (three) than leadoff walks.  Simmons current skill set just didn’t perform well in the leadoff slot.

Simba’s struggles, along with the struggles of Jason Heyward, led to a lot of quick two outs in the first.  A good offense will struggle to score runs without baserunners.  Having a .261 OBP out of leadoff slot from the guy you most use as your number one hitter is a destroyer of offenses.  Now, for most teams, they could not withstand that horrific work from the top of the lineup, but because of Atlanta’s power, I believe they were still able to score a good deal of runs.  Regardless, you don’t need to make things harder on yourself.

In defense of Gonzalez, his decision-making wasn’t exactly all on him.  Most managers would have looked at the players available and batted Simmons leadoff believing it made the most sense.  And when Gonzalez started Jordan Schafer, he would push Simmons lower (either second if Schafer started in right or at the bottom of the lineup).

But without Schafer, Simmons was the everyday leadoff hitter.  That was until Saturday, the second game of the Cardinals series when Gonzalez dropped Simmons to 8th in the order and let Heyward leadoff.  He said shortly after that he had “succumb” to…well, he didn’t exactly specify.  However, the twitterverse went crazy in favor of the move.

Now, Atlanta hasn’t won the last three games BECAUSE of the move.  I can’t say that.  But Heyward has looked comfortable in the role and Simmons has looked ultra-comfortable.  He delivered a big two-run double to beat the Cardinals 2-0 on Saturday as part of a two-hit game.  He added two more hits the following day and on Monday, picked up his third hit in the ninth inning, a walk-off triple (maybe that should be the new name of the blog…).

Overall, as bad as Simmons has been this season in the leadoff slot, he has been more-than-adequate elsewhere.  If you take out his at-bats from leadoff, he’s a .295/.329/.436 hitter.  With that glove, that’s a massively valuable player.

I’m a stats guy.  If I can’t quantify it, I tend to leave it alone.  However, I think it’s pretty clear that Simmons is much better suited to bat lower in the order where he can be the hitter he currently is.  An aggressive hitter with pop.  That’s not a leadoff hitter, but it’s definitely a good bat lower in the order where he can stop worrying about taking pitches, which right now isn’t in his character.  That’s not to say he won’t become a better hitter.  He’s a pup, remember?  But for now?  Let him be who he is.  The Braves offense will thank you for it.

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