At the end of May, the Braves were trying to get back on track. At 28-24 and on a two-game winning streak, things looked fine in an immediate sense. However, the club was in fourth place, was just coming off an eight-game losing streak, and Tyler Pastornicky looked like the worst player in the major leagues over the first two months. He hit just .243/.287 /.325 and played an awful shortstop, with seven errors on the one hand and a -12 UZR and -16 DRS on the other.
Of Pastornicky’s defense, Frank Wren simply said, “We need more.” Enter Andrelton Simmons.
Simmons only played in 49 games after his June call-up — a broken hand kept him out of 56 games from July through early September — but his impact was undeniable. His bat was enough to separate himself from Pastornicky — he posted a .289/.335/.416 (101 wRC+), ranking as one of just 15 shortstops (minimum 150 PAs) to hit above the league average.
It wasn’t just a mere 182 plate appearances — an encouraging 182, to be sure, but still just 182 — that cemented Simmons’s place as Braves Shortstop of the Future. It was a glove that had everyone from your friendly local area scout to Baseball Info Solution’s central computer heaping praises. “Defensively, he’s already an All-Star type,” one scout told ESPN.com (and he wasn’t alone, as you’ll see in the link). UZR and DRS had Simmons at at +10 and +19 respectively — almost mirroring Pastornicky.
The definitive statistic: the Braves allowed a .298 BABIP through May. From June 2nd — Simmons’s first game — through July 8th — his hand injury — they allowed just a .261 mark. The Braves went 18-15 through that stretch despite facing an interleague schedule rife with AL East teams — the Blue Jays, Yankees, Orioles, Yankees again, and the Red Sox — as well as six games against the Nationals. By then, the Braves were in playoff position, and they didn’t look back.
But as much as Simmons’s benefits were felt in 2012, the confidence the Braves can have in his glove will be a tremendous asset as they build their 2013 club. There was little guarantee the Braves would find a short term solution at shortstop in 2012 — Pastornicky’s issues were exposed at the major league level and Simmons began the season at Double-A, ostensibly still a year (or even two) from the majors. But with Simmons demonstrating his glove as top-tier, the Braves can be confident he will help the team even if his bat regresses to the point one would expect a player with just 182 plate appearances above Double-A.
Considering the free agent shortstop class amounts to Stephen Drew and a prayer, Atlanta would either be forced to part with a key asset or enter 2013 with a huge hole in its infield without a major league-ready Simmons. Also, considering the Braves have already committed somewhere around $71 million (based on Matt Swartz’s arbitration projections at MLB Trade Rumors) and still need to replace or re-sign Michael Bourn, a big-money shortstop may not have been financially feasible.
But with Simmons in tow, the Braves can go after Bourn, Angel Pagan, B.J. Upton or any other free agent center fielder they desire and have money left to shore up other areas of need (outfield and third base depth spring to mind). With Simmons, Heyward and Freddie Freeman, the Braves have a core of young position players to rival any team in the league.
Andrelton Simmons changed the course of the Braves’ season with his mid-season arrival in 2012. This offseason, his stabilizing presence gives the Braves the freedom to continue on the path of contention even as the Chipper Jones era comes to an end.