I'm a sucker for great defense. I'm the type of guy that'll take a phenomenal play with the leather over a 500 foot home run. Yes, those types of people exist. Because of that, I'm going to spend a bit of my time each week breaking down some outstanding defense from around the game. Heck, I may even delve into some historic teams and examine their defense. The bottom line: defense wins championships. The story's not any different in baseball.
When you're talking about defense, what better place to start than perhaps the best defensive player in the game in Atlanta Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons? A highly touted prospect on his way up through the organization, Simmons has already left his mark in the big leagues and is looking to take his potential star status to another level in 2014. While his offensive game still has a bit of a ways to go, his defensive game is absolutely on point.
In baseball, to label a kid a "wizard" with the leather comes with high praise, given the former St. Louis Cardinals infielder that bears the nickname, but it's well-deserved when Simmons comes into the conversation. A great deal of the hype surrounding defense and young players tends to swirl around Manny Machado. That's obviously warranted, but Andrelton Simmons has wasted no time in establishing himself as the best young defensive shortstop in the game of baseball.
Let's take a look at some of the defensive numbers Simmons managed to post in 2013, his first full season in the bigs:
There are some truly astounding numbers here, to be sure. His .981 fielding percentage was solid, coming in at no. 7 among shortstops in that regard, but there wasn't a whole lot of disparity between the no. 7 spot and the top spot. While fielding metrics aren't 100 percent indicative of what a player achieved in the field, Simmons' advanced figures look absolutely terrific.
You look at something like his RngR, or Range Runs, which indicates how many runs above average he was in terms of making "routine" plays. That was at 19.2, which was good for fourth in the league. His ErrR, or error runs, examine a similar aspect just in regard to errors. He was at 3.6 for the year, which put him in 12th in baseball. It's important to note, however, that many of the folks above him played a great number less innings than Simmons did in 2013.
When you get to those three-letter acronyms, that's when things get really impressive. His RZR (Revised Zone Rating), which measures how many balls into his zone that he converted into outs, was at .876, which was tied for the best among infielders, with Mike Napoli of all people. While his Out of Zone (OOZ) plays made didn't rank near the top of the league, 73 is still a very good figure and tied with Manny Machado. His defensive runs saved (DRS) was at 41, which is a dynamite figure and the best in the league.
Then there's the matter of his UZR. Perhaps the most commonly used of the advanced fielding metrics, anything above 15 is typically indicative of an elite defensive player. Simmons was up over 24. If you were looking for any more proof that you're looking at one of the premier defensive players in the game of baseball, look no further than that number right there. The scary thing about Andrelton Simmons is the fact that he's only 24. Not only is his offense going to get better, but his defense may even improve as well.
All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.