A lot went wrong with the Angels. A lot a lot. They are guaranteed no better than a .500 season, and frankly, it’s not what the experts were thinking. If I told you in the spring that they would have yet another MVP-esque Mike Trout season, and a slightly disappointing but certainly warranted Shohei Ohtani Rookie of the Year season, you would probably say this team is more like 88-90 wins, if anything.
Part of the problem was structural, obviously; no one bet the Athletics would be this good, sort of clearing the field for the second wild card. That put the team mostly out of the spotlight sans Trout/Ohtani, which is a shame because of... Andrelton Simmons.
When the Braves decided to jettison their star shortstop, it was met with a lukewarm befuddlement at least from Atlanta’s perspective. Dave Cameron makes a good point, though, that “some value [lost] from his glove should add some back to his bat.”
Funny you say that...
It’s not even like his glove has “declined” yet:
FRAA is certainly the oddity here, but the greater point being... it’s not like his offense is “offsetting” his declining defense; it’s pretty much the case that this is his career peak.
On to why that actually is, which is his offense. It brings me to a fun fact; only two qualified players have a pull percentage higher than 50%: Jose Ramirez (50.6%), and Andrelton Simmons (51.1%). What’s noticeable in Simmons’ improvement since moving to Los Angeles is not his walk rate, his strikeout rate, or even the amount of contact he makes, it’s more about where he decides to hit those balls. If you notice, from 2012 to 2016, just about every single one of his home runs are to the pull side:
While his, say, 2013 spray chart looks something like this...
...his 2018 chart just takes the logical conclusion of pulling to the larger part of the gap in left-center:
The juiced ball helped, as well as the league-wide initiative to launch the ball a bit higher: while hitting at just a 2.9 ° angle in 2015, it now sits at 7.7 °.
It’s a simple change, and it’s funny in a macro sense that that is making the difference in turning a below average hitter into an above average one. The skill level is largely the same, his plate discipline is largely stable across his career, and while the number of hits have slightly increased, the more consequential factor was where he hit those balls, and maximizing a normal advantage in his own internal “ideal” spray chart.
Simmons still has two years left on an incredibly favorable deal, just $28 million total. It presents an interesting inflection point for both Simmons and the Angels. For the former, how much does he lean in to his strategy of pulling, and what kind of diminishing return does that have? You can only turn so many existing hits into doubles and home runs; to some extent you would need to take another step to go beyond a 110 wRC+, especially as his defense presumably declines across all metrics.
The question for the Angels is a more meta-analysis of the previous one: what is their opinion of that question, and how much do they think it affects his value vis-a-vis looming trade talks that will certainly crop up if they fall out of the race in 2019? If his power truly kicks in, and he looks more like a 20-home run hitter and something like a six win player, that’s the haul of the year, even if it’s in the following season.
But if the defense declines and the bat really doesn’t improve much more, or regresses as the juiced ball erodes or the calculus begins to change... then what? At that point I assume they ride it out in what will presumably be a still-valuable rest-of-tenure. Regardless, the original point stands. Simmons gets not the attention he deserves because of being naturally overshadowed, and it’s a shame considering he’s as good as he’s ever been. Before he declines, maybe it’s time for people to start taking notice.