Did Simba Manely Improve on Offense?

Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

The results were worse, but did he actually do better?

I see how you're looking at me. Stop it. I'm not crazy.

Looking simply at the slash lines will tell you that Andrelton Simmons had a worse offensive season in 2013 than he did in 2012. In 2012, Simmons hit .289/.335/.416, which was good enough for a 103 wRC+, but he only posted a .248/.296/.396 line (91 wRC+) in 2013. There's little point in arguing that Simmons' offensive production was worse. But was that really indicative of his talent?

The first question is the most difficult - what happened to the BABIP. After having a .310 BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) over about 200 PA in 2012, Simba's BABIP dropped to .247 last season. One's initial reaction may be to point out that the average BABIP is .300, so the .247 BABIP from last season was likely a fluke. That, unfortunately, may not exactly true. As we've discussed before, a hitter's BABIP is more dependent on a hitter's skill than it is for a pitcher. So we have to look at Simmons' batted ball profile.

Simmons_batted_ball_medium

There are a few interesting things here. The first one is the LD% (Line Drive%), which Simmons actually improved on last season. The other parts may be a bit more troubling. His FB% (FlyBall%) went way up, and while we like that for powerful players like Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman, it's not as good for a player like Simmons who may make more outs than the added power production is worth. Groundballs tend to turn into hits more often than flyballs, so Simmons likely gave away some of his BABIP points by hitting so many more flyballs. The other issue is the large amount of pop-ups (IFFB% - InField FlyBall%, or the percentage of flyballs that are pop-ups). If you're a hitter hitting more flyballs and a lot of those tend to be pop-ups, that's not a good thing.

Each of those factors helped lead to a BABIP that is well below the league-average, and to be perfectly honest, that should be expected given the number of pop-ups and flyballs. Simmons likely found a few more holes in 2012 than we would expect, but that leaves us to wonder about last season. Is the .247 BABIP more his style? Well among qualified hitters in 2013, that was the worst IFFB% in baseball, which matches that he had one of the lowest BABIPs as well. Unless Simmons can stop popping the ball up so much, he's likely to continue posting BABIPs in the .250 area.

So the next question we have is if that's likely to continue. The great thing about Simmons is that he's amazing at simply making contact. He was one of the Top 20 players in making contact, and his K% was the 4th best in baseball. It would seem to make sense that someone who had the hand-eye coordination to produce that much contact would eventually produce better contact as he saw more major-league pitches. Even with that, I don't know that we'll see Simmons improve his LD% that much unless they change his mechanics.

Even with the drop in BABIP and the lowered expectations - sorry, he's probably not your prototypical bat-control guy - Simmons did improve his BB/K ratio. One of the places we'd like to see some improvement was his walk rate, but he kept that around 6%. He may never be patient, but I expect that he'll get a little better - maybe 1-2 percentage points better - over the next few years. As for his K%, that improved by dropping from 11% to 8%. Maintaining the walk rate while improving the strikeout rate is a solid step in the right direction.

And the plate discipline stats indicate it's pretty legitimate. There weren't many changes from 2012, though he did improve his O-Swing% (% of times a hitter Swings at a pitch Outside of the strikezone) a tad. He certainly swung less and became a tad more selective at the plate, but they weren't significant enough changes to think he really made a breakthrough. We're just hoping he continues to improve in those areas.

Now what about that power? Before the season, I was pretty bullish on Simmons hitting double-digit home runs, but even I was shocked by the 17 home runs. Those 17 dingers ... or are we calling those Andreltons now ... or is that something else ... Anyhoo, those 17 bombs led to a .149 ISO that was 20 points better than his previous season. Is that sustainable, though? According to HitTracker, he had 8 home runs that were "Just Enough", but looking at the overlay of those home runs and where they would land at Turner Field, they're all out.

Simmons_hr_medium

I don't really anticipate Simmons hitting 17 home runs next season, but I don't think the outburst was a complete mirage, either.

Looking at projections for next season, both Steamer and Oliver see a return to a league-average offensive force for Simba. Adding that to his amazing defense really makes Simmons an MVP candidate. Oliver is a tad more bullish - .277/.327/.425 (109 wRC+) - than Steamer - .267/.318/.408 (102 wRC+) - but the real difference is on defense, where Oliver sees Simmons repeating his defensive performance from last season. I'm not sure I feel comfortable thinking that Simmons will do that again, but he's still very young and very talented on the defensive end. He shouldn't decline too much, if at all.

Overall, that means Simmons should remain a 5-win player, but there's some real potential for 6 or 7 wins next season.

And I remain pretty optimistic about Simmons offensively - defensively, too (duh). While his overall offensive line certainly worsened in 2013, I like the way a lot of his component stats are heading. 2012 was likely above his head to some degree, which I think most of us expected, but at the same time, I think 2013 was a little low. For 2013, I expect a few more walks, a few less HR, and a higher BA/OBP combo. That may not lead to a "breakout" season offensively, but while it may look more like 2012, it'll probably look a little more sustainable.

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