If we didn't have advanced defensive metrics, think Andrelton Simmons gets paid? No sir..
— Brian Kenny (@MrBrianKenny) February 20, 2014
Brian Kenny, friend of sabermetrics and host on the MLB Network, suggested this after the Braves signed Andrelton Simmons to a seven-year, $58 million contract extension -- the largest average annual value ever given to a player with less than two seasons of major league service time. Not bad for a player who hit .248 with a .296 on-base percentage.
Simmons, of course, didn't earn his value in 2013 with his bat, although he wasn't a complete zero with 17 home runs and 50 extra-base hits -- the same number of extra-base hits as Buster Posey and more than Ian Kinsler, Pablo Sandoval or Brandon Phillips. It was with the glove that Simmons drew comparisons to Ozzie Smith, winning the Gold Glove Award and tying with Gerardo Parra in leading the majors with 41 Defensive Runs Saved. Those 41 runs saved are highest figures since Baseball Info Solutions began tracking every play in 2003. Here the 10 highest totals by a shortstop since then:
1. Simmons, Braves, 2003: +41
2. Adam Everett, Astros, 2006: +34
3. Jack Wilson, Pirates, 2005: +32
4. Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies, 2007: +31
5. Wilson, Pirates/Mariners, 2009: +28
6. Brendan Ryan, Mariners, 2012: +27
7. Alex Gonzalez, Blue Jays/Braves, 2010: +27
8. Clint Barmes, Rockies, 2006: +26
9. Brendan Ryan, Cardinals, 2009: +25
10. Everett, Astros, 2005: +25
Because of those Defensive Runs Saved, Baseball-Reference.com valued Simmons at 6.8 Wins Above Replacement in 2013, sixth-best in the National League and fourth-best among NL position players.
FanGraphs, using a different defensive metric, valued Simmons at 4.8 WAR (25 runs above average on defense). Baseball Prospectus credited him with 27 runs saved on defense and 5.8 WARP. No matter how you slice it, the defensive metrics back up what we saw with our eyes: Simmons is as good as it gets at shortstop.
Simmons' contract takes him two seasons past his free agency year and he'll earn $13 million in 2019 and $15 million in 2020. If he's still saving even 20 runs a year on defense then he'll be a bargain for the Braves even if he doesn't improve with the bat. But do the Braves give this deal without metrics providing an estimated value to Simmons' defense?
Kenny may be right, but I pointed out on Twitter that Smith was the highest-paid player in baseball in 1988. Ben Jedlovac pointed out that Smith had signed that following a 1987 season in which he had hit .303 and finished second in the NL MVP voting (the only top-10 MVP finish of his career). OK, fair enough. But Smith was still the ninth-highest paid player in the NL in 1985, a year after hitting .257 with one home run. He was the fifth-highest paid player in the majors in 1986. My point: The Cardinals certainly awarded Smith for his defense, so it's not necessarily true that Simmons doesn't receive this deal without metrics (although I'm sure they helped the Braves confirm they're not just hoping he improves at the plate).
Of course, Ozzie Smith was pretty special.
But so is Simmons.