Wednesday, April 27, 2016

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By Christian Ilten, Writer - 

It is no secret that in at least one position so far this season, the Angels definitely have gotten stronger defensively. The acquisition of shortstop Andrelton Simmons in exchange for shortstop Erick Aybar and top pitching prospects Sean Newcomb and Chris Ellis (sent to the Atlanta Braves) has truly paid off for the Angels defense so far, as Simmons has brought his highlight-reel play to center stage in Anaheim, California.

Angels fans might have been hesitant when the team traded away Aybar (32), who had spent ten years in Anaheim before being dealt to Atlanta. Since the trade, though, the 2014 All-Star has struggled in his transition to National League Baseball. Through nineteen games in 2016 Aybar is batting .155 in seventy-five plate appearances, with just three doubles and one run batted in.

Simmons, 26, has been known as one of the best defensive shortstops in the game since his debut with Atlanta in 2012. Just twenty-one games into his Angels career, Simmons has put on quite the show on the field as well. The most impressive of his plays so far under the halo might have taken place on Saturday, April 23rd, as the Angels hosted the Seattle Mariners. With a man on third and two outs, Nelson Cruz skied a bloop fly ball into mid left field, and with Raphael Ortega playing the slugger deep in left, Simmons had to cover some extra ground on the fly ball, basically becoming a fourth outfielder. Simmons then made an over the shoulder catch for the ages. Then, Simmons did it again... this time to Salvador Perez of the Kansas City Royals three days later. The catch forced Fox Sports West (TV home for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim) play-by-play broadcaster Victor Rojas to beg the question: "Are you serious?" While his glove is to be credited for most of his highlight-reel plays, the cannon he has for an arm assists as well, making throws from deep in the hole to first base.

From his debut to the end of 2015, Andrelton Simmons had 113 DRS, or Defensive Runs Saved. Aybar's defensive runs saved in that same span (2012-2015)? -10. Simmons' best year in that time period was 2013, when he had a DRS of 41, while Aybar's best year in that same time period was 3 in 2012 in that category. All of a sudden, the numbers start making it clear why the Angels decided to make this big move. In 2015 Aybar's DRS for the Angels was -3, while Simmons for the Braves was 25. So far in 2016, Aybar has posted a -1 DRS for the Braves, while Simmons already has put up a 6 for the Angels.

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Even when Andrelton Simmons does not have the ball, he still is able to play great defense. On April 24th, with a man on first (Leonys Martin) and no one out, Ketel Marte of the Seattle Mariners flied a ball to center field. While although the ball was clearly on a route to center fielder Mike Trout, Simmons pretended as if he was fielding a ground ball and fooled Martin who would eventually be doubled up when Trout threw the ball to first baseman C.J. Cron. With Simmons' fake ground ball pick up, Martin had no idea where the ball was. While although it will not show up on any statistics sheet, Simmons clearly does not need the ball to have an effect on the game.

Andrelton Simmons' biggest thing to work on is still his offense. A career .255 hitter, Simmons will not be accused of being a slugger in any definition of the word. While although he has only driven in four runs to this point, he has saved six runs from going up on the board against the Angels. With a WAR (Wins Above Replacement, measuring how many more wins a team will get using a player instead of any other player in that position) in his career is 17.6. Simmons WAR, which has been highly touted by the sabermetric minds of the sport as the best evaluation of a player, still has him at the top of the list of shortstops, despite his offensive woes.

The Angels will definitely look to improve his offense, in a lineup that is desperate for some extra bats, throughout 2016 and beyond. Having players like veteran Albert Pujols and super-star Mike Trout in the same lineup would pose an opportunity for Simmons to learn a few things on offense to possibly better his game. If Simmons were able to improve his batting average even just to somewhere between .270 and .280, along with his defense, the 26 year old shortstop could become an extremely vital piece of the Angels lineup.

The acquisition of Andrelton Simmons could definitely continue to benefit the Angels, who have control of Simmons for the four years following the still young 2016 season. The Angels have many questions still surrounding them when it comes to their team in 2016 and beyond, but the shortstop position is clearly not one of them as Andrelton Simmons continues to make highlight-reel plays.

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