Sunday, December 18, 2016

By Robert Cunningham, Senior Writer - 

Author’s Note: If you missed the previous installments you can find Part I here, Part II here, Part III here, Part IV here, Part V here, Part VI here, and Part VII here.

Billy Eppler has made defense his first priority since taking the helm as general manager of the Angels and the cornerstone of that priority has been and will continue to be Andrelton Simmons, arguably the finest defensive player in Major League baseball.

Simmons is, of course, under contract for the next four seasons at a very affordable $8.286MM AAV per season with a total salary of $47MM spread out over those controlled years. These cost-controlled seasons happily coincide with the remainder of Mike Trout’s contract.

Following the concept of “it’s not what you’ve done, but what have you done for me lately?” Andrelton has, over the last three seasons, averaged a bit over 2.7 WAR per year. You can of course argue the defensive value component of WAR but there is no dispute that Simmons, in his first season as the Angels shortstop, has already provided excellent value for the team and should continue to do so in 2017.

Courtesy of Dan Szymborski, below is the 2017 ZiPs projection for Andrelton Simmons:

Steamer and Depth Charts basically concur with ZiPs projection of 3.4 WAR, each tagging Simmons for 3.7 WAR next season. All Andrelton has to do is maintain his stellar fielding range, instincts, and ability to be a difference-maker for the 2017 Angels squad.

So what does a superb defensive shortstop look like?

To give you an idea here is two fielding spray charts contrasting the well regarded, Astros Carlos Correa and the Angels Andrelton Simmons:

At a quick glance you can clearly see that Simmons has greater range in nearly every direction particularly towards the 3B/LF side and the ability to go back on the ball. Perhaps more importantly Andrelton had less missed plays (red dots) than Correa over the course of the 2016 season.

This last line is important because Eppler is building a pitching staff that is progressively putting more balls on the ground translating into more play attempts for the Angels infielders. Simmons talent to make plays consistently will be a major plus for the 2017 starting rotation and bullpen turning potential singles, doubles, and triples into productive outs.

It is this defensive production that makes Andrelton so valuable to the Angels. Everyone loves offense, some love a good pitching matchup, others salivate when the teams closer enters the game, but it is the steady gloves that provide the most consistent value to any team and that is why the old adage “pitching and defense wins championships” has held so true through the decades.

Billy’s efforts to build a great defensive team is really taking shape this offseason with the additions of Danny Espinosa and Martin Maldonado. Perhaps more importantly Eppler is building defensive depth as well.

If Simmons goes down, Espinosa can slide over to shortstop and fill the position until he returns, albeit in a less capable capacity. This really says more about Simmons defense than it does less about Danny’s. Behind these two the Angels currently have Kaleb Cowart and Nolan Fontana who are quite capable defensive players themselves and could, if really necessary, backup shortstop on a preferably short term basis.

Eppler has managed in a short period of time to not only build a nice defensive team (Simmons, Espinosa, Trout, Calhoun, Maldonado, Perez, and Maybin) but also make it deep enough to absorb the inevitable injuries that strike all MLB teams during the course of a season.

In the end the Angels bought the world’s most expensive baseball vacuum and in the author’s opinion it has and will continue to be worth every penny and then some.

Finally let us end this with some sick pornography:

All of it is good but they saved the best for last at the 4:35 minute mark.

Rest easy Angels fans we have a CuraƧaoan God-King roaming shortstop for the next four years (and perhaps more…) and he is absolutely dedicated to perfecting his craft.

Love to hear what you think!

Listen to "A Fish Like This" Tribute song to Mike Trout's Greatness

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