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Entries in Ozzie Smith (2)


Andrelton Simmons: Two-Way Threat?

Everyone knows that Andrelton Simmons can pick it. The Atlanta Braves shortstop and 2013 Gold Glove Award winner, possesing range that makes trotting out a third baseman optional and gun-you-out-from-the-seat-of-his-pants arm strength, has saved more runs through his first two major league seasons (60) than any player in history, according to Baseball-Reference. But don't sell Simmons' bat short, either -- the 24-year-old excelled offensively during the second half of the 2013 season, crushing fastballs with a more polished plate approach. Is he about to emerge as a two-way terror?

Simmons fit the all-gove, no-hit archetype during the first half, batting just .243 while getting on base at a .282 clip and slugging .348. That's lousy, even by banjo-strumming standards of the position (shortstops batted a collective .254/.308/.372 last year). After the All-Star break, however, Simmons morphed into a slugger (.255/.316/.472). His Isolated Power (slugging percentage minus batting average) more than doubled, from .105 to .217, and he hit fly balls over 20 feet farther on average (240 before the break, 262 after). As the season progressed, the potential heir to Ozzie Smith as the game's greatest defensive shortstop started lashing fastballs into the gaps and over the fence.

Simmons' slugging percentage vs. fastballs before the All-Star break, 2013

Simmons' slugging percentage vs. fastballs after the All-Star break, 2013

Simmons slugged a paltry .309 versus fastballs during the first half, which was 120 points below the MLB average and fifth lowest among qualified batters. But after the Midsummer Classic, he boosted that mark by nearly 200 points (.508 slugging percentage). A better grasp of the strike zone played a part in Simmons' improvement: he swung at 64.6 percent of fastballs thrown over the plate in the second half, up from 60.1 percent before the break and above the 64 percent big league average. That change benefited him in two ways: he fell behind in the count less often by taking fewer called strikes, and he took a cut on the sort of pitches that hitters tend to pummel (MLB batters slugged .502 when swinging at fastballs thrown in the strike zone in 2013).

As a junior college product who was originally drafted as a pitcher and barely took 1,000 trips to the plate in the minors, Simmons might just be scratching the surface of his offensive abilities. His Baseball-Reference comps through age 23 indicate that potential for two-way stardom, with Barry Larkin featuring prominently on the list. It's easy to forget that the first-ballot Hall of Famer actually scuffled offensively during his first two years in Cincinnati (81 OPS+ in 1986-87) before evolving into one of the better hitting shortstops in recent memory (116 career OPS+). J.J. Hardy isn't as sexy a name, but he has been quite valuable by playing vacuum cleaner D and routinely clearing the fences.

With sublime, perhaps even unprecedented defensive skill, Simmons merely needs to avoid being an automatic out at the plate to be one of the more valuable shortstops in the game. But if even a portion of his second-half gains carry over into 2014 and beyond, Atlanta could have its first MVP since Chipper Jones 15 years ago.


The Best Case Scenario For the Captain at Age 40

The lone active member of the Yankees' vaunted Core Four will return in 2014, as Derek Jeter has re-signed with the Bombers on a one-year, $12 million contract. The deal, which replaces his existing $9.5 million player option, was characterized as a "reward for years of good service" by ESPN New York's Andrew Marchand, though other scribes suggest luxury tax shenanigans could be the real motivation behind The Captain's effective pay raise.

Either way, the Yankees desperately need a healthy, productive Derek Jeter next year if the club is going to contend in the cut-throat AL East. Coming off surgery to repair a broken right ankle suffered in the 2012 ALCS, Jeter played in just 17 games this past season while logging DL stints for calf and quadriceps injuries. When his legs weren't betraying him, Jeter made Brendan Ryan look like an offensive dynamo by posting a .542 On-Base-Plus-Slugging percentage in 73 plate appearances.

Jeter has always hit more than his share of ground balls, but he took it to the extreme in a brief sample size in 2013 by burning worms more often (73.6 percent of pitches put in play) than any hitter in the American League. His signature inside-out stroke produced weak grounders to right side, rather than the line drives of years past.

Jeter's spray chart in 2013

While it's impossible to say whether an off-season to mend and train will revitalize Jeter, he was a solid starter as recently as 2012, when his quality bat (his park-and-league-adjusted OPS was 14 percent above average) counterbalanced his lack of range (he cost the Yankees 18 runs compared to an average defensive shortstop, according to John Dewan's Defensive Runs Saved metric). History suggests that The Captain could be hard-pressed to replicate even his more modest output in '12 during his age-40 season next year.

Just two shortstops in major league history have managed to complile at least two Wins Above Replacement (WAR) during a season in their forties. Honus Wagner is the gold standard for old dude shortstops, easily topping that benchmark of offensive and defensive value at age 40 (3.5 WAR in 1914), 41 (5.5 WAR in 1915) and 42 (2.5 WAR in 1916). Luke Appling was also ageless, with 4.6 WAR at age 40 in 1947 and 5.1 WAR at age 42 in 1947 (he had 3.5 WAR at age 41, though he split his time between shortstop and third base).

Other than The Flying Dutchman and Old Aches and Pains, it's awfully slim pickings. Ozzie Smith (1.5 WAR as a 41-year-old in 1996) is the only other shortstop with even one win above replacement during a season in his forties. By that age, most guys have tumbled down the defensive spectrum or retired. Don't count him out entirely, but it would be a serious upset if Jeter pushes the Yankees toward the playoffs as a productive shortstop in 2014.