You’ve got to be a pretty good defender to win defensive player of the month honors over a guy who made eight Web Gems this month and another who made several terrific plays and arguably the best catch of the season a few days ago.
But when our panel voted on June’s pick for this award, Atlanta Braves rookie shortstop Andrelton Simmons handily beat out Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips and Angels center fielder Mike Trout. Simmons received eight of 11 first-place votes. Phillips, who leads the majors in Web Gems, got two first-place votes. Trout edged Phillips for second place in the voting.
If you caught Saturday’s "Baseball Tonight," you would have seen some of the many plays by Simmons that wowed ESPN baseball analyst Doug Glanville, who quickly gained an appreciation for Simmons' abilities.
We worked with our writers to get the opinions of others who would appreciate the value of Simmons' defense. The replies via e-mail included:
Defensive Player of the Month
"To go along with great hands, arm and athleticism, he has excellent awareness on the field. His ball exchange and quickness of his arm are the true separators. The quickness of the exchange on his relays and DP turns are as good as I have ever seen, and have been instrumental in saving a number of games."
--Braves general manager Frank Wren.
"Excellent reads, footwork, instincts, controlled aggression, and a quick compact arm. He made all the plays for me -- to the left, to the right, on the backhand, in the hole, topped. He’s an excellent athlete with great body control."
--An NL scout who saw Simmons four times this month
"For someone as young as he is, and who has played the position as little as he has -- he was a pitcher -- it’s extremely impressive to be as good as he is. In my mind, he’s only going to get better."
--Another NL scout
"The early returns are that he’s an elite defender. He can make plays that few others can. He also has that 'I want it hit to me when it counts' thing going on."
--ESPN analyst Aaron Boone
The numbers back up all their assertions. The 22-year-old Simmons has changed the defensive culture of the Braves' infield.
In the first two months of the season, the Braves went with Tyler Pastornicky over Simmons at shortstop, and the results weren’t good. According to the advanced metrics provided by Baseball Info Solutions, Pastoricky’s defense cost the Braves 15 runs. Most significantly, the Braves' infield defense was a sieve. It allowed hitters to reach on 28 percent of their ground balls.
That changed immediately. In Simmons' first three games, the Braves converted outs on 23 of 27 ground balls, and Simmons helped turn three double plays. That success rate held through the entire month. Simmons has been credited with 10 defensive runs saved already, an impressive total for a single month.
Baseball Info Solutions does video review as well and credited Simmons with 19 "good fielding plays" (think "Web-Gem nominees"), the most of any shortstop.
The Braves' infield allowed hitters to reach on 21 percent of ground balls. Simmons was involved in 22 double-play opportunities and converted 20 (that’s about six better than what the average shortstop converts).
Simmons has quickly adapted to the major league game on both sides of the field. He’s hitting .333 through his first month, and he’s missed on only 13 percent of the swings he’s taken, well better than the major league average.
But it’s his glove that has impressed the most. He might not be in Kansas City next week, but he could be a regular in future Midsummer Classics.
As one other scout told our writers: "Defensively, he’s already an All-Star type."
Thanks to Jerry Crasnick, Adam Rubin and Andrew Marchand for their help.