*Before I start to tell you why Atlanta Braves‘ shortstop Andrelton Simmons is baseball’s best defender, allow me to paraphrase my claim with the fact that I believe shortstop to be the hardest postion to play that isn’t catcher.
Simmons has been simply dazzling at the shortstop position for the Braves this year. He leads the league with 11 defensive runs saved and has yet to make an error in 245.1 innings logged at short. Simmons has got one of the strongest arms I’ve ever seen in roughly 25 years of being a baseball fan–reminiscent of former Braves shortstop Rafael Furcal, though it might be a bit soon to call him Rey Ordonez-like.
Simmons moves in open space like silk, and the way he positions himself on contact displays incredible instincts for such a young player. Most of that–including his throwing arm–stem from the fact that Simmons was originally a pitcher in college. His 98 mph fastball was what got him noticed at Western Oklahoma St.–though Atlanta eventually allowed Simmons to move shortstop soon after.
Simmons has seen 69 balls hit into his zone and converted 62 of them to outs for a zone rating of .899–higher than Elvis Andrus, Manny Machado, Jose Altuve and Ian Kinsler. However, Andrus–an elite shortstop for several seasons–leads all infielders with twenty plays out of the zone.
You could argue that Troy Tulowitzki has been better–his RZR is higher than Simmons–but Simmons has played has played 30 innings more. In that case, looking at thier UZR/150, you’ll see that Simmons–hands down–has been the more productive fielder (30.9 vs 11.8).
You can make a case for a number of infielders–or outfielders, if your preference lies with them–however the defining stat for me is Simmons leading ALL fielders in defensive runs saved. Nothing is of higher priority than saving runs for a defense–you can make as many errors as you want in a game as long as they don’t turn into runs.
Simmons will be a star in Atlanta for years to come and should eventually develop into a consistent gold-glove defender.