With the exciting, though not altogether surprising, announcement that Andrelton Simmons has been awarded a Rawlings Gold Glove as well as named by ESPN 2013's best defender, we wondered how Simmons stacks up against a former Braves shortstop to which he's often been compared: Rafael Furcal.
Simmons became the first Braves infielder to win a Gold Glove since Terry Pendleton did it in 1992 and immediately surpassed Furcal who shockingly never won the award with Atlanta, Los Angeles or St. Louis. Let's start by taking a look at the defensive numbers for Simmons and Furcal in their first full seasons. For Furcal, the numbers listed are an average of his time at shortstop and second base (where he played 31 games during his rookie season):
Take a minute to consider where Simmon's fielding percentage in 2013 ranks against some of the best shortstops to play the game. Troy Tulowitzki has the highest career fielding percentage at shortstop at .985%. He is followed by the gifted Omar Vizquel who, with 24 seasons to his big league career, finished with a .984%. You get to sixth on the list, Rey Sanchez, where you'll find the .981% that Simmons put up this season. Sure, he has only put in a season and a half in the big leagues, but even with minimal playing time in his young career this is rarefied air that Simmons shares. You have to scroll clear down to 185 on the list to find where Rafael Furcal's 13 seasons rank for shortstops (at .965).
Furcal's first full season was not rewarded with a gold glove, but due to it being his first season of substantial play and his impressive offensive numbers, Furcal was rewarded for his effort with the NL Rookie of the Year Award. Of course, Simmons was not eligible for the RoY due to the injury-shortened 49-game 2012 season that qualified as his rookie year. Otherwise, there's no question that he would be int he RoY conversation.
Offensively, there are clear differences between Furcal and Simmons. While Simmons has been superior defensively, Furcal put together better numbers at the plate. While Simmons hit more home runs, drove in more runs and had more total hits than Furcal, there is no disputing the brilliance Furcal displayed his rookie year on the base paths. Before we discuss the latter point, let's take a look at how Simmons and Furcal's first full seasons in Major League Baseball compare offensively:
Simmons' strikeout total stands out immediately, given Atlanta's strikeout-happy lineup. The runs are less, the hits more for Simmons. Furcal displayed less pop in his rookie season, but hit for a high average. The clearest contrast, however, is Furcal's sizable edge on the base paths. Furcal reached base safely far more often than Simmons and once there, he made opposing pitchers pay for putting him there.
With clearly better-than-average speed, it's peculiar that Simmons isn't more of a base stealing threat. He played his first full season for a team far better equipped to wait for the 3-run homer than to run opposing pitchers ragged. Certainly, that's a factor. And while he doesn't have Furcal's blinding speed, he has proven himself to be a smart, heads-up base runner.
Furcal was always a lead-off hitter. It was quite apparently the role he was born to play. That's just not Andrelton Simmons. He will never be the quintessential lead-off guy. However, if Simmons can develop better plate discipline and find his way on base more consistently, it would seem a waste not to put his speed to better use.
When Simmons appeared on Atlanta's radar, some speculated that he might be the next Rafael Furcal. It now appears that "Simba" is even more impressive with the leather than Furcal, which is saying something. Whether Andrelton can become the offensive force that Furcal was when at his best remains to be seen. He'll never steal 40 bases, but he may eventually provide a similar spark to the lineup in other ways. Simmons' potential appears to be as a run-producer, rather than a table-setter.
We can only hope the young shortstop proves to be more durable than Furcal, about whom every conversation begins with the words "if he's healthy". Because if Andrelton Simmons is able to remain on the field, largely unencumbered by the ailments that have derailed far too many promising careers, we could be watching a shortstop for the ages.