MLB: NLDS-Los Angeles Dodgers at Atlanta Braves

Is there such a thing as a reverse sticker shock? When first reading the Braves signing of Andrelton Simmons to a seven-year, $58 million contract extension, the immediate reaction is one of disbelief — in a good way?

Simmons? That guy? The best defensive shortstop in baseball by a not-insignificant margin for a mere $8MM AAV? Where do I sign?? What a deal, another master stroke by the Braves as they solidify their core before the gulf in spending power between gets too great.

Comparing Simmons’ deal to the eight-year, $120 million contract extension the Rangers inked with Elvis Andrus doesn’t help this perception. It’s a steal for ATL!

Simmons versus Andrus, through their first two seasons

Rk Player WAR/pos From To Age G PA SO SB BA OBP SLG
1 Andrelton Simmons 9.6 2012 2013 22-23 206 840 76 7 .256 .304 .400
2 Elvis Andrus 5.0 2009 2010 20-21 293 1215 173 65 .266 .336 .333
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 2/20/2014.

Obviously the immense, unprecedented love for Simmons’ defensive abilities clouds the WAR picture slightly. Andrus is a better base stealer, draws more walks, and notches far more singles. Simmons hits for far more extra base power before their disparate home ballparks are considered. Through their first two seasonsm, Simmons looks like the better hitter, though he was not that in 2013. But no matter how many grains of salt applied to his defensive numbers, Andrelton Simmons in the field is without equal.

In reality, Andrelton Simmons has barely more than one season’s worth of plate appearances to his name. He was scheduled to earn the minimum salary over the next two years, then three years of arbitration. How much would a player like Simmons – a below-average hitter thus far in his career – earn through arbitration?

There is no doubting his defensive credentials: he’s the best in the game. Easily. But does that defensive reputation translate into dollars when the arbiter’s door closes and arguments are heard? While the arb process is known for its love of power and playing time, it isn’t without precedent that a defensive whiz earn a big check.

Potential arb rewards no longer matter to the Braves or to Simmons. Overpay, underpay, whatever. The Braves believe the 17 home run power is real and they invested in a premium defender at the most premium of positions who also happens to be entering his age-24 season. Starting from such an unbelievably high perch, his defense has a long way to decline to merely “average”, which is well worth the risk that his offensive gains don’t stick.

Shortstop is a different position now. The calibre of athletes playing the position has changed. The ebb and flow of offensive trends in the games suggests that, right now, the offensive requirements of the role are very low. The league’s shortstops hit .254/.308/.367 last year, good for an 85 wRC+. Simmons falls short in the on base department but still managed a 91 wRC+, thanks to his 17 home runs.

More home runs than designated hitter Billy Butler. An equal amount to first basemen Eric Hosmer and Justin Morneau. More than Buster Posey. More than Brandon Belt. There is more to hitting than clouting home runs but if this power, limited in scope as it may be, is a real part of his offensive game, it can cover up for his other shortcomings.

To his credit, he rarely strikes out and his ISO was above league average in 2013. To his demerit, he lead baseball with a 17.8% pop up rate. While Aaron Hill recovered to become a productive hitter again, he is a perfect example of a hitter who got too power happy and fell completely to pieces before the Diamdonbacks rescued his career.

Atlanta hopes the offensive gains are real and he can hit a little better than the average shortstop while fielding considerably better than the average SS. If they’re real, Atlanta gets a bargain. If his bat gives back and he maintains a sub-.300 OBP with a sub-.400 SLG, well, defense doesn’t really slump, does it?