ATLANTA — A Rawlings Gold Glove is just a new accessory for what Braves fans already know: Andrelton Simmons is the best shortstop in the National League.
The validation was made official late Tuesday night, when the Braves’ dynamic young shortstop won his first ever Gold Glove in his first full season in the major leagues.
Simmons, 24, beat out Rockies veteran Troy Tulowitzki, who won back-to-back Gold Gloves in 2010-11, and the Nationals’ Ian Desmond.
“It’s an honor,” Simmons said in an interview during the ESPN2 broadcast. “Always been praised growing up but to do it in the biggest stage is the biggest of honors.”
Jason Heyward was one of three finalists among National League right fielders but lost out to Gerardo Parra of Arizona. Heyward, who won his first Gold Glove last season, was attempting to become the Braves’ first repeat winner since center fielder Andruw Jones won 10 straight from 1998-2007.
The defensive metrics Simmons accumulated this year made him a slam-dunk winner, really. Simmons set a record by saving 41 runs this year, matching the highest total since Fielding Bible statisticians began keeping defensive runs saved in 2003. Simmons was equaled in that category by Parra, who saved 36 runs in right field, four in center and one in left.
Simmons also set a single-season record for defensive WAR, according to Baseball-Reference.com. His 5.4 rating matched the highest posted since Terry Turner’s 5.4 in 1906 for the Cleveland Naps.
Simmons’ Braves teammates don’t need metrics to understand what sets him apart. Braves catcher Gerald Laird, a veteran of four teams and 11 major league seasons, calls Simmons the best shortstop he’s ever played with.
“It’s almost art, watching it,” Laird told the AJC’s David O’Brien. “The things Simmons can do, it’s just special to watch.”
Braves first base coach Terry Pendleton, and former third baseman, talks about Simmons in the same breath as “The Wizard” Ozzie Smith, the 13-time Gold Glove award winner and Pendleton’s former teammate with the St. Louis Cardinals.
“They can change a game with their glove, ” Pendleton said of Smith and Simmons. “Their instincts and the way go about doing things and the way they think the game — they’ll do things instinctively that others won’t.”
Pendleton is quick to point out Smith did it for nearly 20 years, and Simmons still has a ways to go in his second season in the majors. But many predict this will be just the first of many Gold Glove awards for Simmons.
For all the memorable plays he’s made this season, Simmons pointed to a double play he turned on Aug. 17 against the Nationals when he had started toward third base on a bunt play by pitcher Craig Stammen but was able to change direction to field the ball and turn an off-balance double play. That play stranded a runner in scoring position in the 14th inning of an eventual loss.
The Rawlings Gold Glove awards are voted on by managers and up to six coaches from each team, who aren’t allowed to vote for players on their own teams. This year, for the first time in the Gold Gloves’ 57-year history, a sabermetric statistical component was figured in as well, accounting for one-fourth of the voting total.
As far as the Braves are concerned, Heyward built on the work he did last season in winning his first Gold Glove. And he did that while also moving to center field down the stretch, playing there flawlessly.
Heyward played 22 games in center field, having played only two games there coming into this season. Heyward was in center field when he made the game-saving catch July 22 in New York, to preserve a 2-1 lead on the final out of the game.
“I saw him in places as a center field that I’d never seen another center fielder be,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “And I’m not talking about catching balls. I’m talking about just roaming center fielder, like you would teach your high school guys….That was refreshing. I don’t know if he played better than he did in right field but he sure didn’t play any worse than any other center fielder in the major leagues. The only thing that looks out of place is he’s 6-5, 245.”