Andrelton Simmons of the Atlanta Braves and Manny Machado of the Baltimore Orioles are both in their second seasons and first full seasons. Simmons is 23 and Machado is 21. And both are already the best fielders at their positions in baseball. In fact, the seasons they are having in the field are downright historic.
We all know that fielding statistics are not yet perfect. As such, it is really impossible to definitively state where the fielding seasons Machado and Simmons are having fit into the all time lexicon at their positions. But these statistics are all we have at the moment and if what we have is anywhere close to being accurate, then these two young players are sizzling at what they do.
And their seasons pass the eye test too. Watching them play is a treat day in and day out and they make the difficult seem routine and the impossible happen on a weekly basis. But flashy is one thing. To remain consistently awesome in the field is another and both have done that.
In recent years, the defensive runs saved has become just as big of the winning equation as pitching and hitting. Winning games is about scoring more runs than your opponent. In order to do so, the team has to hit to score runs and it has to pitch to prevent them plus field the ball well to prevent runs on balls in play. As such it is the runs prevented that is the focus on looking at Simmons and Machado.
And that is where the history comes in. Again, knowing the statistic is not perfect, Baseball-reference.com lists the greatest seasons in a statistic they call Total Zone Total Fielding Runs Above Average. I know that is a mouthful. But bear with me. Andrelton Simmons is currently listed at 25 Total Zone Runs according to that statistic. Without playing another game, Simmons' season already ranks tied for twelfth all-time according to Baseball-reference.com.
Those ahead of him include four seasons for Mark Belanger, two by Ron Hanson, and one each by Rey Sanchez, Rey Ordonez, Ozzie Smith, Ozzie Guillen and Adam Everett. Everett's 2006 season at 40 runs saved above average is the all-time leader.
Simmons has played 114 of the Braves 119 games. The same site projects Simmons to finish at 30 Total Zone Runs for the season. That seems modest and would mean Simmons' season would rank fifth all time. Fifth! But if you divide Simmons 25 Total Zone Runs by his 114 games and then multiplied that by the perhaps 40 games he has left, he could conceivably reach 33 Total Zone Runs and that would rank his season third all time and tied with Rey Ordonez's season in 1999.
That is pretty amazing. Simmons also has a chance to reach 500 assists this season. Now if only his bat would come alive, it would match the great defensive season Simmons is having. Just for comparison, Fangraphs.com has him at 20.6 runs above average. No other shortstop in the game has more than 9.2. Amazing.
Then there is Machado. If Machado's season were to end right now, his 24 Total Zone Runs Above Average would place his season as tied for the fifteenth best season ever. Brooks Robinson's 33 is the top number ever. Names in front of Machado read like the Who's Who among the great third basemen of history: Graig Nettles, Buddy Bell, Adrian Beltre, Robin Ventura, Clete Boyer, Aurelio Rodriguez and Scott Rolen. That is some heady company.
B-R projects that Machado will finish at 28 Total Zone Runs which would tie him at eighth all time. Again, that seems conservative. Again, if you do the math of 24 divided by his 118 games played and then multiply that result times the 43 games he has left (he plays every day), then Brooks Robinson at the top two spots is within reach. Remarkable.
Fangraphs also has Machado on top for third basemen this season at a more conservative 21.3. The spread between he and the second and third place peers is not as dramatic as Simmons'. Nolan Arenado is listed at 16.3 and Evan Longoria at 13.8.
Fielding statistics are not as highly regarded for accurately as what we have for batters and pitchers. But based on what we see and what we do have for statistics, Manny Machado and Adrelton Simmons are having historic fielding seasons and a big reason for their respective team success.