See the 44 Greatest Atlanta Braves here.

No. 41: Andrelton Simmons
RH Hitting, RH Throwing Shortstop
Braves Seasons: 2012-2015
.256/.304/.362, 31 HR, 168 RBI, 197 RS, 85 OPS+

Some will think this is low. But Simmons just eked out the minimum three full seasons this past year, and if this were based solely on offensive production alone, he wouldn’t make the top 44. If we expanded it to 66 he might not make it. But his glove, even in three short years, makes it impossible for me to leave him off. We are in my view looking at the best defensive shortstop ever to play the game.

Born and raised in Curacao, he spent less than a year playing for West Oklahoma State College when the Braves drafted him in 2010 in the second round, as a pitcher with a 98-mph fastball. I’ve heard two contradictory versions of the story, one in which Andrelton wanted to try to pitch in the bigs, and the Braves wanted him to switch to SS, and the other in which the positions were reversed. In any event, the pitcher experiment was very short-lived, as by 2011 he was a full-time shortstop at Carolina. He was called up from AA on May 31 in 2012 and we’ve never looked back.

Is he better than Ozzie Smith? I think he is. It’s a tough question. He’s only 25. We’ll have to see if his career can last as long as Ozzie or Mark Belanger’s. But based on an admittedly short statistical sample, he is on pace to blow away their career defensive sabermetric marks. For example, the career modern era SS dWAR leaders are:

Smith (19 seasons) 43.4
Belanger (18) 39.4
Ripken (16 at SS) 33.7
Aparicio (18) 31.6
Vizquel (24) 28.4

Well, Andrelton is at 15.2 after 3 ½ seasons. Ozzie’s highest dWAR season was 1989 with 4.7(his mean season was 2.2.) Andrelton has averaged 4.76 dWAR over the last three years. In other words, he’s averaging the best season ever recorded by the guy considered to be the best defensive shortstop ever to play the game.

Defensive sabermetrics are of questionable value. But here are some of Simba’s highlights.

In 2012 he only logged 426 innings, but compiled a UZR/150 of 33.4, which I believe is the highest ever recorded at shortstop since 2002 when they started recording the stat.

His total UZR in 2013, 23.9, was more than double the second place finisher at shortstop, Troy Tulowitzki, at 11.4. In dWAR, he was 5.4, more than double the next guy, the Twins’ Pedro Florimon, at 2.1. He’s second in career dWAR for the Atlanta franchise, with 15.2, after just three seasons. (Andruw is the leader in the clubhouse with 26.2, and Andrelton should pass him in 2018.)

Just use your eyes. Virtually every other game I watch, I see something that he does that nobody else in baseball could do. Just review the highlight reels on this site.

I also think he is one of the brainier players in the game. The stuff he pulls to deke baserunners into thinking they’re safe trotting back into first, or throwing to a base no one expected him to, is brilliant. He is thinking about plays, and able to execute them, that most players would never conceive of. Those smarts will I hope lead to improved success at the plate. His contact rate is phenomenal (career K rate is 9.2% — Ichiro’s is 9.9%). He’s too athletically gifted and too intelligent to continue to struggle finding his stroke. I expect that we will see continued tinkering but also continued improvement. I see no reason he shouldn’t be able to hit .275/.350/.400.

Just a classy guy. He slides in at New No. 41, below Kent Mercker and above Chris Chambliss. Again, I hope he never leaves Atlanta. He will shoot up this list quickly.