Shortstop has been a revolving door for the Braves in 2012. Pastornicky left something to be desired on offense and (especially) defense. Veteran Jack Wilson fielded the position well, but simply can’t hit major-league pitching anymore. I was less than thrilled when I learned about Paul Janish being signed, but in truth that move worked out very well for the team. Sure his batting average is below .200, but he’s done what we asked him to: play a serviceable shortstop while Simmons recovered. In fact, Janish has been excellent on defense, with just two errors in 48 games. And even though he doesn’t swing a big bat, it seems like he’s come through in pressure situations more often than not.
Now Simmons is rehabbing in the minors and it looks like he should be ready to rejoin the Braves in time for the upcoming series against the Mets. His return has me thinking about his initial stint with the Braves, when he was called up to replace Pastornicky. Everyone knew about his reputation as a solid defender, but hardly anyone expected him to hit the way he did. In just 33 games Simmons collected more hits and extra-base hits than Janish earned in 48 games. And the numbers can’t wholly explain his effect on the Braves. Suddenly the lineup felt solid from top to bottom, and the improved defense kept pitch counts low for starters, made for better-rested relievers.
I underestimated Andrelton’s ability when he was first joining the team, and I imagine I was not the only one. Now Simmons will be welcomed back with inflated expectations. He’ll be expected to hit just as well as he did before the injury, to tighten up the lineup and cure our offensive woes. Without a question, the lineup needs jolt, but it’s not realistic to think Simmons will solve all our problems.
Simmons is recovering from a hand injury, and that can make things complicated. A sore or stiff thumb could potentially alter his grip on the bat, or even his swing. In the best-case scenario, his injury is one hundred percent healed and doesn’t affect his game play at all. In the worst-case scenario, he’s bothered by an aching thumb and sputters on offense. The organization knows how important Simmons is to our team—for this season and the future—so I’m sure he’ll be used with caution.
I expect Simmons to be an important part of the team as we fight to hold onto a playoff spot. He’s a natural in the field, and I don’t see his time off affecting that part of his game, at least not significantly. He’ll swing the bat better than Janish, but it might take some time before he finds a groove. And Soft J will be available if Simmons needs a day of rest. Andrelton should be our shortstop for several years to come, so I’m willing to be patient—as long as he helps put us in the post-season.
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