Freddie Freeman has been making a lot of headlines as the Atlanta Braves first baseman, and with the offensive numbers he’s producing, he definitely deserves it. With 96 runs batted in and a .307 batting average, it’s fair to say that Freeman has been a key element in the success of this team, but is he the most valuable? I don’t think so.
With a .253 batting average, Andrelton Simmons hasn’t impressed many people offensively, but that’s not why the Braves play him. Simmons is in that lineup for the defense he provides. At defensive WAR the tenth highest metric in the majors is 2.2, held by Dustin Pedroia. Second best in the dWAR leaderboard is Baltimore Orioles‘ star third baseman Manny Machado at 3.9, but even his defense pales in comparison to the number one player.
Simmons holds the top spot with an astounding 5.1 dWAR. Not only is that far better than any other player in the majors, that’s the highest number in 96 years. That’s right; the last player to get a 5.1 dWAR in a single season was Art Fletcher who did it in 1917. So you’re thinking, “Wow, 96 years, that’s got to be one of the highest of all-time.” Well, you happen to be correct because Fletcher and Simmons are second only to one man, Terry Turner who got 5.4 dWAR in 1906.
Perhaps the best part of this comparison to players of yesteryear is the fact that Simmons still has 21 more games in 2013 to surpass Turner for the highest defensive WAR ever accrued in a single season. At his current rate through this year, Simmons has provided .036 dWAR per game and with 21 games remaining; he would end up with 5.9 dWAR.
That would make him the most productive defender in the history of the game over the span of one season.
If you take into account his offensive WAR, which isn’t as impressive, Simmons has accrued a 5.9 WAR this season while Freeman has provided 4.1. Simmons’ defense alone has been more valuable than Freeman’s offense and defense combined.