11/12/2013 12:55 P.M. ET
Simmons on path to becoming defensive royalty
By Terence Moore / MLB.com
According to a combination of the Society for American Baseball Research, sabermetrics and common sense, Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons is the top defensive player in the league. He just received the Rawlings Platinum Glove, and in doing so, he was declared better than Yadier Molina, better than Brandon Phillips -- better than anybody in the Major Leagues not named Manny Machado. That's because the Orioles third baseman captured the American League's version of the award.
Let that sink in, especially regarding Simmons, a 24-year-old whiz kid with the glove. He just completed his first full season in the Major Leagues, which means he could win this award again. And then again, and then enough times after that to have somebody name either this or some other fielding award in his honor someday.
I know. Machado is three years younger than Simmons, and Machado also just finished his first full season in the Majors. We'll discuss the splendid ways of Machado in another column. As for this one, maybe you can tell I'm an Andrelton Simmons fan, and so is Barry Larkin, who knows a little about playing shortstop.
"The next time you see [Simmons], tell him I love the way he approaches the game," Larkin told me earlier in the season during a conversation about something else.
Larkin -- himself a Hall of Fame shortstop who works for ESPN these days -- brought up Simmons' name independently. When he finished describing all of the wonderful things he sees in Simmons, whom he hadn't met at the time, he mentioned he wanted to contact Simmons in the near future for a chat.
Several days later, I relayed Larkin's praise to Simmons in the Braves' clubhouse, and Simmons nearly fainted.
"Wow. Did Barry Larkin really say all of those things about me?" a wide-eyed Simmons said. "That's great. I'm flattered, because I really don't think I'm doing as well as I can. I have a long ways to go. I'm always hard on myself, because I always think I can do much better than what I'm doing at the moment."
See why I love this guy? Simmons is as humble as they come regarding his physical gifts, and it doesn't hurt that he turns the spectacular into the routine more often than not. He was among the primary reasons the Braves finished with baseball's best ERA. At season's end, he had 41 defensive runs saved, breaking a Major League record. So it was a no-brainer when NL managers and coaches joined sabermetric statistics in making him the league's Gold Glove winner at shortstop.
There is nothing like winning a Gold Glove. Then again, I'm biased. I'll let you have the monster home runs, the nine-inning pitching gems and the dazzling sprints on the basepaths. My favorite aspect of baseball is defense. Give me a fielding gem every once in a while during a game, and I'm good. Gold Glove winners are baseball royalty, and it's been that way since the first Gold Gloves were given in 1957.
Back then, Gold Gloves went to the top fielder at each position throughout the Major Leagues. The following year, the system was tweaked to what we have now: A Gold Glove for the top fielder at each position in each league. There were other slight changes through the years -- such as the swing back and forth between choosing the best three outfielders in each league regardless of position before going back the other way -- but the essence of the award remained the same.
Did I say Gold Glove winners are royalty? They also are magical, and the majority of the multiple winners evolved into larger than large when it comes to baseball history.
Just look at the names. I mean, Willie Mays and Roberto Clemente aren't featured on defense in all of those highlight reels for nothing. Their 12 Gold Gloves are more than any outfielders in history. When you hear the name "Johnny Bench," you think of a catcher for the ages, and not surprisingly, he has 10 Gold Gloves. Not only does Brooks Robinson have 16 Gold Gloves as the greatest defensive third baseman of all time, he won all of them in a row. Jim Kaat grabbed 16 Gold Gloves as a pitcher, but nobody (pitcher or otherwise) has more Gold Gloves than Greg Maddux, who has 18.
Molina is trying to become this generation's Bench. In fact, Molina just won his sixth Gold Glove in a row. Phillips now has four Gold Gloves after spending another season as a magician at second base, and then there were the high DRS (defensive runs saved) totals for NL Gold Glove winners Carlos Gomez (38) in center field and Gerardo Parra (36) in right field.
Even so, Simmons was picked as the elite of the elite among NL fielders, and guess what?
You better get used to it.
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.