Wins/losses don’t offer the greatest reflection of how a pitcher actually pitches, but this is worth noting: Sean Newcomb won a game Sunday. It was his second big-league victory. It technically wasn’t a Quality Start — he lasted five innings, yielding five hits and five walks — but he wasn’t touched for a run and the Atlanta Braves prevailed 8-1.
After a promising June and a wretched July, Newcomb is doing in August what you hope every young pitcher does: After getting worse, he has gotten better. (Still walking too many, though.) His August ERA is 3.32 after a July in which it was 7.61. Nobody’s nominating him as The Next Kershaw just yet, but he’s holding his place in a major-league rotation, which is more than we could say for Aaron Blair.
This is important for a couple of reasons. First, because the Braves need all the starting pitchers they can find. (Julio Teheran’s ERA has again ticked over 5.00, and he hasn’t won a game at SunTrust Park since April 26.) Second, because the man the Braves surrendered to land Newcomb has been …
The second-best position player in baseball this season.
Here’s the complete list of MLB position players who have a better Baseball-Reference WAR than Andrelton Simmons’s 6.2: Jose Altuve at 6.9. And that’s it.
There’s Altuve, who should be the American League MVP, and then Simba, whom the Braves decided — not without some evidence, we should note — wouldn’t hit enough to justify his peerless glove.
Yeah, there are mitigating factors. Had Mike Trout and Freddie Freeman not missed much of the summer, they’d be way higher in WAR than they are. (With nearly 200 fewer at-bats than Altuve, Trout still has a 5.4 WAR. Trout is amazing.) But Joey Votto, to pick a name seen recently in Cobb County, is a great player having a great season who has stayed healthy, and his B-WAR is 5.9.
Oh, and there’s this: The Angels, who employ both Simmons and Trout, are essentially tied for the AL’s second wild card. (Tied with the Twins, if you can believe that, who Sunday saw Bartolo Colon win his third game for them, if you can believe that.)
The intent isn’t to keep hammering the Braves for a trade always seen as audacious. (Many Braves fans found other adjectives.) Over his final two seasons here, Simmons had become one of the worst hitters in the majors. The catch was that he didn’t strike out much. There’s always a chance that a guy who puts the ball in play might figure something out. (There’s also the chance he might just be overmatched.)
Simmons’ 2017 numbers — .292/.345/.451 — all represent career bests, meaning it’s possible this is a one-off. His wRC+ (weighted runs created with park values factored in) is 116, which is above league-average (meaning 100) but nothing spectacular.
Still, his BABIP (batting average on balls in play) is .302, which isn’t terribly elevated. (Altuve’s is .367.) That suggests the great defender could just have learned how to hit, and there’s precedent. Check Ozzie Smith’s career batting numbers. They went from substandard to pretty much OK, especially when you considered what the best-ever shortstop did when he wasn’t batting.
Yes, the greater part of Simmons’ value lies in his work afield. He leads the majors in defensive WAR at 3.1; nobody else is above 2.5. The Braves never believed he’d be anything less than an exceptional defender, but they were in the second offseason of their rebuild around pitching and they took a chance that his overall value wouldn’t rise above the great-glove/no-hit level. It has, and here’s the real kick in the pants:
Simmons is making $8 million this season, $4.5 million less than the Braves paid the jettisoned Colon. Meanwhile, the Braves’ shortstop of the future, acquired in a trade 3 1/2 weeks after Simmons was shipped west, lost his job to Johan Camargo and was demoted to Gwinnett. After Camargo hurt himself on the foul line, Dansby Swanson was recalled from Triple-A and has lifted his batting average to .222. His WAR value is minus-0.1.