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Potayto, Potahto. Simmons, Semien. Did the Twins make the correct middle infield acquisition?


TwerkTwonkTwins

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The day is January 26th, 2021. The Minnesota Twins had been rumored to be interested in various middle infield free agent options, but Marcus Semien was their top target, according to Darren Wolfson. The fit made some amount of sense, as the right-handed Semien would provide some pop against lefties and defensive flexibility across the infield. 

Semien did not sign with the Twins on January 26th. He accepted a one-year contract worth $18M to join the upstart Toronto Blue Jays, as their primary second baseman. The Twins quickly pivoted, signing Andrelton Simmons to a one-year $10.5M contract a few hours later as their fallback option. 

Fast forward, and today is May 27th, 2021. It's been over four months since the Twins made that pivot from Semiens to Simmons, over a difference of $7.5M. A lot has changed in that span, as the Twins quickly went from division favorites, to 8.5 games back from first place.

With 30% of the season in the books, I think it's fair to look back and evaluate if the Twins made the right decision by not outbidding Toronto for Semien's services and shifting to Simmons. 

Before we dive in, it is important to call out that comparing Simmons and Semien across their career has been a bit like apples and oranges .The two players are both indeed starting middle infielders, but Simmons has been one of the most elite defensive shortstops in a generation, while Semien was a Top-3 MVP finalist due to his offensive performance. Semien has also been playing primarily at second base this year, but has started roughly 9% of his games at shortstop. 

With that out of the way, let's see how Semien and Simmons have fared so far in 2021 across overall, offensive, and defensive categories: 

 

  Overall Offensive Defensive
  Games Played PA fWAR bWAR AVG OBP SLG HR OPS+ wRC+ Hard Hit % Barrel % WPA DRS Outs Above Average Runs Prevented Fielding %
Marcus Semien 47 212 2.2 2.4 .286 .349 .536 12 143 143 44.9% 8.1% 0.6 3 3 2 .988
Andrelton Simmons 37 138 0.2 0.7 .238 .326 .320 2 92 87 27.3% 1.0% -0.6 2 8 6 .966

 

In one way, the overall result is what you expect. Semien is a better offensive player, and Simmons takes the edge defensively, especially when accounting for time spent at shortstop.

But Semien isn't just outpacing Simmons offensively -- he's among the league leaders in offensive production. Semien not only has a higher slugging percentage and weight runs created plus (wRC+) than his 2019 season where he was a MVP finalist, but he currently leads all qualified MLB second baseman in those two categories. Toronto took a chance Semien would look more like his 2019 self, than his 2020 version. They have been right so far. The move to second base has also worked to this point, where multiple defensive metrics point toward positive contributions. All together, his 2.2 fWAR ranks 7th among all MLB hitters, 

On the other hand, Simmons has always been known as a player who gives the team value through his glove. His offensive skillset usually ends up slightly below average across his career, and he's been just that in 2021 (both his OPS+ and wRC+ are below 100, which is the league average). Simmons won't strike out that often, but he won't provide any power at all. Both his Hard Hit % and Barrel % are below the 5th percentile of all MLB players. Weak contact can be dangerous.

The Twins have definitely received value from Simmons and his magic glove. Simmons ranks second in MLB with 8 Outs Above Average, according to Statcast, which has saved the Twins 6 runs over the course of the season. FanGraphs is not as glowing as Statcast, as Simmons ranks 11th among MLB shortstops in Defensive Runs Saved.

The eye test will tell you Simmons has been amazing, but we can all point to a few plays this year where a mental lapse has resulted in a key dropped ball, or a double play that wasn't turned. That lack of clutch ability has also shown up in his -0.6 Win Probability Added (WPA), where as Semien has the reverse positive WPA of 0.6. 

Overall, I do think the Twins have received a positive contribution from Andrelton Simmons. He's performed in the baseline of his career, with his elite defense outweighing his offensive downfalls. But when you compare the two contracts, it's hard to justify that signing Simmons to one-year and $10.5M has been more valuable than Marcus Semien at one-year and $18M. FanGraphs claims Semien has already provided $17.7M worth of value for Toronto, while Simmons has provided $1.5M worth of value for the Twins. 

There were probably other factors that led Semien to Toronto, rather than Minnesota. It's not 100% up to the team in free agency, it is a dance that involves many other factors for the player aside from the dollar amount. But if the decision for a middle infield acquisition came down to a $7.5M difference between the front office's top target and their fallback option, it's clear Falvey and Levine should have ponied up a bit more. The Twins are missing out on a early dark horse for the 2021 MVP candidate. 

 

 

 

 

 

6 Comments


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It's rarely as simple as Choice A vs. Choice B.

For example, what impact did having an extra $7.5 million have in their ability to sign Cruz a week later? If signing Semien meant settling for Jay Bruce as the DH, it's a much different team.

 

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I also wanted Semien more than Simmons but if it's December of 2020 with pandemic worries looming over MLB, I completely understand the reluctance to pay for Semien when you can get Simmons for roughly half the price.

But like pretty much everything in 2021, that decision is not working out for the hometown team...

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17 hours ago, IndianaTwin said:

It's rarely as simple as Choice A vs. Choice B.

For example, what impact did having an extra $7.5 million have in their ability to sign Cruz a week later? If signing Semien meant settling for Jay Bruce as the DH, it's a much different team.

 

Totally agree. One move sets up a butterfly effect that channels throughout the roster.

You could also say that most of that $7.5M in savings went to another guy... Alexander Colome. He signed for $5.5M with a $1.25M buyout. Maybe the Twins don't sign Colome with Semien in the mix, but we'll never know!

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5 hours ago, Brock Beauchamp said:

BTW, great blog entry, but I wanted to let you know you can now copy and paste tables directly into the Twins Daily text editor. Read this for a quick tutorial:

 

Thanks, Brock! Just tried it out, as I was used to old way of screenshotting tables. This will be nifty!

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I would ave preferred Semien and was hopeful. I know Semien at SS would be a downgrade at SS, but he would have been solid there, IMO, and still allowed the move of Polanco to 2B. 

The thing that we just don't know from the above numbers is how Semien's total value might have dropped, in comparison to Simmons, were he at SS instead of 2B.

I think the Twins did well to pivot to Simmons and I'm just not sure, were I in charge, that I would have signed Semien for the extra $8M. That just seems like a lot. But if I could revise the off-season, I think I would have done it and spent another couple $M on keeping May over Colome. And that's not rear looking 20/20 vision. It's just what I would have done, though admittedly it would have bumped the payroll a little. 

I have no problem with the Simmons signing to be sure. And he's a better offensive player the past few years than we are seeing right now. He's been slumping a bit lately after coming off the IL but history says he should/could rebound and improve. Any disparity between Semien and Simmons might be closer at the end of the year than we see now, not including the aformentioned caveat "what if" Semien was still at SS.

But again, Semien for 1yr at $18M and a couple $M more to keep May would have been a net payroll raise of approximately $5-6M. I am not blasting the FO for what they did in this equation,  but coming off back to back outstanding seasons and looking to contend in 2021, I would have gone this route.

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