I’m the type of guy who likes a good challenge. At least, I must be. Why else would I volunteer myself to write about a 33-year-old reliever who made the transition to the rotation, pitched to a 3.44 earned run average in 32 starts, and then got traded?
Let’s begin by just reflecting on how remarkable Alfredo Simon’s 2014 was. He came into the season more than two years removed from his last start, having spent all of 2012 and 2013 pitching out of the bullpen. Not only had he not started in quite some time, but he was never any good at all as a starter in the first place.
When I say he was never any good at all as a starter, I absolutely mean it. His only significant sample as a major-league starter came in his 16 starts in 2011 as a member of the Orioles. That year, Simon compiled the following uninspiring numbers:
- 2011 (as starter, 94.1 IP) – 4.96 ERA, 6.30 K/9, 3.15 BB/9, 1.24 HR/9, .303/.353/.542 opponents’ slash
While that home-run rate is already high enough on its own, Simon gave up a ridiculous number of extra-base hits in general as a starter that year. In addition to the 13 homers, he gave up 31 doubles and three triples as a starter. In other words, he gave up a whopping 47 extra-base hits in 94.1 innings — I think we can all do the math on that one. Going back a bit further to Triple-A — where he made 47 starts in 52 appearances — he threw nearly 275 innings with a 5.10 ERA.
When Mat Latos went down at the start of the year, Simon stepped in to make what everyone thought was a spot start. That start was good enough to earn him another one, and 30 more after that. When the dust settled, his 2014 stat line is almost unthinkable considering that he was 33 years old, and hadn’t been an effective starter since High-A ball, a full decade prior.
- 2014 (196.1 IP) – 3.44 ERA, 5.82 K/9, 2.57 BB/9, 1.01 HR/9, .245/.307/.383 opponents’ slash
Simon’s critics have plenty of perfectly legitimate reasons to not buy into the numbers shown above. In fact, Steamer thinks he’ll be downright bad in 2015:
- 2015 (Steamer) – 4.89 ERA, 5.31 K/9, 2.95 BB/9, 1.16 HR/9
The main reason for this bearish projection likely stems from the 4.33 FIP that accompanied his 3.44 ERA in 2014. Simon benefited from a 77.5% strand rate — which Steamer projects will drop to 67.4% — and a .265 batting average on balls in play — which Steamer projects will rise to .294.
I don’t think Steamer’s BABIP projection is too terribly high. Even though Simon has generated plenty of weak contact in the last couple of years, .294 isn’t far off from his career .282 mark. I do, however, have an issue with the strand-rate projections. Ever since joining the Reds in 2012, Simon has been consistently elite at leaving runners on base, especially for a pitcher with such a low strikeout rate.
Over the last three years, Simon has stranded 78.1% of all baserunners — a rate which has not dipped below 77.5% or risen above 78.7%. I think it’s fair to say that Simon is particularly skilled in this area, and expecting him to just completely lose this ability (especially to the point where he’d be worse than league-average, as Steamer suggests) is a bit irrational.
As for the homers, I’m sure the Steamer projection was done before the trade to Detroit. In moving from Great American Ball Park to Comerica Park, Simon moves to a significantly less homer-friendly environment — according to our Park Factors, Cincinnati was the second-most homer-prone ballpark in the league last year, behind only Coors Field (and not by much). The switch in parks should limit his homers enough to effectively cancel out the effect of switching leagues.
The other big argument I’ve heard in favor of the regression monster devouring Simon whole is the fact that he pitched so poorly down the stretch:
- Pre-All Star (18 starts) – 2.70 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 5.79 K/9, 2.16 BB/9
- Post-All Star (14 starts) – 4.52 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 5.87 K/9, 3.16 BB/9
It’s a fair point, but I haven’t heard anyone bring up the fact that he very well may have simply been worn out. Simon pitched 148.2 innings in 2012 and 2013 combined; it would be a bit ridiculous to assume there wouldn’t be some serious fatigue-based noise in his 2014 data, seeing as he hurled nearly 200 frames.
For Tigers fans, I can understand the frustration with this deal. In giving up Jonathon Crawford and Eugenio Suarez, Detroit gave up quite a bit for one year of Alfredo Simon. Still, let’s not overstate who those guys are. Crawford is a good — but not great — pitcher, and Suarez’s ceiling is likely that of a super-utility type. Guys like that are nice to have, but I highly doubt Tigers fans are going to be kicking themselves five years from now, desperately wishing they never would have traded perennial All-Star Eugenio Suarez.
For fantasy purposes, Simon ended 2014 as a top-45 fantasy starting pitcher, but I have a funny feeling he’ll go undrafted entirely in more than a few mixed leagues next year. Don’t be scared away. Even with a low strikeout rate, I think he’ll hold plenty enough value to be worth a roster spot in most mixed leagues.
Scott Strandberg started writing for Rotographs in 2013. He works in small business consultation, and he also writes A&E columns for The Norman Transcript newspaper. Scott lives in Seattle, WA.