The Alfredo Simon The Tigers Acquired

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

Yesterday, we started to look past the trades and into the future at the players who will be wearing the Old English D for the first time in 2015 as a result of the wheeling and dealing. First it was Yoenis Cespedes. Now it’s Alfredo Simon. Again, we aren’t going to talk much about the nature of the trade, which we covered in detail on Thursday. Instead, we’re just going to dig in on the new Tiger, cost be damned.

Simon, unlike Cespedes, isn’t a name brand player. If he hadn’t fallen backwards into an impressive and meaningless first half W/L record, hardly anyone would have noticed him period. He’s a 33 year old with 529.1 big league innings and not much to show for them. Even his minor league numbers aren’t very good.

So why did the Tigers acquire him at all? What’s his draw? He put together a nice ERA in 2014, especially in the first half and was coming off two decent enough seasons in the bullpen to boot. There’s nothing great on the resume, but there’s some decent run prevention over the last three seasons while in Cincinnati.

The Tigers are counting on him to repeat that at age 34 in the American League or this plan’s going to look a bit silly.

Let’s highlight his career in stages. Horrible reliever from 2008-2010 in about a season’s worth of innings. Below average to bad starter in 2011. Solid enough reliever in 2012-2013. Controversial 2014 season as a starter.

There’s basically nothing in Simon’s past prior to 2014 that makes him worth acquiring for two legitimate pieces in conjunction with losing Rick Porcello. Maybe the Tigers have always liked him, but without 2014 this isn’t happening. So let’s talk about 2014. Entering his age 33 he had no history of success as a starter and a little taste of good work in relief.

Then he posted a 3.44 ERA and 4.33 FIP in 196.1 innings. It was 2.70 in the first half with a 4.33 FIP. It was 4.52 in the second half with a 4.34 FIP.

I recognize that I’m a bigger FIP-believer than a lot of people who read this site but it was a .232 BABIP in the first half and a .309 BABIP in the second half. Sure, Simon has a .280 or so career BABIP, but I’m buying .309 more than I’m buying .232 going forward. I just don’t think his first half run prevention is something that’s going to continue. His LOB% in the first half was 85% compared to 70% in the second half.

We can’t ignore that first half, but a ground ball pitcher playing in front of Zack Cozart and Brandon Phillips having a good stretch isn’t exactly the strangest thing that’s ever happened.

On the other hand, Simon shows almost no career platoon split (.001 wOBA for his career, 1129/1125 TBF on each side). The strikeouts and walks are a little better versus RHH but it’s not crazy and he balances it out by hitting three times as many RHH.

Realistically, Simon’s a good bet to be a 4.40 FIP type starter or a 3.90 FIP type reliever, give or take. Assume that some of the BABIP-beating is real and say he’s a 3.90 or 4.00 ERA starter getting the benefit of the doubt. In today’s run environment, maybe you can sell that as a 2 WAR starter if he tosses 200 innings, but it’s probably a 1-2 win arm. He doesn’t miss bats at an above average rate and gets a few more swings than average.

Steamer says 25 starter, 144 innings, and 0.4 WAR. It’s hard to know on the durability, but even at 200 innings that’s 0.5 or 0.6 WAR which is probably Kyle Lobstein without any trouble.

To believe in Simon as a meaningful addition you have to believe a lot in his ability to post low BABIP because of his own skill and there’s only so much evidence to support that. It’s .282 for his career and he only started beating it in 2013, carrying into 2014. If you want to look at 1200 TBF and say for sure you think he can be a .260 BABIP arm like Kershaw, go for it, but the odds aren’t on your side.

He comes at you with a sinker first and foremost and then uses a splitter, cutter, curve and four-seamer from there. There’s heat in the mid 90s and some decent movement, so you can imagine watching his stuff and his first half and dreaming, but he doesn’t get a lot of strikeouts, he doesn’t limit walks, and he doesn’t suck the power out of the room.

He’s a major league arm, but you’re looking at his 2014 RA9-WAR of 3.1 as the ceiling, not the likely outcome. Best case scenario, he lives up to Porcello and worst case scenario you’re DFA-ing him by June. As a bullpen piece, you wouldn’t hate him, but as a starter he looks decidedly below average.

Part of that’s just a sign of the times. The rotation from hell couldn’t last forever and it’s not like the Tigers had an in house option that’s clearly better. The alternative was a different trade or a FA signing. And that’s before we get into his very troubling off-field issues.

From a baseball perspective, Simon’s better than the other contestants for the #5 slot but he’s not so much better that the club should ignore other opportunities to upgrade the rotation. Simon is a member of the Dombrowski blind spot. He has raw stuff but can’t get it to work in games. He’s Andy Oliver, Casey Crosby, Robbie Ray, etc but he’s right-handed and older (not saying similar pitchers, saying similar disconnect between what the pitch looks like and how effective it is).

Sometimes those players put it together at 33, but .232 BABIP is .232 BABIP. He’s a live body who won’t embarrass himself, but hoping for much more is a failure of expectations than of performance.

In the end, you’ve got to look at those balls in play and make a call. Here’s MLB average for 2014, Simon in parenthesis:

GB .239 (.192) .020 (.007)
LD .685 (.644) .190 (.350)
FB .207 (.162) .378 (.410)

Do you really think he’s giving up significantly weaker contact than average or did his defense just have his back for three months?


2 responses

  1. So last year, a radio station here in Balt asked callers “Which former Oriole pitcher is currently leading the National League in wins?”. Six callers (6!) answered “Jake Arrieta (as if maybe the answer had changed between the first five people being wrong and #6 answering) before someone correctly answered “Alfredo Sigh-mon with 11”.

    Just thought you should know that.

  2. I agree the Tigers do have a thing for a certain-type of starting pitcher…. Sometimes it works out (Verlander) sometimes it doesn’t (see list above+more).

    I wonder if they went for Simon, as opposed to any other Reds pitcher (or Masterson et al.), because he has experience in the bullpen. Would this be a viable strategy: “If we have to, we’ll pretend we’re KC every fifth day, and have Simon be our long man…”? And that’s presuming Soria and Nathan have exorcised the Tigers’ bullpen hoodoo curse.

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