If you're looking at the back of a baseball card, the Tigers' decision to trade for Alfredo Simon was a no-brainer. He was coming off a 2014 season in which he pitched 195 1/3 innings, won 15 games, allowed a 3.44 ERA, and made his first All-Star team. Unfortunately, we know better here at BYB. Simon's low ERA was combated by a 4.33 FIP, and his stellar first half was largely thanks to an unsustainably low .234 batting average on balls in play.
Before we get to what happened in 2014, we need to know more about Simon as a pitcher.
Alfredo Simon is a 33 year old right-hander who was originally signed out of the Dominican Republic by the Philadelphia Phillies in 1999. He made his stateside debut in the Gulf Coast League in 2001, and spent the next four seasons moving through the Phillies' farm system. Simon was traded to the San Francisco Giants at the 2004 trade deadline, and he spent the next two and a half seasons in their system.
He became a free agent after the 2006 season, which began the busiest offseason of his career. He was signed by the Texas Rangers in November, then selected by the Baltimore Orioles in the Rule 5 draft in December. The Phillies were able to reacquire Simon via a trade with the Orioles that same day. Simon spent the next few months with the Phillies, but the Phillies sent him back to the Rangers. After all that movement, it's no wonder that Simon went 5-10 with a 6.43 ERA in 22 starts in the Pacific Coast League that year. Simon spent part of the 2008 season pitching in Mexico, where he allowed a 2.67 ERA in 81 innings. The Baltimore Orioles signed him in September of that year, and he finally made his MLB debut in a relief outing on September 6th.
Simon's career trajectory is much more linear after this. He spent the next three seasons with the Orioles, taking the occasional trip down to the minor leagues. After the 2011 season, the Cincinnati Reds selected Simon off waivers. He spent the 2012 and 2013 seasons in the Reds' bullpen, where he allowed a 2.78 ERA and 3.65 FIP in 148 2/3 innings. He was expected to fill a bullpen role again in 2014, but an injury to starter Mat Latos gave Simon the opportunity for a spot start. Simon held the New York Mets to one run on four hits in seven strong innings, earning him a second start. He was even better in that outing, allowing just a solo home run to James Loney of the Tampa Bay Rays in eight innings.
Simon would coast through the rest of the first half as a starter, allowing a 2.70 ERA in 116 2/3 innings. However, his aforementioned FIP and BABIP predicted that regression was coming, and it hit him hard. Simon allowed a 4.52 ERA and 1.44 WHIP in the second half, raising his season-long ERA by nearly a full run.
Tigers acquire Alfredo Simon from Reds
The Tigers have acquired starting pitcher from the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for Eugenio Suarez and Jonathon Crawford.
Simon likes to attack hitters with his fastball, which sits at 94-95 miles per hour. He primarily throws a heavy two-seamer to left-handed hitters, along with a heavy splitter and the occasional curveball or cutter. Against righties, Simon will mix his two and four-seam fastballs, with increased use of the cutter and curveball. He rarely throws the splitter against right-handers, and when he does, it is primarily with two strikes.
Left-handed batters were more successful against Simon than their right-handed counterparts in 2014, but both fell short of his career marks. Lefties hit .251/.312/.403 in 2014, slightly lower than the .259/.328/.422 line he has allowed against them in his seven MLB seasons. Righties really struggled last season, hitting just .238/.302/.363. This resulted in an OPS nearly 80 points lower than the .741 OPS he has allowed to righties in his career.
Part of the reason for Simon's success in 2014 was a career low walk rate of just 2.57 batters per nine innings. It was the second year in a row Simon walked fewer than 7.5 percent of the batters he faced, leading to a solid 1.21 WHIP. Simon's walk rate was paired with a similar drop in strikeout rate. His 15.5 percent strikeout rate was his lowest since 2010, and his 2.27 strikeout-to-walk ratio was his lowest in three years with the Reds (though still slightly better than his career norms). As one might expect, Simon's strikeout-to-walk ratio was much higher against righties than lefties.
For the Tigers fans still grasping at some semblance of reason for this trade, Simon's home/road splits are encouraging. He allowed a 3.17 ERA and 3.99 FIP in 105 innings away from the hitter-friendly Great American Ballpark last season, compared to a 3.74 ERA and 4.73 FIP at home. GABP's small dimensions yielded 13 home runs last year, while Simon allowed just nine on the road. In his three years in Cincinnati, Simon allowed nearly twice as many homers at home (21) as he did on the road (11).
Will he be able to repeat his 2014 numbers for the Tigers in 2015? His second half regression suggests that the answer would be 'no,' but we'll dive deeper into what Simon needs to do to be successful in 2015 later this week.