Make no mistake: Alfredo Simon needs his fastball to survive. I examined the pitch in detail yesterday, pointing out that he uses it almost exclusively to open an at-bat or when behind in the count.
Fastball location is important for Simon for a number of reasons. He throws it quite often on the first pitch of an at-bat, as noted above, and gets into trouble when he doesn't get strike one. Opposing batters hit .257/.355/.375 off Simon if he started a plate appearance with ball one, which was a fair bit lower than the .797 OPS he has allowed in his career. On the other hand, opposing batters hit just .211/.258/.341 if Simon got strike one.
What happens when he gets ahead, though? Simon has a solid mix of secondary pitches, but no standout offering. He throws his splitter most often, using it 16.6 percent of the time in 2014. Hit cutter was next, at a 13.9 percent usage rate, while the curveball was his least-used pitch at 11.3 percent. However, Simon isn't necessarily a four-pitch pitcher. He rarely uses his cutter against left-handed hitters, and almost never uses the splitter against righties. He used the curveball sparingly against both righties and lefties.
There is a high variance in velocities between the three pitches as well. Simon's cutter is the fastest of the three, sitting in the 89-90 mile per hour range. It is five miles per hour slower than his average fastball, which sits at 94-95 miles per hour. His splitter averages in the mid-80s, while his curveball tops out at 78-79 miles per hour.
Of the three secondary pitches he has, Simon's splitter is probably his most intriguing. As mentioned above, he almost exclusively uses it against left-handed hitters. Brooks Baseball says that he threw just 43 splitters to righties last season, a 2.79 percent usage rate. Meanwhile, he used it just over 30 percent of the time against lefties, and a whopping 45 percent of the time with two strikes. This high usage rate with two strikes is a big reason why he tallied 41 of his 62 strikeouts against lefties with the splitter last season.
Opposing batters hit .195 with a .279 slugging average against Simon's splitter last year. This is partially due to his usage pattern -- hitters don't generally do well in two-strike counts for obvious reasons -- but also because of where he located it. Simon was great about avoiding the middle of the plate with his splitter, instead burying the pitch down and out of the strike zone against lefties.
Location is especially important with a splitter, as the pitch tends to flatten out if left up in the strike zone. Simon's splitter is no different, and opposing hitters have punished mistakes up in the strike zone throughout his career. He doesn't hang them often -- he only allowed two home runs with it last season -- but mistakes go a long way, as James Loney showed in April.
While the splitter doesn't hit the strike zone much, he doesn't waste many of them. Simon's splitter was only taken for a ball 37 percent of the time in 2014. Conversely, he generated a 15.1 percent whiff rate with it, and an 18.7 percent whiff rate with two strikes.
Simon's least effective secondary pitch seems to be his cutter. Opposing batters hit .252 with a .426 slugging average against the cutter last season, including four of the 22 home runs he allowed. He used it 23 percent of the time against right-handed hitters in 2014, and just 4.8 percent of the time against lefties.
Righties hit .245 off his cutter last year, but a .418 slugging average and .174 ISO show that he was prone to mistakes. A closer look at Brooks Baseball's strike zone profiles reveals the same; Simon was good about burying the cutter down and away most of the time, but bad things happened when he left it out over the plate.
The biggest problem with Simon's cutter is that opposing batters tend to make solid contact on it. They had a 29 percent line drive rate off his cutter in 2014 and 27.6 percent for his career. The lack of downward movement on his cutter is part of the reason why. While the pitch is several miles per hour slower than his fastball, it tends to sit on the same plane and hitters are able to barrel the pitch more easily. The cutter also resulted in a much lower ground ball rate (just 35 percent) than his other pitches in 2014.
Simon only threw his curveball 11.3 percent of the time in 2014, but that figure jumped to over 20 percent with two strikes. He was a bit more partial to using the curve against righties, using it over 30 percent of the time when ahead in the count. It was one of his most effective pitches in 2014, generating a 14.9 percent whiff rate while simultaneously resulting in an excellent 51.7 ground ball rate.
Like most curveballs, Simon's is most effective when he keeps it at the bottom of the strike zone. He gets into trouble when leaving the ball out over the plate, but doesn't get hurt if the ball is down. Consider the chart below depicting opponents' slugging averages against Simon's curveball in different areas of the zone. In the middle of the plate, opposing batters are slugging .500 or better. Get down low in the zone and we're closer to the .200s.
While the results from his curveball suggest that he should throw it more, it seems that Simon struggles to command the pitch. He allowed five home runs on curveballs in 2014, suggesting he left it out over the plate a bit too often. He also hit five batters with curveballs last year, something that should not happen when he is almost exclusively throwing it when ahead in the count. Further analysis would be needed to properly determine if this is true.
Simon doesn't have a wipeout slider to his name, but he does have a few interesting off-speed pitches that complement his fastball well. His splitter and curveball, in particular, are nice components, as they tend to induce more ground balls than the flatter cut fastball. However, Simon will need all three working to repeat his 2014 performance. Later this week, we will look into any improvements he made last season and any changes he could potentially make to stay effective in 2015.