Alfredo Simon made the National League All-Star team after winning 12 games with a 2.70 ERA in the first half last season. However, Simon's success seemed to be built upon a large amount of good fortune, and his poor second half fell closer to his career norms. After all, he has a 4.05 ERA as a starter and is worth just 1.2 fWAR in 529 1/3 career innings.
We have covered Simon extensively since the Tigers acquired him from the Cincinnati Reds in December, in part because there seems to be something that we are missing. Aside from last season's great first half, he has been a replacement level starting pitcher. The Tigers probably could have acquired a similar pitcher on the free agent market, yet they chose to give up two of their best prospects for Simon, who only has one season of club control remaining before free agency.
A closer look at Simon's splits over the last couple seasons shows us that he has been much better against right-handed batters than lefties. Even throughout his career, Simon has displayed better command against righties, striking out nearly three batters per every walk. Against lefties, his strikeout-to-walk ratio is under two. This difference became more pronounced in the two years Simon spent in Cincinnati's bullpen. In 2012 and 2013, Simon struck out 64 right-handed batters to just 18 walks. Against lefties, that ratio was 51 strikeouts to 30 walks.
While Simon has shown a knack for stranding runners on base, I still don't like his lofty walk rate against left-handed batters. One easy solution to this problem would be to stick Simon in the bullpen and primarily use him against right-handed batters, but that defeats the purpose of spending so much to acquire him. Simon will be a starter in 2015, and the team cannot cherrypick his matchups to make sure he faces all right-handed batters.
Or can they? The Tigers have a couple of left-handed pitchers with starting experience on the 40-man roster in Tom Gorzelanny and Kyle Lobstein. Gorzelanny seemed to be a bullpen-only pick-up when he signed last week, but a tweet from Jason Beck about the incentives in his contract hinted that be might be looked at as a starter. This would make sense, as Gorzelanny has made 121 starts in his 10 year career. Meanwhile, Tigers fans are familiar with how well Lobstein pitched down the stretch in 2014. Without his contributions, they may not have won their fourth consecutive AL Central title.
No team fields a lineup of all right- or left-handed batters, but certain teams do a better job of exploiting the platoon advantage against a starting pitcher than others. Some lineups are heavy on right-handers, while others have more lefties. And some teams just plain can't hit right or left-handed pitching. For instance, the Cleveland Indians' OPS against right-handed pitching was 50 points higher than their OPS against lefties in 2014.
With more and more teams scrambling to gain the platoon advantage offensively, isn't it time that teams tried to alter the other side of this equation? Specifically, should the Tigers pair Simon with a left-handed starter and let the matchup determine who starts during that turn through the rotation?
It would indeed be a creative solution. There has not been a set "platoon" in a starting rotation in recent memory. Baseball players are creatures of habit, and they are particularly finicky about knowing their role with a team. This idea would be radical, even more so than a true "bullpen by committee." One pitcher could go weeks without starting, and the bullpen may take on more strain if the starter is unable to work deep into the game.
The Tigers may be in the perfect position to make this work, though. Both Simon and Gorzelanny have experience working out of the bullpen, and Gorzelanny has equally volatile platoon splits. He has also spent most of his career in this exact "swingman" role. Limiting their innings may be a good idea too. Simon seemed to tire down the stretch in 2014, and Gorzelanny had shoulder surgery last offseason. The two could also be used to "piggyback" off one another, which would keep them on a five-day schedule and limit the number of times they work though an opposing lineup.
Depending on your opinion, this idea either seems brilliant or ridiculous. Perhaps both. However, it is extremely unlikely that the Tigers would get this creative with their rotation in 2015. There are a number of other factors that would go into this decision, including Shane Greene's effectiveness, the health of Gorzelanny's shoulder, and whether the team would hold up by essentially having a six man bullpen for 80 percent of their games. Would it be effective? Possibly, but it seems a bit too risky for the Tigers to experiment with as they pursue their fifth consecutive AL Central title.