On the last day of the 2014 Winter Meetings, the Tigers were in a situation where they had just acquired Yoenis Cespedes for Rick Porcello, leaving their starting rotation one card shy of a full deck (assuming starting rotations contain 52 pitchers). Then came the buzz and hum of the rumor mill that the Tigers were about to make a deal with the Cincinnati Reds for a pitcher, and wasn't that a wonderful fifteen minutes or so, before we knew who they had picked up and still had the option of fantasizing that maybe it was Mat Latos, or Mike Leake, or even -- hey, why not, Dave Dombrowski is a Level 30 Trade Wizard -- Johnny Cueto himself?
But nope, hahaha, we got Alfredo Simon instead, a guy who had spent 2012 and 2013 pitching purely in relief, and whose 2014 experience as a starter was a lot like watching the Godfather trilogy. ("Wow that's good ... HOLY CRAP THAT'S BEYOND GOOD ... wait, really, that's your final encore? This is horse piss.")
It took me a while, but I finally located the One Guy Who Liked the Trade:
At first I thought the Cespedes deal wasn't good, then we got Alfredo Simon and I was okay cause our rotation is full again.
— carter castelluccio (@CarterLandis3) December 11, 2014
I mean, I guess that's not a wrong opinion. From a purely mathematical standpoint of needing five starters and currently having only four, this was an absolutely stellar trade in that it resulted in acquiring exactly one starting pitcher, which is precisely what the formula called for. Good job, Tigers!
There was some hope that Simon's All Star-worthy performance in the first half of 2014 (12-3 record, 2.70 ERA, 1.046 WHIP, 5.8 K/9, .219 BAA) could be repeated for the Tigers in the first half of 2015, but there was also the nagging concern that he'd repeat his second-half-of-2014 dumpster dive in Detroit as well. Both of these things happened, more or less.
I'm not saying Alfredo Simon is better than David Price. I'm not even saying that Alfredo Simon is on his way to being better than David Price. The "ace" title implies, at least in part, a track record of consistent greatness that goes beyond occasional flashes of brilliance, even if those flashes last for several months. That being said, Alfredo Simon, by many peripheral and even non-peripheral statistics, is pitching like the Tigers' ace. For how long? Who knows. But for now, the man is pitching out of his mind.
It was a fair assessment at the time. Simon led the pitching staff in RE24 (expected runs prevented) with eight, easily topping David Price's 3.5, and Simon was keeping pace with Price in terms of innings count as well (averaging 6.4 IP per game). Even though Simon was receiving the least amount of run support (3.6 runs per game at that point in time), the team was winning 67 percent of games he started, a figure second only to David Price's 90 percent (but then again, Price was getting 4.3 runs per game in support).
And then his father passed away at the end of May, he went on the Bereavement List and missed one start, and came back ready to begin his descent into the Ninth Circle of Pitching Hell well ahead of schedule. I think this was maybe a bit of a wrench in Dave Dombrowski's plan. No one really knows why Dombrowski thought bringing Simon on board as a regular starter would be a good idea, and the only theory I can come up with is this: Dombrowski knew Simon would fade in the second half, but the plan was to squeeze as much sweet icing out of the tube as possible in the first half before discarding him and reloading at the trade deadline.
That's probably a stupid a theory, but believe me, I have even stupider ones if you want to go digging through that old box in the basement. (You probably don't.)
Whatever the plan was, it didn't work out, and Simon's performance in June was a stinker. His ERA on the month was 5.40, his RE24 dropped to -3.68, and even though opposing batters were only hitting .239 against him, their collective OPS was .754 -- not a very pretty partner to go along with his 1.412 WHIP. It didn't really get any better from there, so with Justin Verlander not appearing until mid-June (and not hitting his stride until late July), Anibal Sanchez handing out dingers like a man possessed, and Shane Greene pitching with a hand full of phantom cotton, Alfred Simon's early collapse played a big part in sinking the team before the trade deadline and sealing their 2015 fate.
Going into the year you didn't need a genie to predict that the season-long Simon experiment wasn't going to go well. And true to his metrics, Simon was not good. But, he also had a couple of good starts, including his last one. The thing is, he got extremely lucky on a lot of his starts and a ton of run support masked his poor outings. He waited until after his last start to then reveal he'd been dealing with a knee injury. The Tigers had signed him knowing his history, but refuted that had he been injured the team would never have allowed him to start. He is a free agent this offseason and not likely to return.
Expectations for 2016
In January of 2015, Kurt Mensching wrote a post for the Detroit News under the headline, "Don't fret over Alfredo Simon; he'll be fine," which included statements like, "We're all making a bigger deal out of this than it will really amount to be," "we're all imagining a world in which Simon can't possibly keep his ERA under 5 or win any games," and "Simon almost certainly isn't going to be as bad as we picture right now." Kurt will tell you he's usually right about everything, and that's probably a
mostly true statement, but in this case he gets to be the poster child for when sports writers -- and we all do it -- fill up the Jacuzzi with hot, steaming wrongness and have a nice, long soak.
Alfredo was every bit as bad, in the final verdict, as we'd feared. He won 13 games but lost 12, finishing with a 5.05 ERA. Yeah, I know, those are baseball card stats, but it's not like you really want to tuck into a full plate of advanced stats here, either -- trust me, you'll get a nasty case of indigestion just as fast.
At least it's over, right? But it may be a while before any of us feels like visiting the Olive Garden again ...