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Detroit Tigers player preview: Was Alfredo Simon just lucky in 2014?

Alfredo Simon made the National League All-Star team in 2014, but he was awful after the break. Was it a matter of luck, or is there cause for concern in 2015?

Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Immediately after trading Rick Porcello to the Boston Red Sox for Yoenis Cespedes, the Detroit Tigers acquired Alfredo Simon from the Cincinnati Reds for shortstop Eugenio Suarez and former first-round draft pick Jonathan Crawford. Simon, who transitioned to a starter role in 2014 and struggled in the second half, was named to the Tigers rotation and fans were left wondering which pitcher they would see in 2015.

Simon is a 33-year-old, 6'6, 265-pound right-handed pitcher from the Dominican Republic. After signing as an international free agent with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2006, Simon bounced around the minor leagues before landing with Baltimore as a free agent in 2008. He has spent parts of seven seasons in the major leagues, mainly pitching out of the bullpen for the Orioles and the Reds.

He pitched in relief for parts of three seasons with the Orioles before making 16 starts in 2011, with an ERA of 4.90. He was released after the season and claimed off waivers by the Reds. Cincinnati moved Simon back to the bullpen for the 2012 and 2013 seasons, where he held an ERA of 2.78 with a WHIP of 1.22.

Simon was moved back to the rotation for the 2014 season and made the all-star team with an ERA of 2.70, holding opponents to a .217 batting average. But Simon did not remain consistent in 2014 and the latter half was in stark contrast with the former. We examined Simon's first and second half splits last month, in this article.

1st half
2.70 4.33 .217 1.05 2.68
2nd half
4.52 4.34 .275 1.44 1.86
196.1 3.44 4.33 .241 1.21 2.27

After the all-star break, Simon struggled with a 4.52 ERA, allowing a batting average of .275. His WHIP soared from 1.05 in the first half of the season, to 1.44 after the break. One large difference is that Simon's batting average on balls in play (BABIP) jumped from .232 in the first half to .309 after the break.

Simon actually increased his strikeout rate, and lowered his home run ratio, but his walk ratio climbed from 2.16 to 3.16 per nine innings. He was putting more runners on base, and they were coming around to score at a higher rate. The difference could be attributed to several reasons. Simon could have been very lucky in the first half, unlucky in the second half, the recipient of a change in defensive efficiency, or he may have simply been more hittable as the season wore on.

One cause for concern is that Simon's 4.33 fielding independent pitching stat line remained steady, and essentially forecasted trouble for the second half. Whatever the reason, there are potential danger signs -- that the first half of 2014 may have been due to some measure of good luck or good defense, rather than just good pitching.

Stats and Projections
Year IP ERA WHIP K/9 BB/9 HR/9
2014 196.1 3.44 1.21 5.82 2.57 1.01
Zips 152.7 4.84 1.42 5.54 2.77 1.16
Steamer 143.0 4.71 1.41 5.29 2.92 1.00

The forecast is not kind to Simon, with predictions of an increase in ERA by a full run, an increase in WHIP, a decline in strikeouts, and an increase in his walk rate. The projections also see him pitching 40 to 50 fewer innings -- with no real reason for that forecast, unless he is injured or taken out of the starting rotation during the season.

Simon brings a full repertoire of seven pitches to the mound. His primary pitch is a two-seam fastball-sinker, as well as a split-fastball, which helps to explain a 48.2 percent ground ball ratio. He also throws a four-seam fastball, a curveball, cutter, slider, and a eephus that has been clocked as low as 56 mph.

The fastballs come in at 94-95 mph, with a 10 mph drop-off for the splitter. Simon is a bit more effective against right-handed hitters, and in games when he did not allow a home run he held opponents to three runs or fewer. Simon's eephus was self-taught, and one that Tigers manager Brad Ausmus was not aware of when he first saw Simon throw it early in spring.

Contract Status

Simon signed a one-year, $5.55 million contract for the 2015 season. With over five years of major league service time, he can not be sent to the minors without clearing waivers. He will be a free agent at season's end.

If Simon can put up numbers similar to the first half of the 2014 season, then he will be a solid starter for the Tigers. But if those were simply a fluke and he regresses to his post all-star performance as his 2014 first and second half numbers indicate, then the Tigers will need to get creative with their starting rotation every fifth day, which could be a potentially significant problem.