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Tigers benefit from first half version of Alfredo Simon

Alfredo Simon is showing that his All star performance in 2014 was no fluke

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Alfredo Simon’s 2014 season was really a tale of two seasons. First half Simon was an All star pitcher with a 12- 3 record, a 2.70 ERA, and holding batters to a .217 average. In the second half of the season, Simon was 3- 10 with a 4.52 ERA, allowing opponents to hit .275 with an on base percentage of .345. When the Tigers acquired him to replace Rick Porcello in the starting rotation, many asked "will the real Alfredo Simon please stand up". 

Fortunately for Detroit, Simon is off to a fine start through mid June with a record of 7- 3, a 2.58 ERA, and he is holding opposing hitters to a batting average of .229. Another positive sign is that Simon has allowed 1.19 walks plus hits per inning. That is down from his overall 1.21 WHIP for the 2014 season, which rose from 1.05 in the first half, to 1.44 after the break.

Following is a comparison of Simon’s 2014 season with his performance so far in 2015.

Alfredo Simon: 2014- 2015

2014 1st half 116.2 2.70 4.33 .217 1.05 5.79 2.16 1.08 .232
2014 2nd half 79.2 4.52 4.34 .275 1.44 5.87 3.16 1.86 0.90
2014 Total 196.1 3.44 4.33 .241 1.21 5.82 2.57 1.01 .265
2015 partial 76.2 2.58 3.47 .229 1.19 6.57 2.82 0.59 .265

What we found when we broke down the numbers shortly after the Tigers acquired Simon was that he actually gave up fewer home runs and struck out more hitters in the second half of the season, but his walk rate was up by a full BB per nine innings. His fielding independent pitching (FIP) indicated that the increase in his ERA was mainly due to a predictable regression in his batting average on balls in play (BABIP).  His FIP from the first half to the second half barely moved. In other words, there was a very good chance that Simon was the beneficiary of a good deal of luck in the first half of the season.

Of course, BABIP is not all luck. A pitcher can certainly be more hittable or more difficult to hit than other pitchers. This is especially true of a sinker ball pitcher who starts getting the ball up in the strike zone. If a pitcher shows an increase of a full point in his BB/9 ratio, chances are that he’s not only missing outside the zone, but also missing his location inside the strike zone, and that will drive up the batting average allowed to opposing hitters.

What we find in Simon’s 2015 numbers, in a work load similar to his second half of last season, is that his WHIP has somewhat stabilized. His strikeout ratio is even higher than in either half of 2014, his home run ratio is down, and his BB/9 ratio is in the middle. The HR/9 ratio can be explained in large part due to the fact that four of the five home runs allowed have come on the road. Thank you, Comerica Park!

The strikeout and walk ratios in 2015 are showing that Simon’s All star performance in 2014 was no fluke. And look at this- his BABIP has stabilized, and is exactly the same in 2015 as it was in 2014, while he still has solid results. Simon ranks among the top ten qualified starting pitchers in the American league in ERA, and among the top 25 in fWAR. He has been second only to David Price in terms of value in the Detroit rotation.

One theory offered was that Simon’s transition from the bullpen to the starting rotation in 2014 left him worn down in the second half of the season. Another is that he was just lucky in the first half of the season, as evidenced by the fact that his ERA in the second half fell right in line with his first and second half FIP.  One might be tempted to look at his FIP so far in 2015 and expect more regression as the season unfolds. It is noteworthy that Simon seems to step up his game with men on base, in high leverage situations.

Whether Simon having another fine first half of the season is just good luck, and whether he can sustain this performance for an entire season is to be determined. But the Detroit Tigers so far have a starting pitcher who is getting the job done.