Sixty Feet from Home

On Alfredo Simon’s Recent Struggles

Alfredo Simon took the hill last night against Colorado Rockies for his seventh start since the All-Star Break. Since posting an amazing first half, going 12-3 and making the All Star Game, Simon has struggled since the midsummer classic. During those seven starts, Simon is on the wrong side of his career averages in K/9, FIP, xFIP, HR/FB (barely), and LOB%. Is this just a rough stretch of games or a sign thats its finally time to shut him down?

Since the All-Star Break, Simon is 0-5 and has pitched 31.1 innings over six games. That clocks in at just over five innings a start. His ERA in the first half was 2.70. After the All-Star Break, his ERA is 5.46. Not surprisingly, the Luck Dragons finally came out: Simon’s BABIP first half second/half split is .232/.324 (although going into last night’s game against the Rockies, his second half BABIP was at .307).

simon_table1

Simon’s recent struggles have created three possibilities about his performance this year:

  1. His first half ERA was driven by an unsustainably high BABIP and strand rate. Second half Simon is the real Simon.
  2. Simon is better in Cincinnati than he was in Baltimore, but his arm is wearing out due to exhaustion.
  3. Simon learned how to maximize his talents under Bryan Price and is an All Star pitcher. He will bounce back to pre-ASB form as the season goes on.

This has created not shortage of debate on RLN, and when Simon took his sparkling 12-3 record to the All Star Game, some major baseball news outlets began asking about Simon’s performance.

Here are his full stats broken down by first half and second half compared to his career numbers and his time in Baltimore:

simon_tables2

From the table you can see his strikesouts are down, walks are up, and his strand rate is coming back into the normal MLB range.

As I’ve written before, regression can be mean.

But the big question is this: which is the real Afredo Simon? Admittedly, he has only thrown 31.1 innings since the All Star break, however he was able to sustain a very high level of performance for the first half of the season.

Theory 1: Simon is better, he’s just tired.

Simon’s time with the Reds has been the best of his career. His ERA in 2012 (2.66) and 2013 (2.87) were both below his career average, and they were sustained despite two very different BABIP’s (.337 / .236). His FIP during those years was 3.19 and 3.96, respectively. It is hard to ignore off the fact that his three best years are all under Bryan Price.

Theory 1 argues that Simon has just worn down, his IP this year (148) is getting close to double his workload last year (87.2) and almost three times his workload in 2012 (61.0). Although his arm only has 481.1 innings on it, he is 33 years old.

Theory 2: The real Alfredo Simon showed up after the All Star Break.

In 2011, Alfredo Simon was striking out hitters more than the most recent Alfredo Simon while walking fewer. This does not bode well for the theory that Simon learned to pitch better in Cincinnati.

Furthermore, Simon’s recent skid has not been due to facing superior competition. Since the All Star Break, Simons has pitched against (offensive WAR next to team):

Miami (16th)

Cleveland (18th)

Arizona (20th)

Washington (10th)

NYY (26th)

Rockies (13th)

In his six starts, he has pitched against one top-ten team in offensive WAR. Four of out his six starts have come against teams in the bottom half of the league.

Simon on the wrong side of his his career averages in strikeouts, strand percentage, ERA, FIP, and xFIP. Despite his recent struggles, Simon’s 2012 and 2013 seasons provide about 140 innings of evidence that he is a different pitcher today than he was in Baltimore. His first half was inflated by an unsustainable BABIP and strand rate, but his career averages show that he is not as bad as his recent starts indicate.

Fatigue, no doubt, plays a large part in his sudden decline. Going back to 2006, he has never eclipsed 119 innings in a season, and now he is almost at 150. If the Reds keep him in the rotation for the rest of the season, which they might have to due to Homer Bailey’s injury, then we are looking at about six or seven more starts. At 5 innings an outing, that puts him at 180 innings, something he has never done as a professional baseball player. Im sure the Reds medical staff has been consulted about this, but at some point you have to wonder if the Reds are endangering Simon’s ability to pitch in the future due to their demands in 2014 (or, Carlos Fisher’ing him).

So has this rough patch of games “evened out” his luck from the first half? Not even close. Even if we assume that Simon’s career line is where he should be as a starter (which is ambitious, to say the least), then his BABIP will need to increase by almost thirty points for the luck the “even out” as he regresses. If you prefer old school stats, his ERA is almost half a run better than his career line. If luck is starting to pull Simon back to his career line, then we have a lot more second half Simon ahead of us.

All of these variables make it hard to figure out Simon’s true undying talent. His 4.90 ERA in Baltimore was inflated by an unlucky .317 BABIP, and his two years of relief with the Reds show improvement over his time as a reliever with Baltimore. His second half is worse than his career line, and his time starting in Baltimore. So while I think we can conclude that Simon has improved due to his time in the Queen City, his ability as a starting pitcher is somewhere in the 4.40 ERA range, not the 5+ or sub 3- one. This makes for a suitable fourth or fifth option for next season, but not the budding #2 that some might have seen earlier this year.

Despite his improvement over the past few years, its clear Simon has run out of gas in 2014 and the Reds need to look for someone else to take the ball every five days. Maybe we can down two birds with one stone and land Adam Dunn.

36 thoughts on “On Alfredo Simon’s Recent Struggles

  1. Nice post, Mike. In looking at the data a couple thoughts crossed my mind.

    Simon’s career xFIP – the single best measure of his performance and what to expect from him – is in the ballpark of 4.20. Maybe his true number is a little better than that or a little worse, but that’s a rough approximation.

    Given that, you can draw a couple of tentative conclusions: First, he was unlucky in Baltimore the year he started with respect to ERA.

    Second, maybe the difference between his career xFIP (4.20, say) and his 2014 post-All Star swoon (4.72) might be fairly – and approximately – considered the fatigue margin.

    As you point out, any analysis of his last seven starts is fraught with sample size issues. There’s likely a combination of (a) this is who Simon is, (b) this is who Simon is when he arm/body is worn out, and (c) this is who Simon is when he’s a bit unlucky, going on.

    Unfortunately, not a whole lot of that (only c) offers cause for optimism about Simon’s performance for the remainder of 2014.

  2. At this point does it really matter? This team is a .500 team, we need to all come to grips with that for this season. There isn’t going to be some “deal” that brings in a player(s) to save this season and please enough with the Adam Dunn desires, he is gone and is not coming back. Due in part by a lack of forsite by our mag’t team, key injuries and a new manager learning the position the team is what it is this season. Enjoy the remainder of the season for what it is and look towards 2015.

  3. While I never believed that his numbers in the 1st half were “lucky”, I wasn’t blind enough to think they could continue at that pace. Simon’s success relies on pitch movement and staying down in the zone. Exactly the way he pitched in the 1st half….even beyond our expectations. He hasn’t all of a sudden become “unlucky”. His pitches are now up in the zone with less movement. VOILA! he’s getting hit all over the place. His BABIP isn’t skyrocketing because of luck….it’s because of many more fat pitches he’s tossing up there.

    I would venture a guess that since he hasn’t been a starter for several years, that fatigue is the main factor for his demise, with a small amount of it being, that he had to regress a little after a brilliant 3.5 months.

    • Very true in the first paragraph. The late movement of his fast ball seen in the first half of the season is not there now, and thus his pitches are getting centered by the batters. Yet I think it is more a matter of slight mechanical adjustment than fatigue (you don’t throw in the mid 90s when fatigued). It is time for the pitching coach to earn his salary and help Simon recover the late movement on his fast ball.

      • That’s somewhat true, Don. Fatigue doesn’t necessarily mean that velocity immediately drops. However, it does immediately hurt pitching mechanics as the pitcher tries to compensate. I agree that he has lost movement on his pitches and perhaps there are things he could adjust with his mechanics. But this may just be the beginning of a slide backwards for him unless he is given more time to recover. Unlikely, given the state of the current rotation. Buckle in, we have many more starts to come.

      • Don, I hope it’s a mechanical problem and not fatigue. Price said that it’s not physical fatigue, and implied it was mental fatigue. He publicly gave Simon a kick in the butt. Maybe he saw a bit of “quit” in Simon last night, even if he knows there’s a mechanical problem. That kind of psychology can only go so far. Let’s hope the pitching coach can help.

    • Absolutely, positively. Mesoraco talked after last night’s game about how his slider was running away from LHed batters and into RHed batters in the first half, and now it’s not running at all. Also his pitches are up in the zone – in part once again due to a lack of late movement (downward).

      In the first half he was a ground ball pitcher, and they were weak, bouncy ground balls. Now even the ground balls are hit hard. Hitters are now consistently getting the barrel of the bat to the ball, they weren’t in the first half.

      A high BABAIP (bad luck, or less good luck) is not the cause of his 2nd half decline, it’s an effect.

      • I think he was referring to his “sinker”. Now, by “sinker” I assume he means that 95-96 mph fastball Big Pasta throws. I also noted that Mesoraco was calling for that pitch almost to the exclusion of Simon’s other three quality pitches (curve, slider/cutter, and splitter). I’d suggest pitch selection is a major part of the problem he’s had these last few games.

  4. The front office has already thrown in the towel on the 2014 season. It seems counter-productive to keep running Simon out every 5 days to maybe make it 5 innings. Shutting him down altogether is not an option the Reds will take. But flip-flopping him and Contreras and their roles for the rest of this year should be considered. With Contreras going 2 innings last night, I would imagine that takes him out of the running to start in Bailey’s place Saturday. That pretty much leaves it to Axelrod to be promoted from AAA. It is his scheduled day at Louisville anyway. But a 40-man roster move will have to take place for that to happen.
    It’ll be interesting to see what they do here. There is one other option on the 40-man roster the Reds could take where they wouldn’t have to bump somebody off. They could reach down to AA and promote Daniel Corcino. He has been pitching well of late.
    I wonder what they’ll do. Axelrod or Corcino?

    • Is Votto on the 60 day DL? If not then move him there, as there is no reason he should see any playing time the rest of the way out.

    • Corcino got rocked in AAA last year and isn’t putting up great numbers in AA (4.21 ERA and close to 1.4 WHIP with 4.5 BB and 1.1 HR per 9 IP).

      If they have to make a roster move to find a replacement for Bailey, I’d prefer Lorenzen be giving a shot. The chance of Axelrod being anything but filler is slim based on his terrible 2013 for the White Sox. We’re probably going to need Lorenzen by at least 2016; might as well see what he can do – he’s pitched well in AA while Stephenson has struggled.

  5. I have never thought that Simon was anything but a #4 or #5 starter (although he would have been he “Ace” of some of the Red’s teams of the past, remember Jimmy Haynes being proclaimed the ace of the staff), There is nothing wrong with having a good 4/5 starter. Simon could be a productive 4 or 5 for 2 for 3 years, anyway. I think he is a viable option for the Reds and should be relatively cheap at least for next year. I would hate to see the Reds trade him for some short term gain. A good #4/5 starter can be a valuable asset.

    I am not sure that some of his post all-star letdown isn’t mental from trying to live up to the inflated 1st half numbers. Really, if you had told me that Simon would be in the rotation all year and would go 12-12 with a 4.00 ERA, I would have said good job.

    I would think that Simon can contribute next year as a 4/5 or even out of the bullpen similar to his previous role or as a long relief/swingman for the inevitable injuries. I think he can be a valuable member of the pitching staff.

  6. Very thorough analysis, Michael. As usual, there’s so much gray area here. I’m sure Price has made Simon a better pitcher. I’m also sure that the Reds’ defense has been a huge asset not only to Simon, but also the entire staff. Cozart and Frazier just suck up everything on the left side of the infield. When Phillips is in the lineup, a batter can’t even go the other way and expect success. And with Jay and Billy in the OF, most balls hit into the air have a good chance of being tracked down.

    We are going to miss this defense when it’s gone.

    • Yeah, I’m not sure that xFIP is a really good measure of what SImon can do on the Reds; he’s a ground ball pitcher on a team that has 2 Gold Glove candidates on the left side of the infield and the best 2nd baseman I ever saw. Why should we cancel out fielding if we are projecting what he can do for the Reds?

      That said, he sure looks gassed. I’d prefer Contreras or even Lorenzen taking his spot in the rotation for at least a few starts (assuming ML doesn’t take Bailey’s).

      • We shouldn’t cancel out fielding. It’s just a partial explanation why he may be better here than he has been historically in another baseball town. Also, it could affect how other teams evaluate him. Many were calling on the front office to sell high on Simon. But when other teams know a player’s results are better than his peripherals, that he’s surpassed his career innings total, that he has perhaps the best run prevention in baseball behind him–it suddenly becomes clear why “selling high” might have been a myth.

  7. I am ready to admit I was wrong about Simon being able to physically sustain his first half pitching performance. He’s throwing like a man who is tired. I am curious to see his next start, as I tend to minimize Coors Field numbers a bit, especially for pitchers who count on fastballs to move to be successful. It would have been nice to skip him a start, but with Bailey being laid up, that option is void. I do think he is better than he was in Baltimore, and I think he is in good condition, but perhaps the fan boy in me over rated him. Still, if he can be an effective number 4 or 5; and be the first option from the pen in a short series post season run (fan boy at work), I would be satisfied. I really think his next start is key.

    • And Cingrani, too. I was wondering how his recovery was coming along, but Mark Sheldon’s article yesterday is not promising:

      Cingrani, who last pitched for the Reds on June 17 before a demotion, recently tried resuming a throwing program but was shut down after he felt soreness.

  8. I believe Simon is out of gas. He pitched well the first half but we need to take into consideration he’s never pitched this much before

  9. I think it’s a mixture of possibilities one and two combined. I think he was outperforming his ability, but I also don’t hesitate to say he’s probably better here than in Baltimore.

  10. Does anyone understand the rationale behind a Pitcher’s own error leading to a run counts as “unearned”? It makes no sense.

    • Yes. Because the batter did nothing to “earn” the run. It was a gift due to bad fielding, no matter who the culprit was.

      • That’s already taken into account when the pitcher is charged with an error and the batter is not credited with a hit. The earned run stat has nothing to do with the batter or even the offensive team.

        • The run that scored was not earned. It doesn’t matter WHO made the error. From MLB.com:

          Rule 10.16
          10.16 Earned Runs And Runs Allowed
          An earned run is a run for which a pitcher is held accountable. In determining earned runs, the official scorer shall reconstruct the inning without the errors (which exclude catcher’s interference) and passed balls, giving the benefit of the doubt always to the pitcher in determining which bases would have been reached by runners had there been errorless play. For the purpose of determining earned runs, an intentional base on balls, regardless of the circumstances, shall be construed in exactly the same manner as any other base on balls.
          (a) The official scorer shall charge an earned run against a pitcher every time a runner reaches home base by the aid of safe hits, sacrifice bunts, a sacrifice fly, stolen bases, putouts, fielder’s choices, bases on balls, hit batters, balks or wild pitches (including a wild pitch on third strike that permits a batter to reach first base) before fielding chances have been offered to put out the offensive team…

          (then skip to e)

          (e) An error by a pitcher is treated exactly the same as an error by any other fielder in computing earned runs.

    • I think the idea is to distinguish what the pitcher has done as a pitcher vs. what he has done as a fielder. For example, a wild pitch leading to a run does count as “earned”, because in that case he’s throwing the ball as a pitcher, not as a fielder.

      Not that I agree with it. The way a pitcher plays defense, including his pickoff move, affects his pitching outcome all the time.

    • I think earned runs are kind of dumb anyway. If a pitcher gets the first two guys out, then a batter reaches on an error, and then 2 guys walk and a guy hits a grand slam, that’s 4 runs, none earned. Guy still walked two and gave up a bomb. That’s why RA/9 is more important due to the weird scoring rules.

  11. Mlb.com has Morales listed as the starting pitcher and Belisle listed as batting number 9. There’s nothing on the Rockies site about switching to Belisle tonight.

    So either MLB has changed its rules or I’m in the Twilight Zone and am seeing into the future when I look at the Rockies batting order.

  12. The “game preview” on mlb.com still lists Morales as the pitcher but has Belisle batting 9th in the order. The lineup gets posted more recently, so it looks like Belisle is starting.
    I wonder if this is his first start since he left the Reds.

  13. See that Pruce has pinciled in “we got Jack for that ” Nohitman Hanahan in the lineup – I don’t care what the circumstances are – this guy has no more business in the lineup that I do / pitiful Bryan , just pitiful – you show more and more Baker tendencies as each day passes

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