Fridays Above Replacement

Alfredo Simon Redux

On March 17th, the Reds signed free agent RHP Alfredo Simon to a 1-year, $2 million deal which could be worth up to $3.5 million with incentives.  This move should have been a surprise to exactly no one considering Simon was a former Red with some durability and the Reds were in the market for a durable pitcher to throw some pitches.

Most reactions right after the trade aligned with my own.  “Meh.”  Simon, at this point in his career, is wholly unspectacular, yet affordable.  His signing is no cause for alarm and no cause for celebration.   Some reactions bordered on disgust, likely based on Simon’s alleged off-the-field activities.   I am not a lawman, nor am I adept at discussing off-the-field matters, so I won’t.  I like numbers and charts.  I think you guys know that about me.

Simon had a decent 2014 with Cincinnati before being flipped for Eugenio Suarez (!) and Jonathon Crawford.  Simon did not have a decent 2015 in Detroit after being flipped for Eugenio Suarez (!!) and Jonathon Crawford.  What changed from 2014 to 2015?  Can 2016 be closer to 2014 than to 2015?  This is what we shall explore below.

Here is the obligatory chart showing some basic stats from Simon’s 2014 and 2015 campaigns:

chart1

From my point of view, the only major issues here involve the amount of batters walked by Simon and the decrease in his ground ball rate.  In almost all cases, walking batters is bad and keeping the ball on the ground is good.  Simon’s BABIP increased significantly (to around league average), but that’s something mostly out of his control, as is his left-on-base percentage (LOB%).  LOB% has a very low year-to-year correlation (0.05 r-squared, from 1955 to 2012), meaning a pitcher doesn’t have much control over how many runners he strands each year.  Seems counter-intuitive, but it’s along the same lines as sequencing.  Sometimes three batters will go single-single-homer, and sometimes they go homer-single-single; a pitcher has little control over how these events are sequenced.

Let’s jump right in and look at a heat map of every pitch thrown by Simon in 2014 and 2015 and see if we can discover anything interesting:

chart2

This doesn’t seem terribly helpful.  In 2014, it looks like Simon had a somewhat lower center of mass when compared to 2015, avoiding throwing as many pitches at the top of the zone. He also threw a few more pitches out of the strike zone on the left side, but fewer on the right side.  Again, not terribly helpful.  Let’s see if we can dig a bit deeper.

Here is Simon’s performance against left-handed batters and right-handed batters in both 2014 and 2015:

chart3

Whoa!  A 53-point jump in wOBA against lefties from 2014 to 2015 (and a 106-point jump in SLG) is quite significant.  In 2014, Simon made the average lefty look like a Desmond Jennings or Billy Butler-type hitter.  In 2015, though, Simon made the average lefty look like future perennial MVP candidates Kris Bryant and Manny Machado. While some of this is attributed to the natural rise in Simon’s BABIP, this seems like a good place to dig.  Also, since a jump of 24-points was all that benefitted righties, there is probably something more to this whole “lefties killed him” thing.

[As a reminder, weighted on-base average (wOBA) is a measure that attempts to give proper credit for each event that happens when a batter is at the plate.  For example, a single is worth more than a walk. In this example, OBP would over-value the walk (weighting it equally to a single), while SLG undervalues the walk (doesn’t count it at all); wOBA values it correctly. For more reading, click!]

Here is a similar GIF showing the pitch locations to only left-handed batters from 2014 and 2015:

chart4

There definitely seems to be a bias towards higher and in-the-zone pitches in 2015 than 2014.  Perhaps that was part of the problem.  Pitches up in the zone are easier to get airborne, so we’d expect to see Simon giving up more fly balls against lefties in 2015, right? Right!  Simon’s fly ball rate against lefties went from 27.2% in 2014 to 33.9% in 2015.  That is likely only part of the story.   Let’s try to figure out where in the zone lefties were killing Simon:

chart5

Well, this shows it fairly obviously.  Simon was destroyed by lefties in 2015 on pitches inside. The numbers within each sector are the slugging percentage, which is comprised of total bases divided by balls in play.  For example, the middle-inside sector with an 1.154 SLG shows that 13 balls were put in play when Simon threw to this sector, and those 13 balls in play resulted in 15 total bases.

The only pitch Simon regularly threw inside in 2015 was the 4-seam fastball.  Here are Simon’s 4-seam fastball locations in 2015, as well as how often he induced a swing-and-a-miss on those pitches:

chart6

I think this paints a pretty stark picture.  Simon threw the 4-seamer inside to lefties more often than any other pitch.  He didn’t induce many whiffs, and he gave up big, crooked slugging numbers on inside pitches.  This should be an area for improvement in 2016, especially given the chart below; velocity.

chart7

Simon lost velocity on all his pitches between 2014 and 2015.  It’s hard to induce whiffs on middling fastballs to begin with.  Drops in velocity don’t help.  Once velocity starts dropping, it is often hard to stop the descent.

Another interesting thing about Simon’s 2014 and 2015 seasons is the increase in the amount of splitters he threw:

chart8

Simon basically doubled his usage of splitters in 2015.  Were they effective?  You decide.  The next two GIFs show Simon’s splitter usage and location, as well as how many whiffs he generated in both 2014 and 2015 against RHH and LHH:

chart9

Notice in 2014 Simon threw the splitter mostly towards the right-handed batters box and down.  In 2015, he threw primarily down and towards the left-handed batters box.  A strategy shift like this could be from any number of things, but my money is on the simplest explanation; this is likely where the Tigers catchers liked calling and setting up for this particular pitch.  Now, as promised, the whiffs generated by the splitters in 2014 and 2015:

chart10

Together, these show us a pitch Simon used twice as often in 2015 than in 2014 was significantly less effective at generating swings and misses.  While some swings might generate ground balls, generally these pitches out of the zone are simply taken for balls.Earlier I mentioned Simon’s overall ground ball rate dropped from 48.2% in 2014 to 43.6% in 2015. These pitches being taken for balls, rather than whiffed at or pounded into the ground, is likely the main culprit of Simon’s increased walk rate between 2014 and 2015.

So, can Alfredo Simon recreate his 2014 magic in 2016 with Cincinnati?  It’s certainly possible, but fairly unlikely. You can never count on the BABIP gods to be in your favor, Simon has begun losing velocity, and his new go-to pitch is becoming less effective.  If he’s to thrive in Cincinnati, he and Mark Riggins will likely need to find a new game-plan that doesn’t involve throwing inside to left-handed hitters, because the book is out!

And, there’s always this to fall back on…

All heat maps are courtesy of Baseball Savant, all pitch charts are courtesy of Brooks Baseball, and most stats are courtesy of FanGraphs or PITCHf/x.

37 thoughts on “Alfredo Simon Redux

  1. I guess the best news is that we don’t have to worry about seeing Sanchez break camp in the starting rotation.

  2. Yes, it seems clear that Simon will have to employ a strategy shift with his pitch repertoire if he wants to improve on 2015’s results. I would go with more eephus pitches.

  3. I like those comparison GIFs. Even though we already know what results were produced, we can conclude that (in Simon’s case) pitching down in the zone should be priority one for him.

  4. 79 runs allowed in our last 10 games….lol. “Raisel and 4 days of hell?” Simon can’t be that bad? He could do better than Jumbo in the pen once we get the other young guys back in the rotation.

  5. Simon stabilizes the rotation for this year. That’s a plus. Otherwise, all heck will rein loose on our younger arms not yet fully ready for a diet of MLB batters. Period.

  6. What a very interesting read this was. In regards to Simon’s location differences, you may be correct in the Tigers catchers simply just set up differently. But the change in the increase in his splitter usage may be more in the Tiger’s pitching coaches’ philosophies more so than Simon’s preference. I think Price and Riggins will get him back on track. I’m not saying he’ll be like he was in the first half of 2014 (all-star), but better than he was in 2015.
    I’m getting a little ahead here thinking of Steve’s Epstein Flip, but just think if Simon can deliever 1 WAR by the end of July. That would be an $8M value, on 2/3 of the $2M deal since he probably won’t reach those incentives just yet at that time. The acquiring team might be on the hook for those. That would be expending $1.333M for $8M value. Then the flip occurs and a decent prospect acquired, depending on how Simon is doing the better the prospect. And his contract would be very appealing to a contending/acquiring team. But that all comes with a side of “if everything goes well.”

    • Yep, I think that’s out best-case scenario! If we can flip Simon twice for decent prospects, that’s got to be some kind of record.

      • I am not expecting the same Simon we have a few years ago. We were lucky when we had him but I think the memories we will all appreciate the most will be as an innings eater for us in 2016.

  7. Very nice display of stats and graphics to illustrate Simon’s trend as a pitcher. Perhaps the only thing that is missing is the effect over time. Is his drop in velocity a thing that was a constant from 2014 to 2015, or was it a function of innings pitched in 2015? That is, did his velocity start off good in spring of 2015, and then deteriorate? And with his falling velocity, no wonder the catchers were calling for more splitters.
    Coupled with a good fastball, his splitter was really effective in 2014. If the hitters are looking for the splitter……not so much.
    Innings eater? Only if Price is willing to leave him in for 6 or 7 innings and give 6 or 7 runs. I guess we shall see.

  8. Jon Heyman was saying that the reds are going to watch Kyle Lohse’s showcase in the coming days too. Heard good things about him and his impact on young pitchers watching a few Brewers broadcasts

    • I am all for developing young pitching but is it my imagination or has the starting pitching been atrocious. I try not to get too worried about Spring stats and I sure know good STs have no correlation to solid seasons, but are there any correlation to bad pitching, any body concerned about Disco?

      • I’m not too concerned. We’ve all heard tons of stories and anecdotes over the years that players who already have a roster spot locked up (Disco, for example) care less about results and more about implementing a process they believe will help them become better players. Votto and Bruce bunting is a good example of this. They are not trying to win baseball games, they are trying to become better players.

        Perhaps Disco has just found a few new things NOT to do on the mound. 🙂

  9. I honestly think the best we can expect from Simon is for him to be a barely serviceable back of the rotation starter, who will eat up some innings, saving the pen and young arms. Like WVREDLEGS above, I think we can expect him to be somewhere between his 2014 and 2015 performances. The drop in velocity is real and the fact that his pitches were elevated and more towards the glove side suggests to me that his arm angle was likely lower in 2015. I’m thinking the Reds coaches work with him on staying on top of the ball and working from a little higher arm-slot. That is assuming he can physically do it. They also may encourage more 2-seamers and fewer 4-seamers and splits. Simon’s 2-seamer basically remade him after he came from the O’s. He used to throw that 4-seamer a ton and even though it had good velocity, it was straight as a string. He also had an inconsistent delivery and therefore inconsistent command that Price seemed able to sort out.

    • I hope I’m not talking out of my butt on the use of the 4-seamer, as I didn’t check Fangraphs for pitch usage.

  10. Despite the highly variable nature of BABIP (especially for pitchers), I think we can probably expect Simon’s to drop from 2015 to 2016 assuming GB/FB% stay the same. He is pitching in front of a much better defensive crew here in Cincinnati than up in Detroit.

    This is not to say that he will return to his 2014 form, but there may be some hope as far as a minor improvement.

    • Also pitching against National League hitters. I don’t know if that makes a lot of difference currently, but it might.

  11. An off topic FYI, but there is a cool baseball documentary movie opening at theaters today called “Fastball”. It is on the history, science, and physics on hitting and throwing a fastball. I heard Lindsay Berra, Yogi’s daughter, talk about it on MLB radio this morning. Johnny Bench is one of the featured speakers in it. And there is a breakdown of Aroldis Chapman’s fastball in it too she said. I think I’m going to make a point to see this movie.
    Here is a link to one of the movie trailers:

  12. The rise in the splitter use may just be due to the rise in left handed batters faced. With the Reds in 2014, Simon faced a perfectly even split. 409 righties and 409 lefties. But last year Simon faced 475 lefties and only 345 righties. That’s a pretty huge change. The splitter serves as his changeup and he probably uses it more against opposite handed batters.

    So, Alfredo could improve his performance just by facing fewer lefties in the NL Central, which doesn’t have a whole lot of lefty mashers at this time. Just walk Rizzo and we should be OK.

  13. 1 year contract he is in there to ensure the service clock doesn’t start on someone considered more valuable. He has starter experience and can easily be moved to middle relief when Lorenzen, Lamb, Bailey are all proven healthy.

    • I could have saved myself a lot of time if I’d have just written this! 😉

  14. Early notes from today’s game. Billy with a leadoff double. Iggy gives up a 3 run jack in the 2nd.

    • In keeping with the trend of the bullpen getting shelled, they just said Hoover pitched one-third of an inning in a B game or minor league game, and gave up three runs. …

      Looking like the bullpen spots are going to go to the least unimpressive, instead of the most impressive…. Welsh talking about how the Reds will be picking up some help as other teams cut pitchers.

        • Keyvius and Tony may be the last men standing in the bullpen by the end of spring training.

  15. +25 for another excellent piece. Makes sense to even a non-stats guy like me. It’s a good investment to hold a spot if nothing else. Then we flip him, use him in the middle until we need starters to replace young arms later in the year, or who knows what else.

    “Meh” is about right, but it’s what we’d expect. It will be interesting to see if anything at all comes of Kyle Loshe.

    Oh, and +1000 for LIttle Jeter because: A) I can, B) I have to keep him ahead of you and C) I can.

    • Congrats on that good news, Patrick! I’m giving myself the day off, too, if my cobbled-together deal with DirectTV actually comes to fruition. Spring, and hope springs eternal…

      • Well, let’s hope DTV comes through. I’m having issues with MLB.tv on my new 4k TV. Apparently they don’t know the difference betwen 1080 and 4k and it won’t stream a game.

  16. Defense, a different thought process by the coaching staff yeah I am not thinking 2014 but better than 2015 and at a reasonable price. His career numbers tell me the first half of 14 was a fluke but if he will take the ball every 5th day and not completely suck it should be considered a good deal. There is one thing bothering me about this team over the long haul, as bad as they are going to be this year I am afraid it might break the young pitchers spirit. The NL central is going to be tougher at the top than it has been I think anything less than a hundred losses would be an achievement. The young pitchers are going to be hit hard and we don’t have the offense to win 12 to 11 ball games. I just hope it doesn’t do so much harm to their confidence that it ruins them.

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