I’ve mostly written about the Reds’ young pitchers so far, but I thought it would be interesting to take a look at one of the team’s veterans this week. Alfredo Simon was signed to be an innings-eater in an otherwise inexperienced rotation and, well, that hasn’t been going as planned. After an ugly season with the Detroit Tigers last season, it’s gotten even uglier in 2016.

Age likely has something to do with it (he’ll turn 35 on May 8), but from a pure stuff standpoint, why has Simon struggled so badly? Let’s take a look.

2015 season & 2016 so far

simon stats

Yikes.

Since Simon’s 2014 first half that earned him his only career All-Star appearance, it’s really been all downhill for him. Despite the warning signs, the Tigers still traded for him in December 2014 for Eugenio Suarez and Jonathon Crawford in what proved to be a complete heist for the Reds.

Simon started off 2015 as strong as he did 2014, posting a 3.13 ERA and 3.82 xFIP in April, while striking out 16.5 percent of the batters he faced and walking a mere 4.7 percent. His ERA actually improved in May (2.10), but there were indications his performance was about to get worse — such as his 4.93 xFIP and 9.2 BB% — and it did.

Over the final four months of the season, the right-hander had a 6.11 ERA, 1.54 WHIP and surrendered 10.3 hits per nine innings. He saw his already mediocre 16.1 K% from the season’s opening two months drop to 13.5 percent, and his 6.8 BB% rose to 8.9 percent.

Of 78 qualified starting pitchers, Simon was among the worst, finishing 71st in WAR, 75th in xFIP and 77th in K/BB% (yet he still led the Tigers in wins with 13 — kill the win!). Additionally, he had 11 games where he allowed five or more earned runs, 10 of those coming from June onward. After the season, Simon blamed his struggles on a knee injury he dealt with throughout the entire season and never reported to the Tigers. It’s impossible to tell how much that affected him, but he clearly didn’t pitch well regardless.

He has also dealt with bicep and shoulder issues early on in 2016, but he’s only missed one start. Unless the Reds are letting him pitch while hurt, it’s hard to blame that for his complete ineffectiveness. Aside from his first start of the year against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Simon has gotten absolutely rocked. He’s allowing an average exit velocity of 92.72 mph, eighth-worst among pitchers who have allowed at least 30 balls to be put in play this season. Over his last 4 1/3 innings, he’s given up 16 earned runs, 17 hits, four home runs and four walks. That’s right, he has a 33.23 ERA and 4.85 WHIP in his last three outings. While that’s a tiny sample size, numbers like that are unfathomable for not just a major-league pitcher, but a pitcher at any level of baseball.

Why is he pitching so poorly?

The first thing to look at when a pitcher drops off a cliff like this is a possible dip in velocity. That has been the case with Simon, and though it hasn’t been a dramatic drop-off, it’s been enough to have a noticeable effect. In 2014, he was averaging 94.0 mph on his two-seam fastball and 93.6 mph on his four-seamer. Those numbers dropped to 92.6 and 92.7, respectively, in 2015 and have decreased a little further this year to 92.1 and 92.2.

Not only has Simon lost some of the velocity on his fastballs, his location has also been awful, as you can see in these heat maps (via Baseball Savant):

simon heatmap

On the left is his 2014 season and on the right is 2015. It’s a night-and-day difference. In 2014, he was generally keeping the fastballs on the corner, but has been missing right down the heart of the plate ever since. Predictably, batters have been teeing off on the pitches, particularly the two-seam fastball, which is his most-used offering. Against the two-seamer, which has easily been his worst pitch, batters have a .346 batting average and a .623 slugging percentage. When putting the four-seamer into play, they’ve hit .276 and slugged .457.

Simon’s other go-to pitch is his splitter, which has also gotten worse. In 2014, it was his best pitch, as hitters batted only .223/.261/.331 against it with a ground-ball rate of 56.0 percent and a swing-and-miss rate of 15.1 percent. After having such success with the split, he threw it more than any other pitch in 2015. While it was still a decent pitch in terms of results (.243/.295/.413), it took a step back overall. The GB% on the pitch dropped to 53.9 percent and the SwStr% dropped to 10.9 percent. This can be traced to the spin rate of the pitch (with splitters, the ideal spin is low so the ball dives more), which increased to 1,501 rpm from 1,346, according to PITCHf/x. His split-finger spin rate has gotten even worse this season, jumping to 1,693 rpm. The results have been bad for even his best pitch this season (.333/.385/.583) and will continue that way if the spin rate keeps going up and the pitch keeps flattening out.

When it comes to the secondary pitches for Simon, the story hasn’t been much better. He also features a cutter and a curveball, and both have seen a decline in quality as well. When the cutter was put into play in 2014, batters hit only .230/.264/.370 against it. That has jumped up to .278/.301/.418 in the last season-plus. Though the cutter’s velocity has decreased like the rest of his pitches, there hasn’t been a huge difference in spin rate or location, so its ineffectiveness may stem from the fact that he isn’t fooling anyone with his other pitches.

The curve has seen an even bigger drop in quality for Simon. Batters struggled to a .196/.233/.357 line on the bender in 2014. Since then, they’re hitting .292/.329/.462 on it. Quite simply, his location of the pitch has been horrendous. Here’s a look at the heat map in 2014 (left) compared to 2015 (right):

simon curve heatmap

Again, the difference is astounding.

Conclusions

It could be a result of age, injuries, mechanics or a combination of the three, but the decline of all of Simon’s pitches has been steep. He’s a shell of his former self on the mound right now and if he keeps trending the way he has, he might not be on the Reds’ roster for much longer. Whether the club moves on from him or not, his time in the rotation is nearing an end, with Anthony DeSclafani, Homer Bailey and John Lamb all on the mend from their respective injuries. Simon has had success in the past out of the bullpen, so perhaps the team will move him there to try to get him going. Whatever the club decides to do, it’s pretty evident that his stuff just isn’t there any longer and there are better pitching options out there than him.

Growing up just north of Cincinnati, Matt has been a Reds fan for as long as he can remember. As a kid, he was often found leading the Reds to 162-0 seasons in MVP Baseball 2005 and imitating his favorite players (Ken Griffey Jr., Adam Dunn, Sean Casey, and Austin Kearns) in the backyard. One of his earliest baseball memories is attending the final night game at Cinergy Field. Matt is also a graduate of The Ohio State University and currently lives in the Dayton area. Follow him on Twitter at @_MattWilkes.

Join the conversation! 16 Comments

  1. If he admits that his arm, shoulder or ?? is ailing have our crack medical staff check him out, and put him on the DL if something can be fixed to improve his performance. If he insist that he is not injured – dfi him and eat the two million.

  2. DFA

  3. Great post, Matt. The warning signs from 2015 were all there. Reds jumped at something familiar. In-group hiring.

  4. The conventional wisdom among Reds broadcasters seems to be that Simon will eventually move to the bullpen – where he’ll be super effective because he was in 2013. That seems even more delusional. He hasn’t exactly been effective in his first inning of work. The velocity and location stuff would be just as bad. On the other hand, he could be terrible and still better than some in the pen right now.

    • I don’t know how Simon will ultimately do in the bullpen, and suppose that everybody else is correct, but he has only pitched something like 9 innings this season, and his velocity isn’t that bad–I know that 93-94, which he was frequently hitting in his last start, is not unusually fast anymore, but neither is it particularly slow. Located differently, a 93mph fastball can be very effective, and is for a lot of pitchers. He could conceivably improve his control and, in so doing, become better than most of the denizens of the pen. A low bar, certainly, but until the Reds are infused with quality young arms, the can’t be too choosy.

  5. Wow. Dat curveball heat map tho…

    (I think that’s how the kids do it nowadays!)

  6. This post should have a “parental discretion advised” disclaimer. Simon has been a real horror show.

  7. Maybe the Reds should keep Simon around to throw batting practice to our hitters. Looks like he should be pretty good at that.

  8. I’ve already said I think they should leverage the off day Thursday to skip Simon on this turn; and then, hopefully have Disco or Bailey to drop into that rotation spot on the next cycle (4 May).

    I suppose on the theory of getting something for the money sunk in Simon, I would move him to the pen until such time that he is blocking somebody who legitimately has a future with the Reds. Who knows; without the need to try and pace himself, maybe he picks up a couple of MPH for short stints and is at least serviceable to the end of the year.

  9. Can someone show this article to Simon, please? Maybe it’ll open his eyes and he’ll start pitching better.

  10. He wasn’t sitting at home in March because he’s good. He’s pitching poorly because he’s a bad pitcher.

    The Rules of the game require that a team have a pitcher. The Reds had an unexpected, immediate need for a warm body. He was relatively cheap, didn’t require that anything be given up for him and he preserved the service time for others. It was a good move with a bad outcome. As guys come off the DL the need for him will be over and it’s time to move on.

  11. Another good old boy pick up.Never will understand why we keep going back to the same players or coaches that we had before.He is just a bad pitcher period.Time to part ways.

  12. Short memory folks. He was the surprise ’14 pitcher for the Reds winning game after game. Too bad baseball fans have short memories but if he never pitches another game he has been a plus waiver acquisition.

  13. He also gave us Suarez. Who knows maybe he gets his stuff together and we can try to go screw some other team against this year 😉

Comments are closed.

About Matt Wilkes

Growing up just north of Cincinnati, Matt has been a Reds fan for as long as he can remember. As a kid, he was often found leading the Reds to 162-0 seasons in MVP Baseball 2005 and imitating his favorite players (Ken Griffey Jr., Adam Dunn, Sean Casey, and Austin Kearns) in the backyard. One of his earliest baseball memories is attending the final night game at Cinergy Field. Matt is also a graduate of The Ohio State University and currently lives in the Dayton area. Follow him on Twitter at @_MattWilkes.

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