After sizzling out in the minors with the Phillies, the Giants, and the Rangers, Alfredo Simon dominated the Mexican League and was given a chance by the Orioles. The Orioles quickly promoted him to the big league team in 2008, and he would stay in the organization until April of 2012 when he was placed on waivers and claimed by the Reds. He threw hard, but he wasn’t very good, giving up a ton of homers with an ERA of 5.18 in over 187 innings. Amazingly, despite pitching in a tougher ballpark (though competition that wasn’t as good, getting away from the AL East), Simon has become a very nice back of the bullpen pitcher for the Reds, throwing over 100 innings with an ERA under 3, with strikeouts up and walks and homers down.
I wanted to get a Pitch F/X look at how he has changed (assuming he has changed something quantifiable), so I looked at his average locations of all pitches while he was with the Orioles, along with his average locations from his time as a Red so far. I also took the top 25 percent of all pitches of Simon’s pitches with each team and put their location along with their average velocities to get a look at what he is topping out at and how he is locating those pitches.
The velocity of the elite pitches are basically the same, actually getting slightly worse (which isn’t a surprise considering the age, but is surprising considering the increased success). Clearly Simon is throwing the ball lower, going from a high ball pitcher to a low ball pitcher. This itself doesn’t explain his success (though it could certainly explain his home run rate drop), as some pitchers have actually improved by throwing up in the zone more consistently. Since most of his fastballs are labelled as moving fastballs, working down in the zone is probably better for Simon. The more compelling evidence to me however, is that his average pitches are closer to the center of the plate as a Red. This shows that he is working both sides of the plate about equally. When he was with the Orioles, he clearly wasn’t doing this.
Even though there wasn’t a release point change, I wanted to see if there was some kind of delivery change, so I took screenshots of random times when he was with the Orioles and then the Reds.
With the Reds:
There is a slight camera angle difference, but I don’t really see anything differently. So despite not changing his delivery or his release point, Simon has been able to improve his location, keeping the ball lower and more able to work both sides of the plate. This has been the key to his success, the big difference between his failures as an Oriole (along with, most likely, his bouncing around the minors), and his success as a Red. Why he has been able to accomplish this is a mystery to me, but the Reds’ probably deserve some credit for, if they didn’t “fix” him, at least taking the chance on the great arm. These success stories, of somewhat late blooming hard throwers, are why teams take chances on hard throwers with bad command. They don’t always figure it out, but when they do, it usually looks pretty cool.