Mensching: What does Simon's start say about rest of season?

By Kurt Mensching, Special to The Detroit News
Alfredo Simon

Even if you thought Alfredo Simon would pitch better than the low bar so many set for him, his first four starts in a Tigers uniform has to come as a surprise.

And even if you don't like when pitchers are assigned wins or losses, you have to be at least a little impressed the right-hander managed to pick up four straight wins while his team only had one scoring outburst.

Yet if you feel like this is all too good to be true, well, it is. Simon's off to a great start, but the warning lights are flashing. The good news is, they're not quite as bright as they were a year ago at this time. He might be a pretty good addition to the back end of the Tigers' rotation.

Simon's 2015 season so far is actually remarkably similar to his beginning last year.

Through four starts with Detroit, he has posted a 1.60 ERA. He's done so both by limiting walks (just 1.3 per nine innings) and by not allowing many batters to reach base with hits.

This is where you should remember a pitcher only controls so much of that "allowing hits" thing.

Sure, some of it is in the pitcher's control. The good ones combine location, movement and the ability to keep batters guessing, causing weak contact.

Even when everything comes together, though, when the pitcher allows the ball to be put into play, a fielder's going to have to get to the ball and make an out.

Some fielders are better than others, and even the best-planned pitches sometimes find holes. Good luck or bad luck could play a factor, as can better or worse defenders surrounding him.

In Simon's case, a couple of more plays than should be routinely expected have been made around him, and he's been the beneficiary.

Without a lot of strikeouts (just five per nine innings, even fewer than last season), he's going to have to hope that continues all year. It probably won't. Last year shows as much.

Simon opened 2014 with a 3-1 record, the lone loss a 1-0 decision. He posted a 1.30 ERA behind a .172 opponents batting average and about three walks allowed per nine innings.

That sort of success is not the kind that long endures, and it didn't. Although he posted a 2.70 ERA and won 12 games before the All-Star Break, he stumbled in the second half to the tune of a 4.52 ERA.

Could you have predicted such a downfall? Well, yes, you could.

A good stat to use for that is FIP, or fielding independent pitching. It's built on things a pitcher is said to control, namely strikeouts, walks and home runs allowed. (Some debate that last point and prefer to use xFIP, which applies the same rate of home runs to all.) Simon's FIP for the first half last year was 4.33, and it was 4.34 for the second half.

Even his FIP at the end of April -- 3.76 -- far outpaced his results. He was lucky.

In other words, despite the large swing in ERA, he was essentially the same pitcher the entire year. He didn't "tire out" in the second half so much as the numbers likely caught up to him over a larger number of innings pitched.

If you're looking for hope that that won't be the case this year, there is some.

Simon is not pitching as far over his head this season as last, for one -- or, he's not as "lucky" when it comes to balls in play being turned into outs. He's also cut his rate of walks in half. If he can avoid getting himself into trouble like that, he'll certainly find some success for it.

He's also benefitted from his cutter being a better pitch than it has been in the past. That could help explain some of the differences.

In reality, Simon's not nearly as good as he's started the year, but at the back of the rotation he doesn't have to be. What remains to be seen is how much better than often-low expectations he really is. That will take a little longer to tell.

Kurt Mensching is the editor of Bless You Boys, a Tigers blog ( He can be reached at