Early last month, spurred on by a Twitter discussion with Dan from Camden Crazies, I wrote a post about Alfredo Simon and tried to figure out what kind of pitcher he really was. Dan did the same. What did we learn?
I learned that Simon is a groundball/strikeout pitcher who happens to give up a lot of home runs. (With as many homers as he gave up,I had assumed he was more of a groundball pitcher.) Dan thought that Simon's HR rate was a more a product of bad luck than his true tendencies. I disagreed, started writing a follow up, got distracted and never finished it up.
Less than a month, three homers and yet another Twitter argument with Dan later, here's a closer look at the home runs given up by Alfredo Simon this season, minus the homer he surrendered last night. From HitTrackerOnline.com:
Using Hit Tracker's classifications, of the 8 homers surrendered, 4 were No Doubts, 1 was a Plenty, 2 we Just Enoughs and one was a Plenty but Lucky. Now, the Lucky home runs are going to happen to every pitcher but even if we take that one away, that's still a lot of home runs.
Dan has stated that, with a home run per fly ball rate of 20%, Simon's rate of giving up home runs is unsustainable and that he will regress more to the mean. My contention is that while he may not sustain a 20% rate, he may be a guy who has a HR/FB rate that sits in the high teens because he may be an outlier. Why do I say that?
I agree with Dan in general that a guy with a ground ball rate approaching 50% and a decent strikeout rate is not likely to give up a lot of home runs. However, given the data from Hit Tracker, it appears that Simon's home run rate is not just a product of bad luck alone...he's really getting hit.
Secondly, he doesn't give up a lot of flyballs being a groundball pitcher, so each home run he gives up moves the needle more than it normally would. For example, he has given up 45 fly ball and 9 homers for a 20% HR/FB rate. Take away the "lucky" shot he gave up to Paul Konerko and that's at 17.8%. That's a 2.2% move on one homer. (But it's still a really high percentage, even if it's not 20%)
Thirdly, most guys who give up home runs at his rate don't get to hang around long enough to maintain a 20% home run rate; they get released. Or sent back to AAA. Simon remains based on his strong start and the fact that the Orioles aren't contending anyway.
I think Simon is an outlier: a groundball pitcher who gives up a bunch of home runs on the occasions that the opposing batters happen to get the ball in the air.
I went back and looked at Pitch FX data and watched video of every home run Simon gave up this year.
Simon has given up 8 of his 9 homers to right handed hitters. Four of the nine homers were on balls in the upper quarter of the strikezone. Seven of them were balls in the upper half of the strikezone. Seven of them were also fastballs.
It's like this: Simon, while having good groundball tendencies, has very hittable stuff up in the zone. And when it gets hit, by a righthanded hitter, up in the zone, the odds are pretty good that it will end up in the seats.
Now this doesn't mean that Simon can't be a decent middle reliever. The real troubling thing about Simon has been his walk rate this season. A reliever with a decent walk rate who is homer prone can still be effective. Combining a penchant for long flies with a 4.14 BB/9 is not the recipe for success.
But make no mistake, the homers will continue, with a HR/FB rate in the high teens or more. The only remedy for it could be improved control.