What a breakout performance for Alfredo Simon in 2014. Doubling his career high in games started in a season, Simon also doubled the production he'd ever given in any season before as well. Though Simon's performance fell off noticeably from the first to the second half of the season, it didn't mar a season on the field which had to come as a pleasant surprise to both management and fans alike.
Breaking into MLB in 2008, Simon's first three tries in the Big Leagues went pretty poorly, posting negative WAR each season. He did post 17 saves in 2010, but it came with an unsightly ERA near five. In 2011, Simon transitioned between the bullpen and the rotation with modest success, to be somewhat generous. The profile he had demonstrated in his MLB career through that point was middling at best: he was imminently hittable (over 10 H/9), he was extremely HR prone (1.7 HR/9!), and his walks and strikeouts were mediocre at best (just under 2 K/BB). Nevertheless, In 2012, Walt Jocketty picked up Simon to shore up the bullpen, and the move paid off handsomely. Simon pitched 61 innings in 2012 and proved to be a true workhorse with 87.2 innings in 2013, providing sub-three ERAs in both seasons. In 2013 especially, the light came on for Simon, whose WHIP dropped to just over 1.07 in that season, whereas in his entire career beforehand it had hovered steadily between 1.4 and 1.6. Simon had proven a surprising transformation, and the commentariat in Reds country was comfortable with Simon as a late-inning reliever to be relied upon.
And then 2014 and the injuries struck, and Bryan Price and the Reds found themselves in need of a 5th starter to begin the season in Mat Latos' absence. Price decided early on that Simon was his man for this job, and even considering the underwhelming alternatives he had to beat out, there were a lot of questions about this choice. I was one of the more pessimistic observers, myself. But Simon came charging out of the gate to a scorching hot start in 2014, proving the wisdom of the choice immediately and never really looking back. At the All-Star break, Simon boasted a 2.70 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 12-3 W/L record, and an opponent OPS+ 20% better than league average, and for his efforts found himself participating in the Midsummer Classic. To say that all of this surpassed expectations hardly describes it.
Simon finished out the 2014 season still in the rotation, despite the fact that it meant a jump of 110 more innings pitched than he had thrown the previous year. It is not surprising, given this situation, that Simon's performance fell off notably after the All-Star break, even ignoring that his pre-ASB numbers were likely due for a regression even if he'd never gotten tired at all. And in fact, that very well may be the whole explanation; from a distance it is difficult to know. Simon's true talent level as a full-time starter is perhaps a matter of some debate, but in the end, Simon undeniably pitched well enough in 2014 that most likely he has earned the right to remain in the rotation for 2015, relegating Tony Cingrani to the bullpen if everyone returns healthy and untraded. Among the myriad reasons that 2014 ended up disappointing for the Reds and their fans, Simon's breakout was one of the few events counterbalancing those bad fortunes.