Alfredo Simon, pitcher
Should he be in the Orioles’ closer mix for 2011?
Caveat: I did not see Simon pitch for Norfolk in 2010.
Simon earned 17 saves as the Orioles’ closer in 2010 over about three months. He became the closer because he was healthy and hadn’t pitched terribly at the precise moment the Orioles needed a new one because the first three they tried were all hurt. He survived for three months because the Orioles had bigger problems and he wasn’t pitching poorly enough to matter. Eventually, Koji Uehara took over the job.
Simon really doesn’t have any business being in the major leagues. Except for 17 innings at Norfolk in 2010, he hasn’t given up less than a hit per inning in the United States since 2004, at Clearwater in the Florida State League. He’s had a 5.03 ERA in AA, a 5.10 ERA in AAA, and a 5.64 ERA in the major leagues. He seems to have been living off 15 good 2008 Mexican League games.
Alfredo Simon’s 17 saves are why I don’t consider John Smoltz to be a no-brainer, automatic Hall-of-Famer. Smoltz’ career record is in the outstanding-but-not-automatic Hall-of-Fame class, like David Cone and Kevin Brown. All great pitchers, but below the automatic Hall of Fame pitchers of their generations (Maddux, Clemens, Glavine, Randy Johnson, Pedro.) Smoltz, however, pitched for just over three seasons as a closer, and thus accumulated 150+ career saves. Many commentators assume that those saves elevate him into the automatic Hall-of-Fame group.
To which I respond “Alfredo Simon was credited with 17 saves in three months with a bad team. How many of Smoltz’ saves would an Alfredo Simon have gotten, in the same opportunities? Since 17 saves in three months doesn’t demonstrate that Alfredo Simon is a major-league pitcher, 150 saves in three+ years by themselves don’t lift John Smoltz from the Hall-of-Fame bubble to an automatic selection.”
If I had a Hall of Fame ballot, most likely Smoltz would be a borderline candidate for me, along with Cone and Brown. We know the average save conversion rates for closers in all the various save situations — one-run lead in ninth inning with no one on, no one out; two-run lead in ninth inning with bases loaded and one out, etc. If I had to consider Smoltz, I would have to look at every one of his games during his closer years and determine how many saves a replacement-level closer – an Alfredo Simon — would have been expected to be credited with, and compare that to Smoltz’ total. If that revealed that Smoltz were a significant better-than-replacement closer, he would probably earn my vote. Right now, he’s on the borderline.