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If any belief has been affirmed over the past week, it's that athletic excellence is not reserved for upstanding citizens.

Alfredo Simon exemplifies this truth in baseball. Simon's legal history makes him perhaps the least endearing player on a big-league roster. In 2011, he was charged with (then acquitted of) involuntary manslaughter arising from a shooting death. More recently, he was sued by a woman who says he assaulted and raped her in April 2013.

Relative to his alleged sins, Simon's on-the-field exploits seem trivial, if interesting. Covering those interesting, if, trivial things isn't meant to excuse or endorse Simon's acts, nor to suggest his athletic endeavors outweigh his moralistic shortcomings. This article is simply an examination of Simon's rise as the game's preeminent eephus user—or, in other words, how one of baseball's least likable pitchers became the practitioner of one the game's most likable pitches.

The eephus itself is romantic and transcendent; rooted in baseball lore and employed by domestic all-stars and journeymen, Japanese imports and Cuban defectors alike. So revered is the eephus that its admirers extend beyond baseball. David and Arthur Cropley, authors of Creativity and Crime, used the eephus as an example of so-called "effective novelty"—a combination of "novelty, relevance, and effectiveness." The sentiment is clear: in a sport where velocity is valued and treated as king, there's something charming about a pitcher accomplishing his mission with a soft lob.

Simon is the latest test for that hypothesis. Entering Sunday, there had been 27 regular-season pitches 1) recorded at 65 miles per hour or slower and 2) not flagged as intentional balls, according to PITCHf/x data. Three pitchers combined to throw more than half of those offerings, including two whom you would expect. R.A. Dickey—a knuckleballer whose fastball lives in the low-to-mid-80s—and Jered Weaver—who is yet to crack 90 mph in 2015—have thrown four apiece. Then there's Simon, armed with a fastball that touches into the mid-90s, leading the majors with seven such pitches.

MLB Advanced Media's classification algorithm has identified Simon's snailball as a slider, a curve, a screwball, and yes, an eephus. Simon, for his part, calls it a slow splitter. Of course, not everyone is a fan of the slow splitter.

"There are times you shudder when it leaves his hands, because it's like slow-pitch softball," said Bryan Price, Simon's former manager and pitching coach with the Reds. "It's a pitch you definitely wouldn't want to overexpose, but he's gotten some outs with it. There's times where it's been almost too slow, in the 60s, like an eephus pitch—we don't really like that one."

Simon hasn't provided his current manager, Brad Ausmus, with much reason to like the slow splitter, either. None of the seven tries have found the strike zone, instead missing every which way—outside, up and away, just high, down and in, just down. . . .Simon has used the pitch exclusively versus left-handed batters, though has shown enough confidence to toss the pitch multiple times against a batter in a single at-bat. To what aspiration? "I use it in the game sometimes when I try to have the hitters see a slow split," Simon said during spring training. "And I just come with a fastball in, and it's going to be difficult to catch the ball."

Since then Simon has taken liberties with the definition of "sometimes." Even including spring training, he'd thrown 11 pitches prior to this season that met the earlier qualifications (of 65 mph or slower and not an intentional ball). He'll nearly quadruple his career total this season, provided he starts 25 more times and throws one slow splitter per outing. Additionally, Simon could set another career-high in pitches that check in at 75 mph or slower. He set the current mark in 2014 by throwing 60 such pitches; he's at 35 already for 2015—and that's despite using his curveball less often in consecutive seasons.

What about the second part of Simon's statement—does the slow splitter cause batters to be late on his fastball? It's hard to say, since most of the slow splitters result in this scene:

The story was mostly the same in 2014, though he did tally one swinging strike (Didi Gregorius) and two called strikes, including this one on Garrett Jones:

At any rate, Simon appears to be less than forthcoming when he claims he uses the slow splitter to set up his fastball. Here's a breakdown of the slow splitter's usage this season, along with his next pitch and the result of it and the plate appearance:

Date

Batter

Pitch+1

Pitch+1 Result

PA Result

4/10

Michael Brantley

Slow splitter

Ball

Flyout

4/10

Michael Brantley

Cutter

In play

Flyout

4/10

David Murphy

Cutter

Called strike

Walk

4/10

David Murphy

Splitter

Ball

Walk

4/15

Pedro Alvarez

Splitter

Swinging strike

Groundout

4/20

Brian McCann

Splitter

Ball

Strikeout

4/25

Jose Ramirez

Splitter

In play

Groundout

Despite what Simon says, he hasn't followed the slow splitter with a fastball. Rather, he likes to turn to his regular splitter, perhaps banking on the batter expecting the heat. Does the slow splitter make much difference? Probably not, since it's a glorified show-me pitch, but he hasn't been burned by it yet.

So we know what Simon calls his eephus, what he tries to accomplish with it, who he throws it against, and how he sequences after the pitch. That leaves one big question: why does Simon throw it?

The easiest explanation stems from an unusual career arc. Simon signed with the Phillies as a teen, setting off a sequence of transactions that saw him bounce around the league through trades, on minor-league contracts, and as a Rule 5 pick. He was released in spring 2008, freeing him to join Sultanes de Monterrey of the Mexican League. Some 15 quality appearances later, he joined the Orioles, with whom he would make his big-league debut shortly thereafter. The rest is recent history: Simon was traded to the Reds after a few disappointing seasons, and turned into a quality rubber-armed reliever under Price's guidance. Last season, he returned to the rotation and made the all-star team. Months later, he was traded again, this time to the Tigers.

Through it all, Simon reinvented himself to stay relevant and employable. (Whoever said creativity is borne from limitation had a point.) So Simon taught himself a slow splitter, a quintessential winter-ball trick, something he could use now and again to keep hitters guessing. It's the kind of resourcefulness—a spark of ingenuity from an otherwise bland, nomadic pitcher—and delusion—the willingness to throw it against real, live MLB hitters in meaningful games—that separates (and, for many, elevates) pitching from (over) hitting. As Roger Kahn once wrote: "Pitchers, of all ballplayers, profit most from competitive intelligence."

Indeed, Simon stands to profit this winter from his competitive intelligence. Barring injury, he'll hit free agency as an established back-end starter. Yet executives could stray from Simon for the same reasons fans and writers do. No matter how entertaining Simon's on-the-field savvy is, his past will always follow.

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lewist
5/09
Very nicely written