New Mound Positioning Led to Bailey Breakout in Oakland

Please Credit: David Dermer-USA TODAY Sports

With COVID-19 grinding all pro sports to a halt, we at Zone Coverage plan to get creative with how we bring you unique, smart and/or funny content as we ride this thing out. Again, we’d like to re-emphasize that none of this is to diminish what’s going on outside the white lines, but to do what we do best consistently while hoping it helps pass along the time until things are back to normal. 

A couple of offseasons ago, we ran a series similar to what we’re doing here, entitled “Minnesota Twins 40-Man Report Cards.” The only key difference to be aware of is since it’s happening now instead of during the offseason, we’re going to make it forward-looking — that is, with the current 40-man roster as constructed, looking back on their 2019 season.

So in some cases — such as this one — it’ll be looking at players who might not have necessarily spent all or even any of their 2019 season in the organization.

Let’s dive right in, starting with the pitchers:

  • Player: Homer Bailey
  • 2019 team(s): Kansas City Royals/Oakland Athletics
  • Pertinent Numbers: 163.1 IP, 4.57 ERA/4.11 FIP, 2.9 fWAR/2.0 bWAR
2019 Lowdown

When Bailey signed an extension with the Cincinnati Reds on Feb. 20, 2014, he was entering his age-28 season and coming off back-to-back seasons with a sub-4.00 ERA. That season, he posted a 3.71 ERA in 145.2 innings, and henceforth totaled 231.2 innings over the rest of the $105 million contract at an ERA of 6.25.

In a lot of ways, his career is semi-parallel to that of Anibal Sanchez. The Twins brought Sanchez into camp as a non-roster invitee in 2018 after a three-year run that saw him post a 5.67 ERA in 415.2 innings with the Detroit Tigers, but ultimately cut him loose upon signing Lance Lynn to a one-year deal.

All Sanchez has done in the two years since is post a 3.39 ERA in 302.2 innings with a 1.19 WHIP and well over two strikeouts per walk.

Anyway, there was ample reason to believe Bailey’s career was over. He went 1-14 with the Reds in 2018, was traded as part of a salary dump deal to the Los Angeles Dodgers and was unceremoniously released the next day.

But rather than take his millions and fade into obscurity, Bailey agreed to a minor-league deal with the Royals and pitched his way onto the team, taking a regular rotation spot for 18 starts before he was traded to the A’s on July 14 for prospect Kevin Merrell — a utility infield prospect with a career OPS of .669, including a .617 mark last season.

To say even the A’s weren’t expecting a ton might be an understatement.

But Bailey honed and refined his repertoire, paring out much of his breaking stuff in favor of a fastball-heavy approach while moving on the pitching rubber.

Read: Brandon examines what changed for Bailey in Oakland after the trade

The results came fairly quickly for Bailey in Oakland. He was bombed for nine earned runs in Houston on July 22 — let’s not open that can of worms — but from that point on over his final 11 starts of the regular season posted a 3.31 ERA with a .606 OPS against and 60-12 K/BB ratio in 65.1 innings. His swinging-strike rate was 12 percent and he had a respectable groundball rate of 42.6 percent over that span.

In short, while Bailey turns 34 in early May, there’s still reason to believe he can give the Twins some solid results based on the end of his season and the fact that there aren’t as many miles as there might typically be on a pitcher who’s still pitching at that age.

Jeremy Maschino‘s Take

Bailey features a four-seam fastball, splitter, slider and knucklecurve but primarily is going to pound hitters with four-seams and splitters which made up around 75 percent of all of his pitches thrown. His four-seam is thrown about 50 percent of the time and is thrown around league average fastball velocity at 93.1 mph with slightly below the league average fastball spin rate at 2,117 RPM. He gets around league average carry, but we could see him bump up into the above-average carry group if he is able to increase his spin efficiency — the ratio of spin that induces movement to by total spin — from 88.4 percent to somewhere around 95 percent.

Bailey’s splitter is his “out” pitch. Because it has almost identical horizontal movement and tilt — direction of spin, as shown on a clock — as his four-seam, as well as 11 inches of vertical separation from it, his splitter tunnels very well off his four-seam. His slider has the potential to be a good pitch as it has a similar vertical movement pattern as his splitter, yet a different horizontal movement creating another tunneling opportunity.

But, since Bailey has shifted towards the middle of the mound, he started exposing his slider sooner to hitters which allows them to make a decision to swing or lay off it earlier than when he was on the right edge of the mound. His knucklecurve is his least-used pitch. In a 100-pitch outing, we will probably get to see eight or nine of them. It is more of a show-me curve than anything. Nothing tremendous jumps off the page about it other than it has around a 180-degree mirror in tilt from his four-seam (FF: 1:00, KC: 7:15) allowing for yet another tunneling opportunity.

However, it is such a low spin curveball (1,910 RPM), it may just be destined to be a show-me pitch.

Final 2019 Grade: The strong finish made up for the shaky start, and to be honest the fact that he came back at all was remarkable. We’ll give him a B.

Jeremy Maschino is an independent pitching analyst and researcher who specializes in data-driven baseball. Follow him on Twitter here.

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