When he was traded to Oakland, Homer Bailey challenged the number nerds and stat geeks to figure out why he was seeing a career rejuvenation in 2019.
As one of the aforementioned…challenge accepted. The answer is actually fairly simple. He’s generating more groundball and keeping hitters guessing more.
There were months in the past where Bailey experimented with throwing fewer four-seam fastballs, but his overall rate through 2018 was 52.5 percent. That is down to 47 percent in 2019. Though that drop is not as drastic on paper, it makes a difference in what else he is throwing.
Already, in just 96 innings and 19 starts, Bailey has already thrown more splitters than he has thrown in any other year except 2013. In that season, he threw only three more total offerings of the pitch in 32 starts and 209 innings. To no surprise, 2013 was the best season that Bailey has seen in the ERA and H/9.
For Bailey, the splitter is his highest whiff percentage, year by year. Most seasons, it is not close. Even after the influx of offerings with the pitch, Bailey is still has a rate of 20.42. This was similar in 2013, where he saw a 20.47 whiff rate. The splitter plays well the third time through the order as well, as opposing hitters are still only hitting .200 against it after seeing it.
Along with the splitter, Bailey has been seeing a lot more success with his sinker this season in missing bats. His whiff rate on that pitch is at 10.71. His next best season on that pitch was 8.33 in…you guessed it…2013.
In a juiced ball time, Bailey has shown the susceptibility to allow the long ball. Bailey’s two best groundball rates among pitches are his splitter and his sinker, with both over 60 percent this season. Combine missing bats with keeping the ball out of the air, Bailey has found his fountain of youth with two pitches that have not been his traditional bread and butter fastball.
The only issue is the league has pounded his sinker when it has touched it. Opposing hitters are hitting .333 with a .833 OPS against the pitch in 2019.
Something else worth noting, is that Bailey seems to be more focused on movement and quality with the splitter in 2019. While his velocity is not down across the board, it is down two miles per hour on the splitter from the last two seasons into this one. Additionally, Bailey’s splitter has a vertical movement + gravity from PITCHf/x of -31.15 for the highest total of his career.
Finally, with the change in pitching focus, barring injury, this appears to be a stretch of success that Bailey will be able to sustain. It is not just a gimmick and the A’s have acquired a difference maker at a cheap rate as they try to put a stranglehold on a wildcard spot.