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Entries in Homer Bailey (5)

Friday
Feb212014

Checking in on Aroldis Chapman’s Fastball 

The Aroldis Chapman experiment enters its fourth (full) season in Cincinnati this spring, and if this season goes anything like the first three, the Reds can rest easy knowing the back end of their rotation will be one of the best in baseball in 2014. Since his debut on August 30, 2010, the ‘Cuban Missile’ owns a 2.40 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 40.9% strikeout rate and 77 saves – enough for seventh, fifth, second and sixth-best among relievers with 198 innings since that date. Now that Homer Bailey is sewn up through 2020, general manager Walt Jocketty now turns his attention to extending Chapman to solidify the backend of his bullpen for the prospective future.

Yet while Chapman has been one of the most dominant relievers in the game since his debut, his game hasn't come without a few shortcomings. Chapman's first three full seasons have been rather inconsistent, at least from a statistical perspective. Let's take a quick look at the numbers.

Chapman has been brilliant at racking up strikeouts, but his rocket arm has also cost him a good number of walks. The league average strikeout rate for relievers with at least 100 innings since 2011 is 22.9%, so we knew Chapman is elite in terms of punching batters out. However, his fluctuating walk rate is concerning, as the league average mark for those same relievers is 8.6%, and as we can see, Chapman has only one full season to his credit (2012) in which he posted a walk rate lower than that mark. He took several steps backward last season, adding another earned run to his 1.51 ERA from 2012. Opponents had much more success against his stuff in the meantime, posting a career-high .544 OPS against him. Consistency is king for closers, and though Chapman has been elite, there's room for improvement.

So, what's the problem? Chapman is becoming too reliant on his fastball. In his first full season with the Reds in 2011, Chapman tossed his fastball at a 79.4% clip -- fourth-highest among relievers with at least 50 registered innings that season and well above the 49.1% league average mark. During his best season to date in 2012, Chapman increased his heater use to 81.6% -- fourth-highest in the league once more and again noticeably higher than the 48.3% league average use. The 6-foot-4, 205-pound southpaw went to his fastball at a career-high 82.6% rate last season, however, which was third-most among lefty relievers with at least 60-innings.

Consequences of More Fastballs

While Chapman's fastball has maintained a steady (if not slightly increasing) velocity over the last three season, his fastball simply isn't generating the 'elite' type of results that we'd expect. His ground ball rate has plummeted incrementally from 42.9% in 2011 (compared to the league average mark of 38.4%) to 35.5% last season, which was actually below the league average mark of 35.5%.

And while opponents are putting fewer of his fastballs in play than ever before (21.5% in-play rate last season), they're doing more with those balls they do put in play, shown by a 2013 HR/FB ratio of 12.8% -- highest among relievers who threw at least 800 fastballs last season. Could Chapman's increase in zone% have anything to do with his ground ball decrease? Absolutely. Since 2008, the trend with relievers is that when you throw more fastballs in the zone, your ground ball rate tends to decrease roughly three percent with every five percent increase in fastball use.

When we think about relievers, we tend to think about the development of their secondary (i.e. non-fastball) offerings at a young age, particularly in the minor leagues (which Chapman didn't spend much time in). Often times, development of these pitches proves critical later in their careers, since fastball velocity tends to wane with age and young pitchers can't blow past batters with their heaters. Chapman seems to be going in the opposite direction in this respect; relying too heavily on his fastball, which has hampered the offering's ability to generate easy outs in critical late-game situations.

Monday
Jan202014

Homer Bailey's Strikeout Development Legitimizes Contract Extension

In an offseason where contract extensions for starting pitchers have become in vogue, multiple reports suggest that the Cincinnati Reds aren't far away from extending Homer Bailey, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent next winter. According to MLB.com's Mark Sheldon, Reds general manager Walt Jocketty is "optimistic" that a multi-year deal will get done despite Bailey rejecting the team's arbitration offer last Thursday. In the final year of his arbitration eligibility, Bailey had vouched for a $11.6 million 2014 salary that was significantly higher than repoted $8.7 million Jocketty was willing to pay for him at that juncture.

Whether or not this stark difference in value will affect Bailey's willingness to re-sign with the Reds remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: Homer Bailey is (finally) transforming into the 'ace' type starter Cincinnati recognized when its front office staff drafted him with the seventh overall pick in 2004.

It wasn't always like that, though. From his first true season in 2009 to the end of 2012, Bailey was nothing more than an average starter -- at best. In 94 outings (all starts) over that span, the La Grange (TX) High School product held true to a 4.18 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 7.4 K/9 ratio and 2.8 BB/9 ratio compared to the league-average starter's 4.05 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 6.9 K/9 ratio and 2.8 BB/9 ratio. In most cases, Bailey would have been considered a decent back-end starter. But for a former top prospect in a system that housed Joey VottoJay Bruce and Johnny Cueto, numbers like this were largely disappointing.

Then 2013 rolled around, and several things changed. Aside from setting career-best marks in ERA (3.49), WHIP (1.12), ground-ball rate (46.1%), opponents' OPS (.660), Bailey increased his strikeout ratio (K/9) to 8.6  -- a year after punching out a near league-average ratio of 7.3. For those keeping tabs, that's nearly a five percent increase (19.2% in 2012, 23.1% in 2013) in strikeouts per 100 plate appearances, which last season was on par with Justin Verlander's 23.5% strikeout rate.

How was he able to accomplish this?

Comparing Bailey's Strikeout Pitch Frequencies, 2009-2013

Looking at Bailey's strikeout locations over the past five seasons, we notice that his strikeouts have progressively shifted away from the middle portion of the plate toward the "edge" of the strike zone, particularly in 2013. This observation is a correct one, as Bailey's strikeout zone% (pitches thrown in the strike zone) has decreased steadily, beginning at 53% in 2009 and finishing at a career-low (keep this in mind) 43.2% last season. The same can be said about his overall zone%, which started at 51.2% in 2009 and shrunk to a career-low 49.6% in 2013.

What's the Correlation?

How has Bailey's exodus to the outer-portion of the strike zone affected his total number of strikeouts? As we can see, there is a clear correlation between the two: As Bailey has thrown fewer pitches in the zone (see 'overall zone%' data trend), his strikeout rate has increased, albeit not in perfect progression. Simultaneously, his chase, miss and called strike rate have increased on a steady incline, and his strikeout zone% has, as already noted, decreased over the last five seasons. Normally, you'd think throwing less pitches in the zone equates to fewer called strikes, and thus, batters would be less willing to chase those offerings.

What's the trend?

Comparing starting pitchers' zone% and strikeout rate since 2009

If you thought that, you were correct. Since 2009, the trend suggests that as a pitcher's zone% decreases, his strikeout rate should follow suit. But this is not the case with Bailey, as we've discussed -- he's drifting outside the zone, yet his strikeout rate has increased. Throwing any more pitches out of the zone would really be pushing his luck with home plate umpires, at least in my mind.

Whatever the case may be, it seems Bailey has discovered the key to increasing his strikeouts: Throwing away from the middle of the plate and working the edges of the zone -- even if that means throwing less pitches in the zone. Whether or not Bailey can get away with throwing progressively fewer pitches in the zone while increasing his strikeout rate remains to be seen, but for right now, it seems this strategy has transformed him into one of the more lethal right-handed starters in the game.

Wednesday
Jul032013

Comparing Homer Bailey's two no-hitters

As I wrote about extensively this morning, Homer Bailey threw his second career no-hitter last night, this one against the Giants winning 3-0. Last September 28, Bailey no-hit the Pirates 1-0 in Pittsburgh, a mere 17 starts ago.

Let's compare and contrast the two no-hitters

Homer Bailey's No-Hitter, July 2, 2013

Versus the San Francisco Giants at Great American Ballpark

  • Bailey threw 109 pitches, 74 strikes.
  • He walked one and struck out nine.
  • He went to three balls on nine batters, walking one and striking out three
  • The average velocity of his fastball was 92.8 mph.
  • Batters swung at 57 pitches, missed 17, and fouled off 22.
  • Bailey threw 84 fastballs, 2 changeups, 1 curve, and 22 sliders.
  • He threw 86 pitches over 90 mph and 47 over 95 mph.
  • In the 9th inning, he threw 13 pitches, 12 fastballs and one slider.
  • His 9th inning pitches averaged 96.3, reaching a maximum velocity of 97.4.
  • His final three outs were on a 96 mph four-seamer, 97 mph two-seamer, and a 97 mph four-seamer.

Homer Bailey's No-Hitter, September 28, 2012

Versus the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park 

  • Bailey threw 115 pitches, 74 strikes.
  • He walked one and struck out 10.
  • He went to three balls on seven batters, walking one and striking out two
  • The average velocity of his fastball was 91.0 mph.
  • Batters swung at 54 pitches, missed 17, and fouled off 20.
  • Bailey threw 79 fastballs, 6 changeups, 10 curves, and 19 sliders.
  • He threw 72 pitches over 90 mph and none over 95 mph.
  • In the 9th inning, he threw 16 pitches, 14 fastballs, one change-up and one slider.
  • His 9th inning pitches averaged 90.8, reaching a maximum velocity of 92.9.
  • His final three outs were on a 89 mph four-seamer, 91 mph four-seamer, and a 92 mph four-seamer. 

It seemed as if Bailey was two different pitchers 

  • Bailey threw 79 hard pitches in Sept, against the Bucs, and 84 yesterday, but his hard stuff was much harder yesterday.
  • He averaged 88.6 on all his pitches in Sept and 92.8 yesterday.
  • 44.3% of his pitchers were in the strike zone against the Pirates and 54.1 against the Giants.
  • 83 of his pitches were on the outer half in Sept, 63 yesterday. 

However, the vertical location of his pitches were similar:

 

  • In each no-hitter, 34 pitches were in the middle of the plate and 39 were down in the zone in September, and 40 were yesterday.

 

I can't wait to see the numbers for the next Homer Bailey no-hitter.