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Quick Look: Homer Bailey Goes to Oakland

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And he’s bringing his ground balls with him

Kansas City Royals v Seattle Mariners Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

Homer Bailey joins the star-studded list of “washed-up” veteran’s to join the Oakland’s A’s as they pursue a playoff berth. Like Bartolo Colon, Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill, and Edwin Jackson before him, Bailey, while not exactly a lifesaving inflatable raft, is perhaps the flotation device disguised as the plane’s seat cushion. He’s enough to help the team get by until more reinforcements arrive.

As Alex noted in his trade write-up Bailey has had sustained success over multiple seasons. From 2010-14: 3.86 ERA, 803.2 IP, 697 Ks, 224 BB, 91 HR, 3.77 FIP. Things got bad pretty quick from there, however.

After giving it one last go with Cincinnati last season and then getting cut loose by the Dodgers in the offseason Bailey surfaced with Kansas City who was willing to turn to anyone who could start some games. It worked and now Kansas City has a fine, if not underwhelming new middle infield prospect. But what are the A’s getting in Bailey?

Bailey is a 33-year old starting pitcher who screams league average across the board. His K/BB? About average. WHIP? Average. FIP? Average. Swinging-strike rate? Average. However, Bailey has been dragged down by a handful of truly awful starts. The rest have been fine! On April 8th, the second start of the season he allowed 7 earned runs in 5 innings. A month later he allowed 10 earned runs across 6 innings and two starts. Since June, though, Bailey has been pretty good, evidenced by his 3.49 ERA in 38.2 innings.

How did Bailey go from disaster to fine? A couple things stood out: low spin-rates and increasing ground ball rate.

Hitting Pay Dirt

Like we’ve seen with many pitchers over the years, a change in role or pitch selection, or velocity can do wonders for one’s career. Bailey may have found something.

This season he has swapped out his sinker for more splitters. Everything has generally remained consistent as far as year-to-year pitch usage numbers go. As the season has progressed, however, he has decreased his curveball usage in favor of more four seamers.

Over the course of 2019 Bailey has altered his pitch mix.
Fangraphs.com

This is interesting because Bailey is a low-spin pitcher. And there are a few things we know about low spin, especially as they pertain to Bailey’s pitch mix. Low spin four seamers generate ground balls as do splitters. Low spin curves, however don’t have as much diving action therefore they are not conducive to grounders. And wouldn’t you know it, as the calendar has turned to summer, just like the temperature Bailey’s ground ball rate has increased.

Bailey has generated more ground balls over the course of the season.
Fangraphs.com

This is a good development for multiple reasons. First, the A’s boast an elite infield defense where ground balls go to die. Second, the few fly balls that do leave the infield are going to be more likely to stay in the yard in Oakland’s spacious outfield and foul territory.

Conclusion

There is a sense of urgency with which the A’s must operate due to their cash-strapped circumstances. We saw that with the Rich Hill deal a few years ago and the Jeurys Familia trade last summer. If there is a move that must be made or a game-changing development the A’s have no choice but to be all over it, small samples be damned. I won’t argue that Homer Bailey is now on an ace’s trajectory. But his starting point is league average with some interesting changes helping him trend in the right direction.

This acquisition will either be of little consequence, or it will be a difference maker as the A’s seek a consecutive postseason appearance.