Minnesota Twins: How Rich Hill and Homer Bailey help improve the Twins’ rotation
By Chris Schad
What makes Homer Bailey successful?
Homer Bailey’s career began in Cincinnati where he was greeted with massive expectations after being selected by the Reds with the seventh overall pick in the 2004 MLB Draft. As Bailey rose through the system, the hype grew and with the right-hander checking in as a top-ten prospect in 2006 and 2007, he made his debut for the Reds at just 21 years old.
While his backstory traced the path of an emerging phenom, Bailey’s major league career hasn’t gone according to plan. He has a career ERA 4.57 and while he’s thrown two no-hitters in his career, he never became the ace that the Reds envisioned and hit rock bottom thanks to Tommy John surgery in 2015 and bone spurs in his elbow which led to a 1-14 record and 6.09 ERA in 20 starts in 2018.
Fed up with his injuries and ineffectiveness, Bailey was shipped to the Los Angeles Dodgers in a deal that sent Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig to Cincinnati last offseason and the Dodgers sent him to the unemployment line before he even threw a pitch. That led Bailey to sign a minor league deal with the Kansas City Royals where he would go on to have a solid bounce-back year.
Bailey’s 2019 marked his most wins (13) since 2013 and his lowest ERA (4.57) since 2014. As Bailey pitched well enough to be a mid-season trade acquisition by the contending Oakland Athletics, it’s hard to pinpoint what made him have a renaissance as many of his analytics ranked in the bottom percentiles of the league.
One thing that has gone right has been the introduction of his splitfinger fastball. Statcast showed that Bailey started using the pitch in 2017 and the usage of the pitch has jumped all the way up to 26.4%, the second-best usage rate behind his four-seam fastball (48.1% in 2019).
The splitfinger has brought a new level of effectiveness to Bailey as he limited opposing hitters to just a .182 average against the pitch in 2019 with a .214 WOBA. The pitch also recorded a 38.2% whiff rate (highest among his four pitches) and was used as a put-away pitch 21.2% of the time according to Statcast.
The biggest change with the pitch was the amount of movement on the splitter, which increased four inches from 2018 to 2019. With added movement on his four-seamer and curveball as well, Bailey was able to go 4-1 with a 2.25 ERA in his final eight starts for the Athletics last season.
That kind of hot and cold performance should remind Twins fans of an old friend as Baseball Savant used Kyle Gibson‘s 2018 season (10-13, 3.62 ERA) as a comparison for Bailey. While Bailey throws more strikes and has less of a chase rate, Bailey has the potential to do enough to soften the blow of losing Gibson to the Texas Rangers.