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Second Look: the New Homer Bailey

October 19, 2009 BY ALEX EISENBERG 10 Comments

About a year and a half ago, I wrote an article titled “Homer Bailey: Ace or Talented Underachiever“.

When I wrote the article, Homer Bailey was coming off a pretty bad year by his standards and his stuff had really dropped off from the previous season. I was looking for explanations and found there were issues with his timing, his arm action, and to a lesser extent his finish.

The Reds worked with Bailey on his mechanics prior to the 2008 season, but the results were mostly the same in both numbers and stuff.

Bailey again retooled his mechanics in 2009 and finally, there it was. The velocity on his fastball had returned and not only that, his command improved as well. And credit to the reader “blackout” for pointing this out to me in the comments section of another post.

But before going forward, let’s talk front side mechanics a bit. Proper front side mechanics are essential to keeping the front shoulder from flying open and that in turn is crucial for both developing good command and staying healthy.

There are different styles for doing it, but the goal should be to keep the front shoulder closed until late in the process and then firm the glove up just prior to the front shoulder opening — or swivel and stabilize as others like to say. The pitcher should leave the glove firm out in front of his chest and then allow the chest to meet the glove and not the other way around. That way, the pitcher is achieving much better extension and finish to his pitches. See this article about Kevin Slowey if you’re looking for a really good example of proper front side mechanics.

Now, one of the attributes I’ve always hated about Bailey’s mechanics were his poor front side mechanics. Below I’ve lined up Bailey from 2006 – 2009 from left to right. I’ve slowed down the key sequence of the clips. I want you to focus specifically on Bailey’s glove-side arm and the action it makes.

homer-bailey-front-side-06homer-bailey-front-side-07homer-bailey-mechanics-08homer-bailey-mechanics-09
*Credit to MLB Advanced Media and Minor League Baseball

It’s interesting how you can see the gradual improvements in his front side mechanics over the years. Each year he gets just a little bit better and that does leave me more optimistic that he’ll be able to improve his control and command going forward. However, good front-side mechanics don’t really account for the kind of velocity increase Bailey’s experienced.

Speaking to the Dayton Daily News, Bailey chalked it up to (H/T to Driveline Mechanics):

“It’s the tempo, the way everything loads,” Bailey said. “I knew after that second bullpen and said to myself, ‘This is going to be fun again.’ After that, I had eight or nine sessions before spring training and every time it got just a little better and a little better.”

Tempo is the key word here. Tempo is defined as “the time in which a pitcher can go from the point to where his knee reaches its upper-most point (or when it starts to move downward) to the time of release.” Tempo is measured in frames.

So lets compare Bailey’s tempo from 2008 (left) and 2009 (right). The 08′ version is throwing 91 mph, while the 09′ version is throwing 97:

homer-bailey-2008homer-bailey
*Credit to MLB Advanced Media

Notice at the start of both clips within the first few frames, the 2008 Bailey is sorta hovering. There is very little up or down movement in the leg at the time . Contrast that with the 2009 Bailey…the knee is still on its way up and hasn’t even reached its maximum height. Yet, the clips are synchronized to release. The 2009 Bailey catches up with the 2008 Bailey because its body is moving faster.

See how there are no pauses, no stoppage in the momentum Bailey builds up once that leg reaches its uppermost point. That leg goes down as quickly as it goes up. The 2008 Bailey hovered there for like 3 or 4 frames.

Any pauses or hitches in one’s wind-up can end up bleeding energy. If Bailey pauses at the top of his knee lift (or at his balance point), he ends up killing the momentum and energy he built up prior to that point.

There are pitchers that do come to a stop at their balance point and still generate excellent velocity because their timing is precise and they do pick up momentum and energy at the proper points of their deliveries. Clayton Kershaw comes to mind. Dan Haren comes to mind as well. But for a pitcher like Bailey, he needs that energy and momentum he generates prior to the point in which his knee reaches its maximum height to produce that mid – upper 90′s velocity and he needs to move quickly.

That’s the difference between Bailey throwing 97 and Bailey throwing 91. It’s how fast the body moves throughout the delivery with as few pauses as possible. However, the difference between Bailey throwing 91 last year and throwing 91 this year is that he’s throwing with less velocity intentionally in an effort to locate the pitch better.

There were a couple other changes worth mentioning as well:

1. He’s taller in his wind-up. He looks a bit like the 2008 version of Ervin Santana in how he lifts his front leg and then drops and strides into foot plant.

2. He’s more compact. As the knee reaches its uppermost point, everything is centered around his core and close to his body. His hands are higher as well. Bailey is in a more athletic position than before.

So what does this mean for Bailey’s future?

I’m not sure yet. Despite his fantastic September ERA-wise, his peripherals were what I would call more good than great. He still has work to do in improving both his control and command and he must become more consistent with his breaking stuff. Bailey has shown he can be an effective pitcher at the big league level. While he still possesses top of the rotation upside, it’s more likely he’ll fall into that No. 2/3 starter status. But that is nothing to sneeze at either.

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  • 10 Comments »

    • Mike Ketchen said:

      Alex,

      Great as always and congrats on the site continuing to improve daily. I have a question for you to if you don’t mind. I teach High school and I am getting involved with the baseball team somewhat this season. Now I am a baseball nut and more over a pitching nut. I have one student I helped last season just in terms of his stride (he was basically not striding at all and he has now getting about the height of his body and he noticed the change right away). The question I have is with regard to specific grips and pitches. Should I instruct him to throw a cutter or is this bad for a young developing pitcher? Also he asked me for some delivers to try and emulate. Do you have any suggestions? Thanks in advance if you can spare any help.

      All the best, Mike Ketchen

    • Alex Eisenberg (author) said:

      Mike, a cutter can definitely be a useful pitch as long as it’s thrown correctly. As long as he doesn’t torque his wrist in an effort to cut the ball, it doesn’t cause much stress on the arm. The key is to throw it like a fastball and let the grip do the work. It might take some time for him to get a good feel for the pitch.

      I would tell him not to emulate any specific pitchers, but to emulate certain attributes that high level pitchers have in common. For instance, most control artists have excellent front side mechanics.

      There are various attributes used by high velocity throwers though it varies from pitcher to pitcher…some have a fast tempo, some use a step over move into foot plant, many bend at the waist as they break their hands, and there are many that will add some type of twisting motion (see Lincecum, Greinke, and Felix Hernandez) in an effort to maximize the torque/separation they get between their torso and hips.

      It really depends on what his basic, natural mechanics look like…how he pitches without any instruction or thinking. That’s the base he works from. The next step is to maximize his mechanics to be as efficient as possible and make sure there are no glaring problems.

      From there, the key is repetition, repetition, repetition to the point where muscle memory takes shape and he doesn’t think about his mechanics on the mound.

      But

    • Mike Ketchen said:

      Alex,

      Thanks a ton! I really appreciate it. I will be sure to keep you posted on progress and keep up the great writing as always.

    • Pete Saunders said:

      Hey Alex, just found your blog in technorati. I’d say you’re really doing a good job at simplifying all these stuff for the average Joe. I love the game but I never really thought about how to play the game systematically. Thanks again.

    • jon said:

      Alex,
      Thanks for the good read/update. I remember the last Bailey article. Do you think perhaps his late 07 groin injury prevented the more controlled/athletic leg raise last year 08?

    • Alex Eisenberg (author) said:

      Thanks Pete.

      That’s the goal…I try to explain things as concisely and simply as possible so everybody understands.

    • Alex Eisenberg (author) said:

      Jon, I’m not sure if the groin injury contributed to his 08′ problems. I think it was more of a case of a guy finding something that just clicked…the goal was then to repeat his mechanics consistently.

      The interesting thing is that his 09′ and 06′ mechanics are pretty different, but the arm action is the same. It tells you there are many ways to generate velocity, but I’m not sure there are many that can completely rework their mechanics as well as Bailey did.

      Now the question for Bailey is not if he can become even a usable major league pitcher, it’s if he can develop enough command and enough of a change-up to become a good major league pitcher.

    • Blackout said:

      Great piece, Alex, and I think even the most optimistic among us share your reservations about Bailey. It’s hard to make a good case for him outside the anecdotal (improved mound demeanor, specific in-game events), which is as good an indication that he could go either way as there is. It’s easy to discount his gains because of the competition he faced as well. So it’s just my gut talking when I say that, barring injury, we’ve got a promising pitcher on our hands. Yet another. Having seen Tillman, Holland, Scherzer, Hanson, Matusz, and Neftali debut this year (and Casey Kelly, Drabek and others in the Futures Game) we seem to be entering a great period for major league starters. You’ll have plenty of grist for your mill.

    • Blackout said:

      BTW, re the change-up, he’s currently using his splitter as a change. It’s average velocity is probably far enough below his FB velo (assuming he’s at his 94-96 range, mostly 96) that with its break and his ability to throw it in under the hands of RHHs it serves as a change to them. When located properly it’s a true splitter and may be a swing-and-miss pitch to LHHs. His FB command is so much improved that he’s been able to get away with throwing it and mixing in his secondary offerings fairly sparingly. I’d say the big decision is the use of the slider versus the curve. The slider is not a pitch I’ve seen him throw for strikes much. The curve is a strike but sort of a gotcha pitch that he throws at unexpected times in the count. He rarely throws it twice to a batter, or even in the same inning. So with control (and frequent command) of a four-seamer that he can throw by a lot of hitters, a CB for strikes, a slider in progress and the splitter, he’s probably not going to develop a true change. If (big if) he can learn to command the slider to the bottom left corner of the strike zone, that will very much be a moot point.

    • Alex Eisenberg (author) said:

      Good stuff, blackout. Thanks for the input.