Second Look: the New Homer Bailey
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.
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.
“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:
*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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