The Angels presently project to have baseball’s worst bullpen. Now, they know it’s a potential weakness, and they’re going to make further moves to try to shore things up, but some time ago the front office did re-sign Andrew Bailey for a year and $1 million. It’s terribly unexciting, and this isn’t even new. Again: old transaction! But I thought about this when I read a new Mike Petriello article about Statcast stars. Here we are.
Seth Lugo got a mention in the article. From a Statcast perspective, Lugo is fascinating, because his curveball generated easily the league’s highest average spin rate. We don’t yet know quite what that means, but it’s not dull. Now, what about fastball spin rate? Justin Verlander had the highest average among starters. Carl Edwards Jr. thrived with his high-spin fastball out of the bullpen. And yet, while Edwards ranked second in average fastball spin, Andrew Bailey ranked first. His fastball averaged 2,674 RPM. The league-average four-seamer came in at 2,264 RPM.
Now, Bailey wound up with an ERA over 5. That’s a problem, and that feels like it ought to be more meaningful than some spin-rate metric. Bailey hasn’t had a positive WAR as a big-league reliever since 2011. He’ll turn 33 years old next May. When the Angels first re-signed Bailey for 2017, I came to this very screen, and I almost wrote an InstaGraphs post, but I stopped myself. I’m not picking Bailey as some ultra-sleeper. But there’s just enough for me to be intrigued. The same goes for the Angels, who plucked Bailey from the Phillies late in the summer. After making the move, Bailey’s cutter gained three miles per hour. His curveball gained a tick. And, with the Angels, in a small sample, Bailey threw 70% strikes. For the season overall, he threw two-thirds of his pitches for strikes. That’s what he did at his peak between 2009 – 2011.
Bailey’s top velocity is down a mile or two from earlier in his career, but now it seems like he could have the strikes back, and the fastball spin should make it hard to square up if hitters have to stay concerned about the other pitches. The increased velocity should help that, and even last season, Bailey generated one of the higher foul-ball rates, which is a sort of compromise between a ball in play and a swinging strike. Foul balls for pitchers are more good than bad. Bailey showed more than he had in a while, and his best version was a quality closer. This package might give the Angels a decent setup guy.
Mostly, I just want for more people to know about Bailey’s spin. Spin can go only so far — consult Bailey’s recent ERAs. But Bailey just got to blending spin and strikes, and his stuff played up in September. From a projection standpoint, Bailey isn’t very good. From a more scouty perspective, there could well be something left in the tank. The best starting point is always an interesting fastball, and Bailey’s is more interesting than most.