All too often veteran players sign minor league deals with an invite to Spring Training in hopes of proving themselves worthy of a roster spot. That trend continues with the newest Kansas City Royals signing, Homer Bailey.
There are many who believe that Homer Bailey’s tenure with the Kansas City Royals will not last long. He has an opt out on March 25 that he will likely use if he doesn’t make the MLB roster. The skepticism might be justified considering many call him “Homerun” Bailey. That nickname holds up based on his 1.95 HR/9 last year.
In all fairness, Bailey has had several injury riddled seasons. The former seventh overall pick was once deemed worthy of a six year, 105 million dollar deal. That is a contract he has not lived up to, and the Dodgers are now stuck paying him 23 million for 2019. That is how the Royals were able to get him so cheap.
So, is there anything left in the tank for Bailey for the Kansas City Royals? If there is he could make a wonderful bullpen option, though odds are he is vying for a spot in the rotation. There was once a great talent in that arm and he is only approaching 33 years old.
By The Numbers
At his peak value in 2013, Bailey was worth 4.1 fWAR. Since that season he has been on a decline, and faced a number of injury issues. He used have a live arm that averaged over eight strikeouts per nine innings, but last season he averaged only 6.35.
Usually when there is a noticeable decline in strikeouts people want to just blame it on velocity. That is not the case here. Each one of his pitches is roughly one MPH slower, if there was a change at all, then it was at his 2013 peak performance year, per Baseball Savant.
Unfortunately, a lot of things that could be indicated as a potential issue were not tracked by Statcast back in 2013. Looking back at something like spin rate can only be traced back to 2015, and even then it is a non factor. Outside of a 689 RPM spike in Bailey’s changeup from 2016 to 2017, everything there is consistent too. Which, he threw 23 innings in 2016, so that explains it.
So, maybe batters are just seeing Bailey better? Well, the consistent exit velocity from year to year would disagree. From a statistical standpoint, not much has changed from 2015 to now. But, there is an increase in barrel percentage on his split finger (1.9 to 6.5), four seamer (5.5 to 10.4), and sinker (3.9 to 10.4).
Without any other numbers supporting it, the increase is barrel percentage is likely due to either pitch selection, pitch location, or both. If the ideal Bailey is the 2013 version with 4.1 fWAR, than his pitch usage would theoretically need to be similar. Just like everything else, it is. The only change of note is a decrease in his sinker from 27.5 percent in 2013 to 14.9 percent in 2018.
Location, Location, Location
It becomes an issue of location. Baseball Savant has a feature that shows the post popular zones that Bailey throws to. There are four zones lit red, which mean most frequent: middle-down, middle-inside, middle-outside, and dead center. That is 3,358 pitches tracked back to June of 2017.
If only it had a simple fix. When compared to 2013, Bailey’s swing and miss percentage on each of his pitches sees a significant drop.
If the Kansas City Royals want any chance at a productive version of Bailey they will have to figure out how to get that swing and miss back. They don’t need him to strikeout 10 batters per nine, but he does need to be miss bats, or at least barrels. I would bet against a bounce back season in 2019.