Awards season is underway, and Oakland’s closer, Andrew Bailey, got some hardware. Bailey’s sudden and plentiful success earned him Rookie of the Year honors over runner-up Elvis Andrus and Rick Porcello (who finished within one point of each other).
In this era of specialization, relief pitchers are taking the the rookie prize more often than they did back in 1952, when Joe Black (who made only two starts) took the honors in the National League. The A’s have had a rookie closer honored twice in the last five seasons.
Relievers who won Rookie of the Year
Black (1952, Brooklyn)
Butch Metzger (co-winner 1976, San Diego)
Steve Howe (1980, LA Dodgers)
Todd Worrell (1986, St. Louis)
Gregg Olson (1989, Baltimore)
Scott Williamson (1999, Cincinnati)
Kazuhiro Sasaki (2000, Seattle)
Huston Street (2005, Oakland)
Bailey (2009, Oakland)
source: Baseball Reference
Bailey scouting report
Bailey throws a fastball, a pitch I’ll call a cutter, and a curveball. His fastball is a four-seamer: It has a little cutting action, but nothing like the “cutter.” Bailey’s cutter averages 90 mph, but can blur into a slider down around 80 mph. The curveball comes out of his hand in the upper 70s, which is a good 25 mph off his fastball and 20 off the cutter. Back in April, Bailey threw a change-up three times, but none the rest of the way.
As you’ll see later, the majority of Bailey’s offerings were the heater. This is what his three pitches looked like in flight, on average (click for full version ~1200px wide).
The bottom pane shows the view from the first base side. As the pitches leave his hand and travel a few feet, the curveball is above the cutter, which is above the fastball. The order is reversed upon arrival at home plate. The bird’s eye and catcher’s views show how straight the fastball is. Bailey’s cutter is fairly straight, too, but you’re looking at two pitches that come in hard and move slightly in opposite directions. One drops a little (relatively speaking).
The left side of the following two-pane graph (click to pop up) shows the spin movement, in inches, from the catcher’s view. You can see the variety of cutters fairly well there. The right pane shows the speed (y-axis) against the angle at which the ball is spinning. Again, pardon my lack of polar graphs.
As you can see above, the cutter really does morph into something softer with more movement at times.
What he throws leads us to when he throws it. Bailey’s bread-and-butter is the heater, but he’ll throw the cutter to a right-handed hitter in any count. Against lefties, Bailey may not like to throw the cutter in the zone on hitter’s counts. He uses it with about equal regularity when ahead or even, but righties see more on first pitches and when Bailey gets behind.
Control doesn’t seem to be much of an issue for Bailey. I think these plate locations (again, click to enlarge) speak loudly.
Bailey likes to stay away, particularly to right-handed batters. He’s more prone to miss up and away, though, against lefties. In any case, he throws strikes. Using the two-foot wide zone, Bailey is above average overall, but more precise with his fastball and cutter.
While the fastball and cutter find the zone at the same rate, Bailey’s called strikes and balls are far apart. The first reason is the swing rate, unusually high for the cutter and low for the fastball. Where the pitches are when swung at (or not) is the other part.
Hitters don’t take Bailey’s cutter for strikes. The fastball and the curve, on the other hand, are taken regularly. Notice the astounding whiff rates on all three pitches. Bailey’s fastball is absurd.
This is where things get tricky—batted balls. Bailey is a fly ball pitcher, but his fastball is not easy to take out. It’s easy to pop up, however.
Bailey’s ground ball rate is a couple points below average. That takes his run values per 100 pitches (rv100) down a notch when I regress hits on ground balls to league average. The resulting rv100E, which also takes home run rates on fly balls and line drives to their respective league averages, are still impressive. But a run or more higher.
Either way, Bailey was outstanding in 2009.
Andrew Bailey in short
Pounds the zone with a nasty fastball/cutter combo with a slow curveball. Gives up a lot of fly balls. Has three solid pitches and misses lots of bats.
References & Resources
PITCHf/x data from MLBAM and Sportvision
Pitch classifications by the author
Run values are not park or league adjusted. They are based on 2007-2009.