In his outing on April 13, Homer Bailey was masterful against the Indians, holding them scoreless through seven innings while allowing just two hits and a pair of walks against six whiffs. His Game Score of 77 was his highest since 2014. He followed up that outing with a victory in the Bronx on Thursday, throwing six innings of three hit ball with just one free pass and six strikeouts.
It’s an unlikely success story for Bailey and the Royals. Even if it is just two starts.
Here’s how he found success on Thursday.
Bailey opened by facing left-handed hitting Brett Gardner. Against the lefties, Bailey likes to rely on his knuckle-curve as a compliment to his pedestrian low-90s fastball. A couple of borderline calls went against Bailey and Gardner can’t handle the pitches in the middle of the zone. Bailey keeps the ball away from Gardner—who cranked a Yankee Stadium Special into the right field bleachers for a grand slam the previous evening—and strikes him out on a splitter way out of the zone.
The meat of the Yankee lineup swings from the right side. This is where Bailey turns to his slider and split finger fastball. It looks like he’s catching far too much of the center of the zone.
But as you can see from the results above, Aaron Judge and Luke Voit connected on inside fastballs. Judge still hit his hard—an exit velocity of 106 mph—and Bailey was in a bit of a pickle with runners on the corners.
He started Voit and Gleyber Torres with a slider, both hung in the zone. Voit fouled his off; Torres got under it and hit a sacrifice fly.
This was an efficient frame. He jumped ahead of Clint Frazier with a fastball down the chute that was taken for the first strike, then got a favorable call o the slider off the plate for strike two. On the third pitch, a two-seam fastball on the inner half, Frazier lofted a weak fly ball that was dropped thanks to a lack of communication between Royals outfielders.
That’s ten pitches, eight strikes. Bailey is still living in the middle of the plate, but he’s mixing his pitches well and the lower half of the Yankee order is swinging early, but can only make weak contact.
The lineup flips over and Bailey falls behind Gardner 2-0 before going four-seam and then splitter to level the count. He shows splitter again to get Gardner to swing and miss for the second time in as many at bats.
Against the next two Yankee batters, both hitting from the right side, Bailey’s pitch distribution looks solid. Fastballs up, sliders down and away, splitters down and in.
Both Judge and Voit worked the count to 2-2. Both times, Bailey came in with a fastball in the top part of the zone.
Judge, being the massively large human that he is, just got under it and hit a sharp ground ball. Voit got the center-cut fastball represented above and could only foul it off. He struck out on the next pitch on a splitter down and in.
Homer Bailey, Filthy 84mph Splitter.— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) April 18, 2019
Voit throws down his weapon and surrenders. ⚔️ pic.twitter.com/HTSovxDGen
The first three batters of the frame hit from the right side. Bailey needed just six pitches to get through this part of the order. Torres gets a 90 mph fastball middle-middle on the first pitch and gets under it with a 46 degree launch angle. It had an exit velocity of 98 mph. LeMahieu takes his first pitch out of the zone for a ball and then gets his own meaty fastball that he stings at 106 mph for a line out. A ball hit like that has an xBA of .650.
Frazier battles a bit deeper in the count than the first two and lines a high fastball for a single at 105 mph.
Are you sensing an exit velocity trend here?
With two outs and a runner on first, Bailey keeps the ball down against lefty Mike Ford and collects his fourth swinging strikeout of the game on a splitter down in the zone.
This was probably Bailey’s most taxing inning. Overall, he threw 20 pitches, just 11 for strikes.
Austin Romine took a slider for strike out before fouling off a splitter and a four-seam fastball. He whiffed on a splitter out of the zone.
A six-pitch walk to Tyler Wade turned the order over for the third time. This isn’t generally sound strategy, but spare a thought for poor Brett Gardner. A strikeout victim his first two times up, he offers at a 3-1 fastball in the upper third of the zone and skies a pop out.
It’s not an understatement to call the Judge plate appearance in the fifth the most pivotal one for Bailey on the night. He had gotten a couple of good swings in his previous two at bats and with a runner on and Bailey at 70-plus pitches, it was an opportunity for the Yankees to create some damage. Bailey handled the situation with aplomb.
Sliders and splitters, all of them down in the zone. It was not unlike how Bailey attacked Judge in the third inning. In that previous at bat, Bailey threw an elevated fastball at 2-2. In this one, it was a 2-2 slider down and out of the zone. Pitch number five. Swing and a miss.
Having thrown 77 pitches to record the first 15 outs, Bailey returned to face the heart of the Yankee order.
Facing three right-handed batters, Bailey chose to live dangerously, offering fastballs down the chute.
Voit hit one 108 mph, but Alex Gordon barely had to move. Torres could only foul off the two meatballs he saw before fishing on a splitter out of the zone and popping up. LeMahieu stung one at an identical exit velocity as Voit at 108 mph, but his went directly to Jorge Soler in right.
The Voit liner was barreled and had an xBA of .960. The LeMahieu shot had a little less loft and carried and xBA of .820. With a pitch count in the 80s, facing the middle of the order for the third time, Bailey survived. It was an impressive act of navigation.
Bailey needed a little luck to survive, but that shouldn’t shortchange his ability to find the right pitch at the right moment when necessary. It was a strong performance from a pitcher seeking something of a comeback. However, while the success of his last two outings provides encouragement, it should come with a healthy dose of caution. Looking at the charts from above, it’s not difficult to imagine a different, more unpleasant outcome. He was finding too much of the zone and in two of his final three innings, the Yankees were getting good swings.
Part of his success Thursday came from the ability to keep hitters off balance. As the headline suggests, he was dominant, throwing all of his pitches for strikes and getting 11 swings and misses. The splitter in particular had some fantastic bite. The fastball remains largely unimpressive, but he’s been able to play off his secondary pitches enough that he’s not getting burned by it. And if he can keep the strikeout rate going - that will work just fine.
As the saying goes, you make your own luck. Bailey’s results his last couple of outings show he can be a cromulent starter in the back of the rotation. There will be speed bumps along the way, but that is to be expected. The Royals only need to hope Bailey can mostly keep it going for a couple of more months.