Owners of the best record in the American League and second-best record in all of baseball, the Boston Red Sox are clearly doing a lot of things right. Their rotation has compiled the second-best ERA in the AL. By WAR (Wins Above Replacement), they’ve been the second-best offensive team in the AL.
But their bullpen? Not so much (fifth-highest ERA in AL). Andrew Bailey? Again, not so much.
As Evan Drellich of the MassLive.com reports, Bailey has been relieved of his closing duties. The move followed Bailey’s implosion against the Detroit Tigers on Thursday. He hung a slider to Jhonny Peralta after walking the lead off batter, and Peralta launched it over the left field wall to hand Bailey his second consecutive blown save.
Obviously, something is wrong with Bailey, and the worst part is that he’s figuratively fallen off of a cliff. Or in simpler terms, he went from being really good to horribly bad. The numbers might be more telling: he posted a 1.46 ERA in 13 April appearances, limiting opposing hitters to a .140 average. In May, he gave up one run in three innings.
June, however, has been an entirely different story, as he’s posted a 9.00 ERA in eight games. Opponents are slugging .808 off him, and he’s blown three saves in all. Yeah, there’s been a pretty ugly pattern. And manager John Farrell has seen enough of it.
But just what has Farrell seen enough of? The overall effectiveness of his fastball is one place to start. Actually, it’s the only place.
Just about everything has gone south with his fastball– command, velocity, nastiness and ability to locate it. The well-documented end result can be summed up in one word: confusion.
Let’s delve into the numbers courtesy of Brooks Baseball (all of the numbers below are based off his fastball):
Of the five categories above, Bailey’s effectiveness has slipped in each one, if you haven’t already come to that conclusion.
The major downfalls have been his command and nastiness, as his strike percentage has dropped 14 percent and his whiff percentage has dropped a little more than 12 percent. The slip up in command has thus led to an increase in home runs and of course, balls in play.
An additional tidbit: Opposing hitters are hitting .533 off his fastball since June 1 compared to the .077 average that his fastball yielded from April 1 to April 30. This is just further justifying the point, which you should understand by now.
Below we have Bailey’s fastball locations from June 1 to June 21 courtesy of Texas Leaguers:￼
As you can see, his fastball command has been all over the place, and he’s missing up in the zone. That explains the uptick in his home-run percentage.
Now, let’s take a look at his fastball locations from April 1 to April 30 courtesy of Texas Leaguers:
Now comes the question everyone wants answer: what’s causing Bailey’s sudden regression?
Analysts and pundits would point to his velocity decline in June as the nucleus of the problem. The decline in the five categories above plus, well, a ton more, are then just the byproducts it. Velocity always seems to be the common answer to why a pitcher has been ineffective, at least it seems.
Well, we do know for sure that Bailey’s fastball velocity has dipped. There’s no denying that. Brooks Baseball has him throwing 93.84 MPH in June, which is two MPH slower than his velocity of 95.54 in April. For middle ground, his fastball velocity in May was 94.75 MPH. So, the trend has existed quite some time now.
I will mention that his cutter and curveball velocity readings have both receded too–by about two MPH each. But the flashing red lights aren’t focused on those two pitches because they’ve remained effective.
Naturally, one has to wonder if Bailey’s early-season biceps injury has caused his velocity to wane, and thus, his overall effectiveness.
It very well could be a factor. Given that it caused him miss 19 games from April 29 to May 20, it wasn’t a minor injury. With the exception of a few starts since coming off the DL, he has struggled, posting a 7.20 ERA since May 22, which was his first appearance off the DL.
Thanks to FanGraphs’ game logs for Bailey, we can get game-by-game readings of his velocity. Once again, there’s been a readily noticeable decline. Instead of consistently clocking in the mid-90s, he’s hovered around 92-93 MPH in his last eight appearances. The one appearance where his average fastball surpassed 94 MPH was in his first appearance off the DL–May 22. Translation: he’s throwing a slower.
Only Bailey and Boston’s trainers know if he’s injured. Maybe his decline in velocity is due to rust or fatigue. Everything is just speculation at this point.
However, the numbers and charts don’t lie. Bailey has lost his fastball in June, and in turn, he’s lost his job as a closer. Only time well tell if he’s injured, but for now, he has some adjustments to make.
All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference, FanGraphs and Brooks Baseball unless otherwise noted