Bailey Upgrades a Familiar Twins Face
Image courtesy of © Peter G. AikenThere have been plenty of roster projections and free agent discussions from all corners of Twins Territory this winter. Although Gibson has been somewhat of a polarizing pitcher over his tenure with the Twins, he’d have been a solid fit at the back end of a rotation. Dealing with health issues for much of the season he contributed a significant slide last year following the step forward in 2018. Ultimately the Texas Rangers saw the projectable upside and handed him a nice three-year contract. There’s some risk involved for a guy who has pitched more than 160 innings just once since 2015, but the 2018 version was a considerable asset.
Gibson came off the board early, and while Minnesota was more focused on the likes of Zack Wheeler, a pivot was forced when the “impact” arms they sought signed elsewhere. Rich Hill was grabbed earlier this week, and is reflective of that definition when healthy, but it’s the other guy who draws all the parallels. Homer Bailey isn’t a sexy name at all, and I’m not yet sure how I feel about it, but I can understand where the Twins saw an opportunity to upgrade on Gibson.
Bailey is two years older than the former Twins first-round pick, and he’s pitched nearly double the number of big-league seasons. Even still, the longtime Reds pitcher owns a career 4.57 ERA, 7.4 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9. It’s almost scary how close that is to Gibby’s career 4.52 ERA 7.0 K/9 and 3.2 BB/9 numbers. So, if the thought was that Kyle could work at the back of Minnesota’s rotation, and he should be in line for a bounce back with a clean bill of health, why turn here... right?
Again, Gibson was off the board early, and Bailey represents Minnesota responding to the situation more than anything. However, he was had on just a one-year $7 million deal and has already shown signs of improvement.
For 12 years the Reds miscast Bailey as their ace. He routinely struggled with injury, and 2019 was the first season he topped 145 innings since 2013. After being serviceable in 18 starts for the Kansas City Royals, it was in 13 outings for the Oakland Athletics that things may have clicked. The 4.30 ERA isn’t glowing by any means, but he posted a 3.65 FIP, 8.3 K/9 and a career best 1.8 BB/9. The 2.9 fWAR was a high-water mark since 2013, and it appears that the time in the bay area might have been a turning point.
Never a real hard thrower, Bailey has held a 93-mph average velocity since 2015. What he did with the Athletics however was to elevate the use of his splitter. After using it just 12.9% of the time over the course of his career, he more than doubled that mark last season. Batters couldn’t hit it, generating just a .182 average on the pitch, and he had a whiff rate that nearly reached 40%. So, while Gibson’s allure is rooted in the premise of a health-related rebound, Bailey presents the opportunity to expand on something that has already worked.
Minnesota, through the eyes of Wes Johnson and other adept coaches in the system, has become significantly more associated with pitching development. Should Bailey be provided even more usable information from within the Twins clubhouse, taking another step forward is hardly out of the question. I’d be hesitant to expect a near-34-year-old to drastically shift from career norms, but a nice uptick isn’t abnormal either. This same think tank may have seen the breakout of Anibal Sanchez coming, and this is an opportunity for them to execute fully on a similar scenario.
Much like Kyle Gibson would have been, the acquisition of Bailey wasn’t a well-received one. Although he doesn’t have the upper-echelon name recognition, he draws parallels to the guy he could replace, and has already shown why the gamble is a worthy one. This story will unfold throughout the season, but Rocco Baldelli’s staff is better today because Homer Bailey is in it.
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