As he continues his recovery from a July 2013 shoulder surgery and is sidelined for at least the next few months, it's plausible he doesn't pitch in pinstripes at all in 2014.
The Yankees signed the hard-throwing reliever to an incentive-laden minor league contract on Saturday, according to MLB.com's Adam Berry. The one-year deal is for $2.5 million if he makes the big league team, and it includes a 2015 option and buyout.
And in a familiar trend for the Bombers, his addition appears mired in the notion that he's become little more than an injury-plagued and -prone piece—and that, even if he recovers in 2014, the acquisition appears more geared toward next season.
However, if he does return down the stretch this year, he could prove to be major insurance for a questionable bullpen. And at just 29 years of age, if he remains with the team and healthy for next season, he could also position himself for an impact role out of the Yankees bullpen for 2015 and beyond.
A good deal of the narrative is currently focused on the Yankees' low expectations for him this season. As of Sunday, the latest word from Joe Girardi is that Bailey faces a more prolonged timetable than was first projected; the big right-hander isn't expected to begin throwing until July—and possibly not to return until as late as September, per the Wall Street Journal's Daniel Barbarisi.
But he has an impressive statistical track record, ideal experience closing out major league ballgames and has proved he can continue to do both in spite of the various injuries he's accumulated.
For pitchers, the common knowledge is that shoulder injuries are both the toughest from which to recover and to project a true return to form. And with Bailey's other injuries and time on the disabled list, rivaled only in variety and number by Brian Roberts, his arrival doesn't ring with optimism.
But this is a 6'3", 240-pounder who was a Rookie of the Year, a two-time All-Star in his first two seasons, who converted 75 of his first 84 save opportunities in his first three years from 2009 to 2011 and demonstrated in 2013 that he hadn't lost a step, posting a 3.77 ERA, 3.30 xFIP and outstanding 12.24 K/9 in 28.2 innings.
His recent slew of injuries may have saturated the hot start to his career, but he is still only entering his sixth season—he isn't a veteran trying to regain form from his prime. He's entering his prime.
For all the anxiety around the Yankees bullpen, they've only so far added Matt Thornton, have a slate of prospects vying for lesser roles, face the likelihood that the setup man has zero or one year of big league time and they'll stick with an unproven closer heading into 2014.
Bailey's signing may seem at the moment like a questionable, uninspiring move. But should the Yankees find themselves in the chase for October—and even playing in October—they'll have the best-case upside of a safety net for Robertson, the added benefit of a proven late-inning reliever with closer mentality and, at the least, added insurance for the pen.
Here's a look at Bailey's background as well as a statistical breakdown and analysis of his three-pitch arsenal as we consider why he was desirable for Cashman and Co., and why he's a player who could become both major insurance and a future impact reliever in the Yanks pen.
After making the big league team in 2009, Bailey moved into the Oakland Athletics' closer role as a 25-year-old, where he converted 26 saves in 30 opportunities and ultimately took Rookie of the Year and All-Star honors.
He pitched 83.1 innings and finished, among all MLB relievers, with the sixth-best ERA (1.84), third-best WHIP (0.88), second-best opponent batting average (.164), sixth-highest strikeout total (91), 9.8 K/9 and third-best fWAR (2.3).
He followed that up in 2010—but only over 49 innings—when he converted 25 of 28 saves and posted the fourth-best ERA (1.43) en route to his second All-Star selection. Though he regressed slightly with a 0.96 WHIP, .193 opponent batting average, 7.7 K/9 and 1.0 fWAR.
The lack of innings was due to the first of several injuries the past few years (he even underwent Tommy John back in 2005).
Because of an intercostal (ribcage) strain, he missed about a month during the summer of the 2010 season, and then required elbow surgery in September that shut his year down before the final dozen games.
He returned to spring training for 2011, where he promptly strained his forearm and didn't make his debut until May 29. He tossed just 41.2 total innings to only a 3.24 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, .215 opponent batting average and 1.0 fWAR, although he struck out 41 for a 8.86 K/9 and still converted 24 of 26 save opportunities.
His 2012 debut with the Red Sox was pushed even further back to mid-August after he required surgery in April to repair the ulnar collateral ligament in his thumb. He appeared in only 19 games and 15.1 innings and gave up an ugly 21 hits and 12 earned runs. He picked up six of nine saves, but his 7.04 ERA, 1.89 WHIP, .318 opponent average and .380 BABIP only worsened the picture.
And then, last season, his year was cut short in mid-July when he tore a capsule and damaged a labrum in his throwing shoulder then underwent surgery from which he is currently recovering. "This is more complicated, because it's a shoulder," Cashman said, per MLB.com's Berry. "He's coming in. He's got a lot of work to do. ... It just takes time. It takes time to rehab," added Girardi.
Bailey primarily uses three pitches—fastball, cutter and curveball. Despite his injuries so far, he's sat right around 94 mph with his heater, 89 mph for his cut fastball and 79 mph with his curve.
Over his five-year career, he's used his fastball about 61 percent of the time, reaching upward of 98 mph and holding opponents to a .205 average, .258 BABIP and .641 OPS.
Looking further at his PITCHf/x data, he's had an above-average ability to miss bats with his fastball—as seen in his contact percentage (77.8, league average is 81) and swinging-strike rate (10.1, league average is 8.5).
Here's Bailey blowing a 96 mph fastball by Miguel Cabrera in 2011:
He's used his secondary pitch, his cutter, 26 percent of the time since 2009 and has held batters to a .205 average, .241 BABIP and .540 OPS. Hitters make contact only 74.4 percent of the time, and Bailey generates a 14.2 swinging-strike rate.
While his strikeout rate is lowest with his cutter, it's his ability to generate swings at the highest rate of the three (55.6, compared to league average 46) that benefits him. And hitters have a tough time making solid contact with a below-average 16 percent line-drive rate.
Here's an example from this past July, as he worked out of the seventh for Boston. Mike Trout, likely sitting on a first-pitch fastball, instead is dealt an 88 mph cutter on the outer half:
Bailey's only gone to his curveball for 13 percent of the time, but it has exceptional 12-to-6 action with sharp break.
He throws it for a strike 60 percent of the time, and batters have only mustered .183 and .443 OPS against it. With the curve, Bailey has posted a well-above average 53.8 ground-ball rate (league average is 44), and a phenomenal 31.9 strikeout rate.
Below, Bailey uses a hard-biting curve for his out pitch in April 2013. Drew Stubbs is in an 0-2 count and has no chance on Bailey's 80 mph delivering:
Bailey isn't the most attractive short-term asset given the wait-and-see caveat of his signing.
But after we see whether the Yankees offense can buoy a questionable infield and bullpen into late August, Bailey could prove worth the wait and end up factoring in a big way into the back of the bullpen for fall baseball in 2014 and for the future of late innings in the Bronx beginning in 2015.
"When he's healthy, he's an exceptional reliever," Cashman said Sunday, per Berry's report. Girardi added: "This guy's done a lot in his career. He's closed. He's pitched late in games."
Bailey's impact could ultimately be felt the most as a glue guy to the Yankees bullpen—a former closer with sufficient experience and power pitching to fit as a reliable piece in a largely revolving door of relievers.
The other realistic impact could be as a complement to Robertson. Whether or not Robertson solidifies his ninth-inning job in 2014, the idea of a Robertson-Bailey duo in the back of the bullpen may still not be utopian for 2015. Though if the Yankees find themselves next winter with the most pragmatic choice being to extend their new closer and re-sign this former closer, they'd have a formidable one-two punch late in games.
Similar to Michael Pineda, you never quite know what you'll get from a pitcher coming back from a shoulder injury. By the end of this season, there's the chance he may not have returned—and even if he does recover by September, there's the possibility he may not be trusted quickly enough to replace someone like Kelley or bump someone like Thornton out of the seventh and into a lefty-specialist duty.
Ultimately, you have to consider that some combination of Yankees relievers will carry the late-inning duties for the better part of six months, and for that reason, it'd be tougher to automatically and suddenly slot Bailey in front of established role players.
But if he returns by that final month with his health, his former velocity, the ability to spot his cut fastball and to snap off a curve reminiscent of a very recent past, this quiet signing could swiftly become a more resounding blessing.
"I'd expect him to be one of our late-inning guys," Girardi said rather matter-of-factly, per Berry.
Because if you're Girardi or Larry Rothschild, you'd value the addition of his arm and experience, and you'd accept a largely missed 2014 season in order to posses it for what is, and what could still be at this time next year, a highly doubtful bullpen.
At the worst, if the signing turns out to be fruitless or if he simply cannot remain on the field, the Yankees won't have lost anything anyway. And with low expectations going into his continued recovery and rehabilitation, all they can do is wait at this point.
As Cashman put it, per Berry, "[I]f we can get a reward out of it, great. One of those, 'Nothing ventured, nothing gained.' ... it's an uphill battle, but we'll see."
Peter F. Richman is a Featured Columnist for the New York Yankees. You can follow him on Twitter: Follow @Peter_F_Richman.
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