This is sort of like a dream situation for me. Not only did a Reds pitcher pitch a no-hitter, but it’s one of the boys who is closest to my heart. Homer Bailey first hit my radar in ’05, as a first round draft pick from the previous year, and one of baseball’s top pitching prospects. He was also my first baseball crush – I mean, you don’t run around joking about being the future ex-wife of someone without developing a special bond.
Plus, it’s a rare occasion where I can do an in-depth pitchFx hitter-by-hitter analysis of a game and maybe someone will actually care about it. (All pitch f/x data and graphs courtesy of Brooks Baseball). Disclaimer: I am super not an expert on either pitching or pitch f/x. Please correct me if you disagree with something.
In his post game interview, Bailey mentioned that the weather was cold, and he didn’t have his, necessarily, best stuff. You can really kind of see the temperature issue in this graph, which is probably my favorite representation of the game.
At the beginning of the game, you see that Bailey wasn’t 100% warmed up yet, and his fastball velocity was relatively low. 93.4 is Homer’s average four-seam fastball velocity this season. Over the course of the game, you can see him get into it, and then watch his adrenaline climb in the last few innings, until it seems as if he’s just hurling fastballs at the plate as fast as possible by the time he reaches the 9th.
The pitch f/x data is a little bit difficult because the algorithm just doesn’t know what Homer Bailey’s splitter looks like. In the yearly stats, brooks baseball has a manual input format that picks out the split-fingered fastballs, but I’m pretty bad at it. Of course, you also have the other various inaccuracies that pitch f/x always turns up with. Here’s the horizontal movement x speed chart for the game.
In this graph, I think the splitters fall out pretty nicely – those three ‘changeups’ that are around 83 mph, with negative horizontal movement. The manual input version suggests that Bailey doesn’t throw a change at all, so I’d guess the other three changeups are just fastballs of some sort. I suspect that some of the pitches listed as sliders are also cut-fastballs, as well.
As many noted, Bailey used a lot of fastballs, the pitchf/x count of 70 four-seam fastballs out of 114 pitches seems about right, but being able to locate the fastball is what got Homer through the night, he threw 50 of them for strikes. That helped Bailey drastically improve the swing-and-miss rate on his fastball – though it was much lower for his breaking-balls, compared to his season averages. But the whiffs were timely – out of only 17 swinging strikes/foul tips, 7 of them finished up a strikeout. Bailey also staid away from the batters religiously. (This fangraphs piece, really goes into the excellent work done by Hanigan and Bailey). As Moore notes, Bailey seemed to get the benefit of the doubt in the called strikes, and he probably has Hanigan’s excellent pitch framing skills to thank for tht.
After the cut, I’ll do each at-bat, separately. As you might imagine, this will probably involve a LOT of over-analysis, and reading things out of the data that just aren’t there. (I generally refer to Bailey making the decisions, although obviously, I think Hanigan was more in charge of pitch calling during the game)
Batter #1 – Alex Presley
Bailey starts out with fastballs in the zone against Presley. Presley generally sees a lot of fastballs. He also has one of the lowest out of zone swing percentages, but as one would expect from a leadoff hitter, has solid contact skills. Since Presley won’t swing at balls, you have to give him something in the zone to offer at, and hope it gets into the hands of your defense. Presley also doesn’t have a particularly high power threat.
Batter #2 – Jordy Mercer
Mercer was Bailey’s first strikeout victim of the evening. He took the inside fastball for a strike (1), swung-and-missed at the slider (2), took the high fastball (3), out of the zone for a ball, and then swung at the slider again for strike 3 (4). Both breaking balls had plenty of movement on them, and Mercer does not have a particularly record against sliders. In a very-very small sample size, Mercer has seen 40 sliders, swung at 55% of them, and whiffed at 15.6%.
Batter #3 – Andrew McCutchen
Facing McCutchen is generally the point in the game where something bad happens. Bailey starts with a slider (1), but misses a bit – and McCutchen doesn’t bite – he’s got a pretty good eye for the big breaking balls like sliders and curves, and tends to stay off them. But he then threw a delicious curve outside (2), but in the zone, which McCutchen also took, this time for a strike. He then whiffed at a fastball (3) , that honestly, looks pretty good to me, but it’s a pretty significant change in speeds from the slider/curve to the four-seamer. Bailey gets behind in the count with two pitches both way out of the zone, but comes back with a low fastball (6) and gets a groundout
Batter #4 – Garrett Jones
In the second inning, Homer comes out with a 1-0 lead to face Garrett Jones, the second best hitter in the Pirates lineup. Jones isn’t tempted by the low curveball (1) – though the numbers do seem to say that he can be tempted by such offerings. Then Jones rolls over a sinker (2) , and grounds out to Joey Votto.
Batter #5 – Jose Tabata
Tabata starts off by taking an outside fastball for a strike (1) . This graph of Tabata’s spray chart for fastballs (for 2012), shows a lot of opposite field balls in play for a righty. Assuming that Tabata tends to be pretty late on fastballs, a four-seamer on the outside half of the plate is a pretty solid strategy even above and beyond the standard. Tabata also has bad numbers when it comes to whiffing on curveballs, so the follow up low curveball (2) looks good as well, to get ahead in the count 0-2. Tabata then makes contact with the inside fastball (3) , but not good contact, resulting in a very weak groundout to Brandon Phillips.
Batter #6 – Pedro Alvarez
Pedro Alvarez was Bailey’s second strikeout of the evening, and one of his two reverse Ks – odd because Alvarez is a pretty good bet for a swing-and-a-miss. A 13.7% whiff rate is good for tops among the Pirates, and by a pretty good margin (excepting the pitchers). Alvarez actually sees very few fastballs, for that reason, but in his first at-bat, Bailey and Hanigan went after him with speed. Alvarez does tend to miss a lot of fastballs, too, compared to other hitters – but he’s also a big power threat. Of course, Bailey’s big slider is going to come in on a lefty like Alvarez, so that’s not necessarily a great plan.In any case, Homer got a good swing and a miss on a high fastball for the first pitch, but fell behind on two fastballs below the zone. It’s interesting to note that he really picked up his velocity here – with each pitch being slightly faster than the next.
He finishes the strike out with a fastball inside (4) , and a two seamer that was both the fastest pitch he had thrown thus far, and the one with the most horizontal movement in the whole game. If you look up at the horizontal movement vs. speed chart above, this pitch is the far left two-seam fastball. Considering where the ball ended up, it’s hard to blame Alvarez for holding up on that pitch.
Batter #7- Clint Barmes
This is one of two base-runners Homer allowed all night, this one on the controversial error attributed to Scott Rolen. He starts with a high fastball (1) that is almost identical to the first pitch he threw to Alvarez the previous inning. Barmes takes it, for called strike one. Barmes declines to offer at the slider (2) that struck out Jordy Mercer, though an 18% season whiff rate for Barmes shows that it was a good try. And then Mercer puts at least some decent contact on a curveball in the zone (3), hit to Scott Rolen, enough so that the error is at least controversial.
Batter #8 – Rod Barajas
Barajas, like Alvarez, sees a lot of breaking balls, because he likes to swing. He has shown, for this year, better contact than Alvarez, though. Bailey’s first pitch is a curveball, I’m guessing was supposed to be a strike, but doesn’t quite drop in far enough (1). Barajas fouls off both the inside fastball (2) and the slider (3). The fourth pitch, is, I think, a two-seam fastball, and Barajas comes in under it for an easy pop out.
Batter #9 – A.J. Burnett
Burnett is not one of those pitchers who is even at all good at hitting, which isn’t surprising, since he’s spent of a lot of the last few years in the A.L. This time, he was unsurprisingly set on bunting, which he did not succeed at. (The ‘change’ here, is I think just a slow four-seamer)
Batter # 10 – Presley
Now the lineup turns over and Presley is in again. This is kind of an impressive at-bat, because Bailey gets him out in four pitches, without appearing to throw anything in the zone. Presley holds off on a fastball way outside (1) , and a low two seamer (2), but then gets a called strike on what, to pitchf/x at least, doesn’t seem inside the zone (3) . The next pitch, a two-seam fastball (but marked as a changeup) gets Presley to swing, but it’s moving too much to the outside, and though he does make ok contact, the ball comes off the end of Presley’s bat and into Todd Frazier’s glove in left to end the inning (4).
Batter #11 – Jordy Mercer
Earlier, Mercer struck out by whiffing at some outside sliders. Here, Mercer takes the breaking balls, instead of swinging, holding on two curveballs that are both called strikes. Now, down 0-2, he reaches out for the outside fastball (3), but is way in front of it, for an easy groundball to Zack Cozart.
Batter #12 – Andrew McCutchen
McCutchen holds up on the first pitch – a fastball, on the outside of the plate, but unsurprisingly holds up on the next two sliders. The second, one, however, stays in the zone for called strike 2 (3). Bailey tries to tempt him with a high fastball (4), but McCutchen takes that pitch, and yet another slider, this one almost in the dirt (5). Impressively, though, they get McCutchen to strike out on a fastball, low and away (6), which he whiffs at. McCutchen really isn’t going to swing at the breaking balls – but they really set him up well to miss the fastball.
Batter #13 – Garrett Jones
The first pitch here is really a two-seam fastball (1), that gets called a strike, which is either a pitchf/x inaccuracy or some sweet pitch framing by Hanigan. They get him to swing at the high fastball (2), which goes foul. Bailey then throws a splitter (3), very low and away, which is a great setup for the a high slider (4), which Jones swings and misses at.
Batter #14 – Jose Tabata
As opposed to the usual strategy, Bailey comes inside with fastball (1)on Jose Tabata. He gets another first-pitch called strike on a maybe-questionable call. Tabata then fouls off three high fastballs, with a curveball that maybe gets a little away from him in between (4). For pitch 6, they go back outside, and Tabata hits it fair this time, into Joey Votto’s glove.
Batter # 15 – Pedro Alvarez
Again, (again, again), Bailey focuses on fastballs, either high or outside. Alvarez held off on most of them, after fouling off the first on, and Bailey again threw a really low splitter (4)- and then followed it with a high fastball that Alvarez foul tipped into Hanigan’s glove.
Batter #16 – Clint Barmes
Homer again tries his slider out on Barmes, who still doesn’t want to swing at it (1). Similarly, he takes a fastball, low and outside, but in the strike zone (2) . He then fouls off a better looking fastball, much closer to the middle of the strike zone (3), takes two high fastballs for balls, and then takes a slider that may be a bit outside, for called strike 3 (6).
Batter # 17 – Rod Barajas
With fifteen outs and no hits, you start to wonder about how far you can take it. Rod Barajas makes it easy by swinging at a low, outside slider, that he can’t do anything with, other than slap it off the end of the bat towards Joey Votto.
Batter #18 – A.J. Burnett
A.J. Burnett is not much more trouble. Bailey doesn’t feel like wasting any off-speed stuff on the pitcher with no one on base. Staying away, works well here, as well – Burnett eventually grounds another outside fastball to Votto.
Batter #19 – Alex Presley
For this third time around the line-up, Bailey tries out his slider on Presley for the first time. Presley doesn’t swing at what the home plate umpire calls a ball, or the next pitch, another outside fastball (2). The third pitch is a two-seamer with a hard break in it , but it doesn’t break enough to leave the strike zone, and is called a strike. With the count 2-1, Presley swings at an outside two-seam fastball (4), that breaks hard enough that it’s well outside the zone, and he can’t do anything but foul it off. At 2-2, Bailey seems to maybe overshoot a high fastball again (5). But with a full count, he throws a hard inside fastball (6), that gets Presley jammed up, with an easy groundball for Brandon Phillips.
Batter #20 – Jordy Mercer
Poor Jordy Mercer goes back to swinging with another big breaking ball on strike one – and even though it’s in the zone, Mercer can’t hit it (1). He also can’t hit the borderline high fastball that comes next (2). That puts him down 0-2, and forces him to swing at the even higher fastball that he really can’t hit (3).
Batter #21 – Andrew McCutchen
It’s not hard to believe that Bailey would want to be over-cautious with McCutchen on his third time around the lineup. I’m not sure if that first slider is really a cut-fastball (1) or not, but either way, it was out of the zone, and McCutchen still wasn’t going to swing. After that, Bailey stayed well out of the zone, and I suspect McCutchen had caught on to the fact, to take the easy walk.
Batter #22 – Garrett Jones
Pitch 1 was a pitchout, which failed to catch McCutchen at 1st base. But pitch two was well outside, perfectly placed to give Hanigan the best chance to catch McCutchen stealing third on the next pitch. Now, with Bailey back to the windup, it’s more of the same – another outside fastball (3) that Jones fouls off, and then high heat (4) which Jones hits in the air, but is caught by Jay Bruce. That was maybe the hardest hit ball in the game, and it’s a good thing that Hanny got the caught stealing there, otherwise, the Pirates maybe tie the game. (Not sure that Hanigan would’ve called for the high inside fastball, if Cutch is on third). Still no hits -but it complicates the game situation, and of course, could even lead to extra innings.
Batter #23 – Travis Snider
In the eighth, Bailey sees his first new batter in the game – when the Pirates bring in the lefty Travis Snider for Jose Tabata. Snider swings at the first pitch – a two-seam fastball that’s moving fast towards the outside of the plate. It was a decent swing, but I think the movement on the ball gave it enough to catch the wrong part of the bat, and Todd Frazier got under it with a little bit of effort.
Batter #24 – Pedro Alvarez
24th verse, same as the first…23. High and outside fastballs for Alvarez. Pedro swings and misses on the first fastball (1), fouls off the outside two-seamer for the second (3). The third fastball comes in a little too high to convince even Alvarez to swing on 0-3. Finally, Bailey unleashes the slider (4). Alvarez does really come around on it – hitting a line-drive opposite field. But fortunately for Homer, and unfortunately for Alvarez, Scott Rolen is right there, due to the shift. Of course, under normal defensive positioning, Zack Cozart probably would’ve caught the ball anyway.
Batter #25 – Jeff Clement
Jeff Clement is the second pinch hitter the Bucs brought in to try to get something going. Clement is a lefty, but also perhaps not a particularly good hitter. He swings through the first outside fastball (1) . Bailey then tosses a curveball (2) in the dirt for a ball, but Clement swings through a high inside fastball (3) right after that. Bailey then throws another breaking ball way out of the zone (4). But then Homer reaches back and throws his fastest pitch of the night (5), and Clement swings under it.
Batter # 26 – Brock Holt
This was the point in the evening where I officially started having breathing issues. The Pirates, for their part, brought in their third lefty bench bat. Holt is a 24-year old who hit pretty well in AA and AAA this year. He seems to have reasonable plate discipline and doubles-power, though not a speed or a home-run threat. At this point, the fastball appears to be the only option. In any case it worked, Bailey works a classic climb-the-ladder on the kid, and gets him to strike out on a foul tip (4) on a really high fastball.
Batter # 27 – Michael McKenry
At this point, the Pirates are all out of lefty pinch hitters, so they bring in a righty. McKenry has been an ok hitter for the Pirates this year, and he has some legit power potential, so he was as good a bet as any other. Bailey’s maybe still kind of freaking out here, and throwing all high fastballs all the time. It’s like he’s trying to throw to Kit Keller. The first pitch is fouled off, and the second whiffed at. Bailey tries to climb the ladder again, but McKenry takes (3). Homer comes back closer to the strike zone, and McKenry fouls it off again(4). It’s at this point where Homer really kind of loses concentration and nearly brains the poor guy with a fastball (5). The off-speed away pitch is maybe just to cool off a little (6). It seems to work, as the next two fastballs are in the zone. The location isn’t perfect, McKenry fouls off pitch 7. The final pitch he swings at, just underneath, making for a easy shallow fly, even though the fielding looked super iffy.
Batter # 28 – Alex Presley
Alex Presley was the only hitter with the dubious honor of facing Bailey four times in the game. The first pitch (1) was high and outside, but Bailey comes inside with the next fastball (2), trying to jam Presley like in 6th inning, presumably, and Presley fouls it out. Bailey goes back out high and outside (3) – another ball, and then succeeds in jamming up Presley with the inside fastball on the fourth pitch – he pops him up. It was a little deep for Brandon Phillips - probably 15 feet or so into the grass, but it wasn’t really a problem.
And the rest was history.
You know, for the longest time, I waited for Homer Bailey’s curveball to turn into this undefeatable power pitch, that generated 200 swinging strikes a year. Apparently, it’s better to set up alternating high and outside fastballs.