The Anti-Pap: Likely Red Sox closer Andrew Bailey picks up the pace

by: Alex Speier on Thu, 02/23/2012 - 1:00am

FORT MYERS, Fla. – It took Andrew Bailey one bullpen lasting just 35 pitches to inspire words that were never uttered about his predecessor.

“That,” said Kelly Shoppach, the catcher who was behind the plate for Bailey’s first side session of the spring, “was the fastest 35 pitches I’ve ever caught. He got up on the mound, he got ready to go, he threw it, it was right on the money.”

Jonathan Papelbon’s fearlessness helped to make him an elite closer. He feared no hitter, attacking opponents with his explosive fastball and splitter.

But between pitches, Papelbon had a notoriously deliberate routine that subjected him to frequent scrutiny from Major League Baseball. His procession from the bullpen to the mound and the time between his pitches -- a period during which the Sox closer would stare into the catcher, exhale and come slowly to a set before firing a pitch towards the plate -- all led to letters and fines from Major League Baseball.

As for Bailey? The front-runner to be the next Sox closer (a title that has not yet been conferred officially) needs little time to add up the cumulative money he’s paid in fines for pace-of-game infractions: Zero dollars and zero cents.

“I probably throw two pitches sometimes in the time other guys throw one,” Bailey mused. “That’s what [Daniel] Bard said to me the other day. He’s like, ‘I was on pitch 15 and you were 15.’ That’s just how I go, man. I slow it down in my mind, but physically, I don’t like to slow it down.”

Bailey is constant motion for most of his bullpen session. He throws, catches the ball while backing up towards the rubber, gets back on the bump and, giving no more than a momentary pause to let a catcher know if he’s throwing a breaking ball or a cutter, fires again.

The 27-year-old takes a similar approach to pitching in games. Papelbon tested the durability of opponents’ concentration and patience. Bailey, by contrast, pushes the tempo of an at-bat, pressuring opposing hitters to take their hacks before they have time to get comfortable in the box.

“If I can create an edge by being aggressive, that’s what I’ll try to do,” said Bailey. “I try to get on the rubber before the batter gets in the box. If there’s a little bit of an intimidation factor there, I’ll try to take it. For me, prancing around the mound or wasting time isn’t my idea of being quick or better work in.”

It is an approach that isn’t terribly fun for opposing hitters. The “grip it and rip it” approach, meanwhile, is typically loved by catchers and fielders.

“That’s a great attribute. That’s a great way to force rhythm,” said Shoppach. “I love to see a guy get up there and, ‘Hey, here I come.’ I think that puts a hitter on the defensive when the pitcher’s up there on the mound and ready to go.

“Ultimately, each pitcher is trying to control the at-bat. [Bailey] controls the at-bat that way. He says, ‘Here I come. I’m on the mound and I’m ready.’ As soon as you put your foot down, the ball is coming at you. That’s something that can be an attribute not only for him but for other guys as well.”

Of course, that aggressive pace would mean little without the stuff and results to accompany it. Bailey possesses both.

On the mound, he uses a mid-90s fastball and swing-and-miss cutter (with an occasional curveball) to go after opponents. In his three-year big league career, he’s struck out exactly one batter an inning while walking just 2.5 batters per nine frames. His 2.07 ERA through three seasons is the 18th best in baseball history (min. 150 innings).

That is mostly a reflection of the quality of his pitches and their location. But perhaps, at least in some small way, it is also a product of an approach that separates Bailey from the previous occupant of the ninth inning for the Red Sox.

“Whatever works for that person, he’s going to stick with. Pap was a guy that likes to be a little more deliberate, slow, methodical, thinks through things and then lets it go,” said Bailey. “For me, I don’t like to slow it down. From the time I get up in the ‘pen to the time I throw the last strike in the game, I’m working as fast as I can.

“I like to get in and get out. My job is to get three outs. I try to do it as fast as I can,” added Bailey. “I just kind of try to speed it up a little bit. Same thing in games. Just catch the ball and go. There’s nothing funny about what I do. There’s nothing fancy about what I do. Just grab the ball, throw as hard as I can and try to throw it by guys.”