The Angels’ Kings of Spin

The Angels have an interesting situation at the back end of their bullpen. It’s not unique in that it’s a timeshare — in their own division, the Athletics are adamant that Sean Doolittle and Santiago Casilla are both closers, depending on the handedness of the opposing ninth-inning lineup — but it’s still a little different. Andrew Bailey and Cam Bedrosian, the two heads of that monster, have two unique pitches that power their success.

Bailey is the king of spin if you have to pick one. He laughed when he heard the term, and asked when we started tracking that stat. I told him it’s been public for two years. “Yup, that’s about when I first heard about it,” he confirmed. That spin gives him deception, probably, and also the ride and late finish that has helped him record nearly twice as many as whiffs as average on the four-seamer.

As for why he has the most four-seam spin in the game, Bailey shrugs. “I hook my thumb underneath,” he said of his grip, which reminds one of Max Scherzer’s own tucked-under thumb. Scherzer is 14th in spin. Then again, Bailey admitted that he’d heard of pitchers — like Sam Dyson — who tuck that thumb under for sink.

Bailey also enjoys a somewhat controversial drill. “I’ve always liked the long toss,” he admitted. “Even as a kid, I just loved to long toss. We used to ride our bikes to the field and long toss back before video games. I just want to see it carry. I want to throw it as easy as possible, see how far it goes, and try to spin the ball a little.”

Between the tucking of the thumb and the long toss, we could maybe find a lot of blame for Bailey’s injuries — particularly for the thumb injury that cost him so much of last season. “My injuries have been freak, though,” Bailey felt. I doubt anyone really knows enough to tell him he’s wrong, definitively.

Bedrosian also has a high-spin fastball. In fact, the two have a higher average spin rate than any other tandem in baseball, making them combined kings of spin, perhaps.

Top Spin Rate Duos in Baseball
Tandem Team 4-Seam Spin
Andrew Bailey & Cam Bedrosian Angels 2573
Chasen Shreve & Dellin Betances Yankees 2565
Justin Verlander & Justin Wilson Tigers 2549
SOURCE: Statcast

That Bedrosian fastball has good vertical movement (two inches extra ride) with good spin (85th percentile) and the pitcher has adapted to that knowledge over time. “A lot of feedback over the years has been that the backspin works for me, so I’ve been trying to run with that,” said Bedrosian before a game with the Athletics. “It gives the batters trouble if you throw those up in the zone and those fastballs ride.”

But Bedrosian’s unique pitch might be his breaking ball. It stands out no matter what you call it. If it’s a curve, it’s the fourth-hardest in the game right now (minimum 15 thrown) after those thrown by Craig Kimbrel (86.5 mph), Lance McCullers (85.3), and Luis Perdomo (84.8) — and ranks just ahead of Noah Syndergaard’s (83.7). You want to call it a slider? In that case, it has more drop than any slider in baseball, a full inch more than second place (Yu Darvish).

“I call it a slider in my head,” said Bedrosian with a wry smile. “It’s always changing and evolving,” he admitted. “There’s times when it’s more slider-ish, times where it’s a slurve. It’s always doing different things from year to year and even within the year. To one side it won’t have as much break. If you throw to the outside against a righty, you get more pull.”

“I used to have a 12-to-6 kind of thing,” he continued. “But after my Tommy John, it kind of went away for a while, so I was playing with a bunch of different grips, and in ’13 or ’14 I found this one. It’s the one that my dad threw.”

Calling it a slider helps him mechanically. “I’m trying to be more downhill,” he said. That helps him get more ride on the fastball, more sink on the slider, and helps the separation. You can see that he’s working on standing tall when you look at his release points, which have slowly crept upwards.

That new release point isn’t about command, really. If command is equal parts athleticism, mechanics, and confidence, he’s focused mostly on the last. “I’ve always had a little trouble when I went from one place to another, trying to get comfortable,” he said. “I didn’t get to stick the first couple of years, up and down, up and down. Last year I got enough reps I finally got comfortable and knew that I could trust my stuff.”

Surprisingly, the blood clot in his armpit didn’t hurt his command last year, at least not as evidenced by walks or homers allowed, as imperfect as those are as measures. It affected his feeling in two fingers on his pitching hand, and got to the point where he was perpetually worried. “I would shower and my hand would turn white because the blood wasn’t getting there,” he said, glad to have that behind him.

These two relievers will have to be good if the Angels are to make good on their preseason projections and remain in the playoff hunt until the end. Thankfully, they’re both blessed with unique pitches. And neither is concerned that sharing the duty will be a burden, or that they’ll be asked to get “hot” — ready to pitch in the game — too often because their roles aren’t established. “Most managers, if they get you up, they’re trying to get you in,” said Bailey. “Whenever the call comes, get ready,” agreed Bedrosian. Ready to spin it, you could say.

With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.

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7 years ago

Definitely misread this as “Kings of Spain”.