Over the last couple years, the Red Sox have attempted to fine-tune their organizational pitching philosophy by placing more of an emphasis on throwing strikes. From signing veteran strike-throwers Chris Martin and Kenley Jansen to urging pitchers like Brayan Bello and Nick Pivetta to attack the zone more, the club has shown an increasing focus on the importance of command in recent seasons.
It appears new pitching coach Andrew Bailey, whose hiring was made official Tuesday, shares that philosophy.
“Strikes are everything,” Bailey said Tuesday when asked to describe his pitching philosophy. “Stuff in (the) zone plays. Limiting walks. Being aggressive and ahead in counts. Obviously, there’s been a been a big change in stuff and swing-and-miss and (velocity) and all that. There’s a handful of things, but identifying the the KPIs (key performance indicators) that we can hold our ourselves accountable (to) is really a priority. And making sure that each player knows himself best.
“‘What makes you an outlier? What makes you a big leaguer?’ There’s generally one or two specific things that you can point to and making sure there’s an education piece around this as well. And doubling down on strengths and making sure guys know what makes them major leaguers (who) hopefully (have) the ability to play for a long time.”
In Boston, Bailey — who pitched for the Red Sox in 2012 and 2013 — will be tasked with turning around a staff that has significantly underperformed in recent seasons under his ousted predecessor Dave Bush. In 2023, Boston ranked 21st in team ERA (4.52), 24th in opponent average (.256) and 24th in homers allowed (208). Those numbers come in stark contrast to the performance of the Giants’ staff during Bailey’s four years as pitching coach from 2020 to 2023. During that time, Giants pitchers ranked sixth in baseball with a 3.80 ERA while allowing the fewest home runs (525) and posting the third-highest strikeout-to-walk ratio (3.16). In 2023, San Francisco issued the fewest walks in the majors (403).
With the Giants, Bailey was integral to the emergence of star pitchers like Logan Webb, Carlos Rodón and Kevin Gausman. Rodón and Gausman both turned their careers around in San Francisco before securing massive free agent deals with American League East teams.
Bailey hopes to have similar success with some pitchers in Boston.
“Players are never finished products, whether you’re a top-end starter or you’re up and down and on the option train,” Bailey said. “If we ever are a little bit complacent in that, negativity can creep in, and poor performance. For me, it’s always pushing an envelope, obviously identifying what makes guys quality big-leaguers and big-leaguers for a long time and helping them understand themselves.
“If you take a look at some of the pitchers that I was fortunate enough to work with in San Francisco and how they were able to adapt later in their careers, they were totally open-minded and some of them did it on their own. We had a really good group. I am not the best pitching coach in the world. I’ll tell you that right now. I think it’s a product of a lot of smart people around us working inter-departmentally.”
Bailey’s first official day with the Red Sox was Tuesday, so he hasn’t had much of a chance to get himself acclimated to the pitchers he’ll get to work with (or fully dive in to potential free agent pursuits). He did praise Brayan Bello as a potential front-line starter while noting he worked with reliever Mauricio Llovera in San Francisco and that he has enjoyed watching Chris Sale, Garrett Whitlock and Kenley Jansen from afar. The first step has been calling some pitchers, including Sale, to make an introduction.
“I think there’s a litany of arms that are special in Boston, and I’m hoping to help them perform at their best as often as possible,” Bailey said. “I think we have a lot of talent. We have a lot of things to to look at.”
In Boston, the 39-year-old Bailey will work with two bosses — chief baseball officer (and Bailey’s close friend) Craig Breslow and manager Alex Cora — who also played for the Red Sox more than a decade ago. Like he did in San Francisco, Bailey is hoping to work collaboratively with everyone around him.
“I view ourselves as coaches as consultants for the player,” Bailey said. “We’re not to hide the ball, hide any information. We give them the facts. We want them to know how the industry values them. We want to maximize their earning potential.
“If we are able to maximize performance and earning potential, we in turn are creating value for the organization and winning ballgames. Each and every player needs to be coached just a little differently. And that’s why I feel strongly that for me, I don’t need to be the vessel all the time that is managing or coaching or delivering the information… We all have unique relationships with every player.”