Giants’ Andrew Bailey is a new breed of pitching coach

‘We’re educating our guys on different aspects, whether it be seams, vertical break or delivery components’

By Ethan Kassel

Special to The Examiner

The San Francisco Giants are undoubtedly experiencing a new wave of success, one that’s independent of the triple championship teams that brought in droves of support in the early 2010s.

Unlike that prior group, there’s no definitive brand or gimmick that defines this team. The days of panda hats are gone, and just half of the “homegrown infield” remains. Yes, Brandon Belt has inspired a few fans to don Hugh Hefner-style captain hats, and “Late Night” LaMonte Wade Jr. has caught on as something of a cult hero for diehard fans, but the current unit isn’t as marketable as the group of a decade ago. It’s no wonder many of the jerseys donned at the ballpark are of players that no longer play with the team.

What the Giants may lack in marketability, though, they more than make up for in talent and brains. Since Farhan Zaidi took over as president of baseball operations in November of 2018, San Francisco has routinely exceeded expectations, fielding surprisingly competitive units in 2019 and 2020 before taking the league by storm with a 107-win campaign in 2021. Throughout Zaidi’s tenure, the team has displayed an uncanny ability to turn castoffs into All-Star caliber players, especially when it comes to pitchers. Kevin Gausman came to San Francisco after playing for three teams in two years and left after building up his resume to the point of earning a $110 million contract with the Toronto Blue Jays. Relievers like Jose Alvarez, John Brebbia and Zack Littell were passed between teams and on track for a lifetime of spring training invites before finding a home with the Giants and keeping games close to set the stage for late comebacks.

“As a staff, we work in coordination with the front office and value the same aspects from a pitching standpoint,” pitching coach Andrew Bailey said. “I don’t care where the information comes from, whether it’s from an analyst, a trainer, a manager, a hitting coach, an assistant pitching coach, it doesn’t really matter. We all work together, we all understand the same thing, and we have one common goal.”

Even with injuries and a wave of positive COVID-19 tests rippling through the roster during the first month of the 2022 season, the brain trust has once again displayed the ability to find talent where other teams can’t. Outfielder Luis Gonzalez, grabbed off release waivers from the Chicago White Sox, hit a game-winning home run on April 25 in Milwaukee, and pitcher Jakob Junis, who never found traction with the Kansas City Royals, has been a revelation in a swingman role.

Junis, who never posted an ERA lower than 4.30 in Kansas City, has completely retooled his arsenal, throwing his slider more than half the time and upping his changeup usage to 20% after seldom using the pitch with the Royals.

“We’re really leveraging his strengths at all costs,” said Bailey. “He’s getting back to what he does really well as a mover and a pitcher, getting the seams to orient appropriately through space.”

Working with Junis has been about much more than finding his best pitch and telling him to throw it more. It coincided with a deep dive into the aerodynamics of his slider and changeup, which has culminated in the 29-year-old getting swings and misses at a 50% higher rate in April than he did in any other stage of his career.

“Having a solid education around the way the ball moves is paramount to a pitcher’s understanding of what makes him go,” Bailey said. “We’re educating our guys on the different aspects of pitching, whether it be seams, vertical break or delivery components.”

As much as Bailey’s done to help Junis and the rest of the pitching staff, he’s not alone. The 37-year-old, who earned the 2009 American League Rookie of the Year Award as the Oakland Athletics’ closer, quickly rattled off a list of other staffers when asked about the Giants’ secret to success.

“Myself, Brian Bannister and J.P. Martinez, we don’t have any egos and we’re able to work together,” he said. “Our coordinators like Justin Lehr, Matt Daniels, Clay Rapada and those guys down the minor league system really value and look at a guy’s arsenal and see trends in his shapes and usages, and our analytics department does a lot of that work as well.”

The depth of such a skilled staff is essential. Other teams will undoubtedly come calling with hopes of poaching coaches from the Giants, offering them higher-ranking positions or better pay as they search to bridge the intellectual gap that Zaidi’s staff has established against the rest of the league. Fans have no need to fear, though. Considering that the organization has staffers musing on aerodynamics, they have more than enough bright minds to ensure that the current status as a cutting-edge organization is much more than a brief flash in the pan.

Ethan Kassel is a freelance contributor to The Examiner.

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