Through all of the unpredictability that has surrounded the Phillies over the past year, there may not be another player on the roster shrouded in as much uncertainty as Bailey Falter. Fans got to see Falter in the majors for the first time back in 2021 out of the bullpen, and last year he was the swing man, making his first start of the 2022 season exactly one year ago today.
The perculiar journey of Bailey Falter
As a result of injuries, he appeared 20 times, starting 16 games, during the regular season. The left-hander added one appearance in the postseason in the NLCS against the San Diego Padres, and it did not go well.
Falter has gotten off to a rough start in 2023, but he had a modicum of success in 2022 and has a strong track record in the minor leagues. Let’s look at Bailey Falter as a member of the Phillies, and his journey over the last year.
Falter is easy to pick out when he’s on the mound, even if you don’t see his name or know his uniform number. The 6-foot-4-inch lanky frame, coupled with flowing blonde locks and a very long stride are unmistakable. The stride was inspired by Dodger great Sandy Koufax, who Falter idolized growing up, through the influence of his father.
Adding some context to Bailey Falter’s game
There are 1,229 players who have toed the rubber since 2021, the year Bailey Falter made his first major league appearance. There are only two who have a longer extension than Falter. As a result, his fastball that usually sits at 91 MPH, looks more like 95 MPH to opposing hitters. This adds something to his pitches that natural “stuff” doesn’t provide. The Phillies ultimately hope he can get his fastball to be 93-94 to add even more deception.
First, some background. Due to his lack of speed on the radar gun, Falter was never a highly touted prospect, despite rising through the minor league ranks each season after being drafted in 2015. In 2021, after not playing at all due to the cancelled minor league season in 2020, Falter was mostly in a piggy-back situation in bullpen games or coming in behind former Phillie Spencer Howard.
The lanky lefty started in the bullpen in 2022 as well, with some struggles to boot. In 4 relief appearances (all in April), he threw 7.1 innings to the tune of a 4.91 ERA and 1.364 WHIP. On May 11, his season took a different turn – one that would see his appearances come closer to every fifth day. Falter would become a semi-regular in the rotation, making 16 starts from May through October.
One would think getting to the rotation would be looked at as a victory, but because he was the 6th man in the rotation, he quickly found himself bouncing up and down between the majors and minors, shuttling back and forth 7 times. Being sent down so much, especially as his numbers started to improve in his new role, wasn’t easy and his teammates knew it.
“Coming up for a start in a doubleheader, I would assume it’s pretty hard to make the start probably knowing that you’re going back down.”Aaron Nola (via Matt Gelb, The Athletic)
Climbing the mountain
Bailey Falter did what needed to be done though. It wasn’t always pretty. In fact, Falter didn’t earn his first victory in 2022 until August. His ERA peaked at 5.18 after a home loss to the Chicago Cubs on July 24. After that, the extra man ripped off 4 straight starts with 6+ innings pitched and dropped his ERA down to 4.08 on the season.
Despite this success, he still found himself back in Lehigh Valley late in August wondering how many times he had made the trek from AAA to MLB. Through all of this uncertainty, Falter understood he had to adapt to survive:
“The first two or three times, it’s kind of frustrating. And then I just told myself, ‘Dude, you’re doing literally everything you possibly can, just don’t get frustrated. It’s not in your control. Just control the only thing you can, which is coming up and giving the team a chance to win.’ So that’s how I’ve been living this year.”Bailey Falter (via MLB.com)
A monent to shine for Bailey Falter?
After Zack Wheeler and Zach Eflin began dealing with injuries, Bailey Falter was mostly kept on the major league roster to close the season. Despite what fans said they saw when watching him toe the rubber, Bailey Falter finished with a 3.76 ERA and 1.200 WHIP with an opponents’ BA of .261 as a starter in 2022. His reliance on and ability to locate his fastball as the season progressed, making it his primary pitch, was all the difference.
Then came the postseason – a magical time for the organization and fans alike, but it was less than magical for Bailey Falter. As the man at the end of the rotation, opportunities to contribute would be limited. He was called upon once: Game 4 of the NLCS against the San Diego Padres.
His appearance lasted less than 15 minutes and he threw just 24 pitches. The Padres jumped all over him, scoring 4 runs on 3 hits, 1 walk, and a HR and he didn’t make it out of the first inning. The Phillies would go on to win the game, but Falter’s performance weighed heavy on him all offseason:
I didn’t think about anything from the regular season. The only thing that’s in my head about last year is that start. Everything else during the season, like, I couldn’t care less about. I had a bad taste in my mouth. I want to get back out there are prove myself again.”Bailey Falter (via Matt Gelb, The Athletic)
A change of heart in 2023
Feeling like he had a lot to prove, Bailey Falter started 2023 by struggling in spring training and into April. He isn’t the only Phillies pitcher off to a slow start. With new rules impacting the amount of time everyone has to think things through in between pitches, offense has been up across the board. The lanky left-hander isn’t alone in his struggles, as the Phillies rotation currently sits with a bottom-ten ERA as a unit with a losing record. Through 7 starts, Falter is 0-6 with a 5.75 ERA, 1.389 WHIP, allowing 6 HRs over that time.
Matt Strahm did a great job filling a spot in the rotation while Ranger Suarez was recovering, but the Phillies feel he is best suited as a multi-inning reliever and originally signed him as such. That means that even as the Phillies begin to get healthy, Falter will remain in the rotation despite his struggles, for now.
How much upside does Bailey Falter have?
Falter loves the fastball, throwing the 4-seam fastball more than 50% of the time so far this season. Through his first 6 starts, he had a swing-and-miss rate of just 14% when he has hitters in a two-strike count. This points to the lack of a “put-away” pitch, something most starters have at the major league level. He especially struggles to put away righties with the fastball and has faced a ton of hitters from that side of the plate. However, he has also struggled against lefties to the tune of a .393/.414/.607 slash line. That’s a 1.021 OPS against him in the preferred lefty matchup.
Although there have been injuries and struggles elsewhere in the rotation, it may be time to look at alternatives to Bailey Falter until he can develop a true put-away pitch to help him put hitters away. The current plan is to skip Falter’s next start as the other pitchers can throw on normal rest due to off days. There are similar options to Falter and Strahm internally, with Nick Nelson working his way back from the injured list, Christopher Sanchez available, and No. 2 prospect, Mick Abel, potentially an option as the season progresses.
The Phillies have shown a propensity to help focus some players (see: Jose Alvarado) and add to pitchers repertoires (see: Zack Wheeler’s sweeper) as of late. Falter bounced to and from the minors last season to a point of frustration and introspection, but another trip to find a true third pitch to compliment the fastball and curveball may be just what the doctor ordered. Until then, Philadelphia needs all the help it can get in the rotation.