Experiencing Heath Bell | The Process Report

Experiencing Heath Bell

Don’t call it a comeback. At least not yet. The Rays acquired reliever Heath Bell on Tuesday in hopes the former All-Star can regain his old form in Tampa Bay. It is a scenario that has become common around these parts. Meanwhile, because it worked for Kyle Farnsworth, Joaquin Benoit, Fernando Rodney, etc. does not mean it will work for Bell on merit alone.

The easy thing to do is look at Bell’s peripheral statistics and claim he was “unlucky” in 2013. His home run-to-flyball rate was extremely high and he allowed more hits on balls in play than the average hurler. There may be some natural correction to come, but Bell’s season was not all black cats and broken mirrors.

In speaking to some familiar with Arizona baseball, Bell is sometimes described as a “meathead.” Whether that is true or not does not concern me. What does cause unease is the “meatballs” he served up. A right-handed pitcher, Bell allowed nine of his 12 home runs to right-handed batters. All nine came off elevated fastballs with five of them coming at Chase Field. Looking at park factors on statcorner.com, Chase Field enhanced right-handers home run power while Tropicana Field suppressed it. Once again, this may help Bell organically; however, he can help with some adjustments of his own.


In September, Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson spoke about some mechanical issues plaguing Bell. “He tends to fly open a little bit, and he doesn’t hide the ball as well,” Gibson said. “He’s unable to locate the ball with as much deception, which makes him much more hittable.”

Here is an amateur breakdown of these flaws. Bell appears to be in a hurry. Starting with the ball at his waist, he has a short leg lift, short stride and a short arm action. The arm action helps shield the ball from left-handed batters but gives right-handers a good view all the way through the delivery. In watching video, there are a few instances in which Bell’s arm lags behind his front side. This can cause the arm to pull or drag which impacts balance and command. Because of this, it is no surprise that when he is off he leaves the ball elevated. A number of the home runs hit off Bell came on pitches that missed the intended target by a wide margin.

Another point of interest is the glove hand. Pitchers with good balance typically tuck the glove into their chest. They do his by keeping their glove firmly in front of them, allowing the body to meet the leather. Bell’s glove has a tendency to fall near his left hip.


Bell may also benefit from a tactical change. Not uncommon of most pitchers — especially a two-pitch reliever– he relies heavily on his fastball when behind or even in the count. A well located fastball in the mid-90s is a good pitch even if the batter knows its coming. On the other hand, if the batter knows it is coming, and the pitcher has the mechanical issues mentioned above, that is a bad combination. Aside from physical adjustments, Bell may embrace a philosophical shift as he becomes acclimated to the Rays’ culture that encourages unconventional pitch selection in fastball counts.

Ultimately, the Rays targeted Bell because they believe he is a better player than his trade value suggests. He has unteachable attributes in the form of a firm fastball and a swing-and-miss curveball. Because of some extreme negative numbers, Bell may be a better pitcher in 2014 than he was last year by sheer happenstance. Additionally, he has the benefit of a friendlier ballpark, an elite defensive unit and a clubhouse environment that promotes eccentricity. With that said, if Bell does not want to leave his future up to random chance and park factors, there appears to be tangible alterations that can help the process along.

Data and images courtesy of ESPN Stats & Info. For analysis from Arizona’s point of view visit Inside The ‘Zona.


  1. Jeremy wrote:

    I have complete faith that Jim Hickey and Joe Maddon will have him in 2010 form. If you go back the past few years with these reclamation projects in the bullpen, 99% of the time, the Rays end up looking like geniuses. Grant Balfour, Joaquin Benoit, Kyle Farnsworth, Rafael Soriano, Fernando Rodney, J.P. Howell, Jamey Wright, Troy Percival. I’m projecting Bell to be the closer opening day, and possibly an all star first half of season, I don’t know if he will hold up health wise. But if he does, these are my projections. 41 for 48(saves), 3.45(era), 65:18(bb:k) AL all star

  2. […] Tommy wrote about Heath Bell, he fingered fastball command as the portly righty’s biggest weakness. Fastball control, […]

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