Homer Bailey has had a rather shaky standing with Reds fans throughout his now 6 year major league career. Once a prize prospect coming out of high school in La Grange, TX, Bailey began to get some grief from Reds fans (myself included) when the transition from top prospect to major leaguer let to very pedestrian results. From 2009-2011, Homer never posted an ERA over 4.43 or had double digit wins. This prompted much overture from armchair GMs to trade Bailey while he still had some sort of value. Then came the 2012 season.
In 2012 Homer Bailey became the Homer we had expected to blossom 2-3 years ago. Going 13-10 with a 3.63 ERA, Homer started an NL-high 33 games, 2 complete games, and 208 innings. Oh yea, he also happened to throw the first Reds no-hitter since Tom Browning in ’88 right around my 11th month of existence on Earth. While the record and ERA don’t jump off the screen, Homer Bailey has definitely won himself quite a bit of leash with Reds fans and is most definitely part of the bedrock of the Reds rotation going forward. So how did he do what he did in 2012?
Homer’s peripheral statistics between 2011 and 2012 are weirdly similar. K/9, BB/9, BABIP, WHIP, and most other statistics between the two seasons are no more than 0.1 different. No significant statistical difference seen that couldn’t be explained purely through randomness. How Homer Bailey did what he did in progressing as a player in 2012 can be best described with an overused cliche: “He learned how to be a pitcher rather than a thrower.”
Homer averaged nearly 5 more pitches per start in 2012 (100.5) as in 2011 (95.2). In addition to throwing more pitches per start, he was able to illicit a different response from hitters as well. The only main statistical difference in Homer’s numbers 2011 to 2012 is his ground ball %. In 2012, Homer was able to coax more ground balls from hitters (39.5% GB% in 2011 vs. 44.9% in 2012) and lower the amount of fly balls and line drives. His GB/FB ratio raised from 1.03 in 2011 to 1.27 in 2012. While HR/9 stayed consistent year-to-year (and he allowed a not insignificant 26 HR in 2012 tied for 5th most allowed in the NL), allowing less line drives and fly balls and more ground balls will help your play regardless of the dingers.
Just watching Homer start-to-start from a fan standpoint, a difference could be seen. He possessed more of a look of confidence in throwing his fastball to hitters. He was able to be confident enough to place it in the strike zone as opposed to nibbling more with the curve or slider burning pitches. Homer just seemed to possess a more cerebral approach to pitching in 2012. Less throwing and more pitching.
It remains to be seen if Homer can maintain this level of production and continue to grow from it. Sustaining a sub-4 ERA and throwing 200+ innings a year will keep Homer in a Reds uniform for a long time at no worse than the #3 starter. If 2013 sees Homer take another leap building upon 2012, the Reds may be close to laying claim to best rotation in the National League.