Bailey Basically Bound to Breakout


As Steve and Alex have both eluded to, Homer Bailey is giving Reds fans a lot to be excited about lately. I’d like to take their optimism a step further, by asserting that Bailey is on the verge of becoming the Reds’ ace of the staff.

Homer Bailey turned 25 years old this month, yet it feels as though Reds’ fans have been watching the youngster pitch for a decade. Few Reds players in recent memory have debuted with as much as hype surrounding them as Homer Bailey. In 2007, the 21 year old fireballer from Texas made his first major league start for a Reds’ team that had little else to be excited about. After posting a 4-2 record his rookie season, he followed with a disappointing 0-6 season in 2008. His ERA in his sophomore season was nearly 8. The “bust” label was quickly applied, and fans were beginning to believe his nickname was given for good reason.

In the time since the 2008 season, Bailey has put up respectable, yet not overwhelming, statistics in 2 seasons, while missing significant time to injury. Fairly or not, fans have begun to wonder if this once-hyped savior will ever materialize into a solid starting pitcher.  Since the start of 2009, Bailey has a record of 13-8 in 40 starts. His ERA has hovered around the 4.50 mark during that span. Reds message boards and twitter are full of fans proclaiming that Bailey will never be more than a league average starting pitcher.

However, there are plenty of reasons to think that Bailey is on the verge of becoming that ace that so many expected him to be. Surely, there are many variables involved that could derail this progression (injury, bad luck, loss of confidence), but one thing is certain – it is way too early to give up on Homer. Here’s why…

As mentioned above, Homer Bailey just turned 25 years old. Most scouts agree that a pitcher doesn’t reach his prime until his late 20s. As a point of reference, compare the two pitchers listed below (through the age of 24).

–          Pitcher A:  18-17 record, 336.1 IP, 5.50 ERA

–          Homer Bailey:  13-8 record, 310 IP, 5.02 ERA

These are pretty similar numbers for the two pitchers. Well, “Pitcher A” is Roy Halladay.  I’m guessing that Toronto fans would’ve been mighty upset had management given up on Halladay at the age of 25. In his age-25-season, Roy Halladay went on to win 19 games, en route to an All Star selection.  The following season, Halladay won the AL Cy Young at the age of 26. The point here is that many of the best pitchers in baseball struggle through their early 20s, especially when they are forced into the big leagues at a young age. Bailey’s early struggles do not prohibit him from becoming an ace (just ask “Doc” Halladay).

At first glance, it doesn’t look like Bailey has improved much since debuting at the age of 21. But a deeper look into the numbers suggests that he is taking giant strides towards becoming a very good pitcher.  While his ERA improved only marginally from 2009 to 2010, his peripherals indicate improvement. In 2010, Bailey significantly improved his strikeout rate, walk rate, hits allowed and home runs allowed. In 2009 his ERA was 4.53, and the number only improved to 4.46 last year. But take a closer look.

Year       BB/9      SO/9      HR/9      H/9        SO/BB
2008       4.2          4.5          2.0          14.6        1.06
2009       4.1          6.8          1.0          9.1          1.65
2010       3.3          8.3          0.9          9.0          2.50

In short, the progress Bailey has made from 2008 to 2010 is remarkable. He is striking out nearly twice as many batters, allowing half as many HRs, and giving up fewer walks/hits.

Bailey is still only 25 years old, and while many of us would have liked to have seen better results to this point, it is far too early to give up on the young Texan. He has reached the age where many pitchers begin to figure it out, and he has shown significant improvement in many areas.  He’s had only 2 starts this year but Bailey is off to a nice start for the 2011 season: 13 innings, 1 ER, 12 Ks, and 1 BB.  A breakout may be on the horizon.