Homer Bailey: Make or break in 2015


One of the biggest keys to the Cincinnati Reds continuing their excellence from the rotation in 2015 will be Homer Bailey and the leap forward that he can make. With both Mat Latos and Alfredo Simon cast off for higher pastures, the onus falls on the three stalwarts of the Reds’ rotation. The duo of Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake has proven to be as steady as the sun rising, while Bailey has been a wild tsunami.

Coming into 2014, Bailey had improved his overall numbers every single year since 2008. He already boasts two no-hitters, is a former first-round draft pick, and has a 10-strikeout playoff performance on his résumé.

Much like teammate Jay Bruce, things went south for Bailey this past year. (Maybe not as drastically, but the two were both expecting career years after consistent increases in production.) He’d toss just 145 innings, ending his season just two starts into August. It would take him all the way until his first start of June to consistently get his ERA under the five mark.

He would only make four starts post-All-Star break, tallying a quality start in all of them. His ERA finished at 3.71, which was a slight uptick from 2013 (3.49), but the numbers tell more of a story.

The issue with Homer Bailey has never been that he has been an unworthy major league pitcher; the issue is that it seems unlikely he’ll ever be able to live up to the dollar figure that he signed on for—which, is in no way his fault. You would have done the same. But, with the ever-shifting payroll numbers in baseball, you can never predict for sure whether or not the deal will payoff. (Bailey will make $21, $23, and potentially $25 million each of the last three seasons of his deal, respectively.)

To help us crack the curious case of Homer, we turn to advanced metrics. The Adjusted Pitching Runs formula is an obscure way to go about measuring a pitcher’s contributions to a team’s total run total. While I have managed college calculus, I’ll leave these types of equations to the experts. What this stat says is that prior to 2012, Bailey never had a positive year. Then, come 2012, he posted a 7.8 PtchR; the following year, an 8.8. To put that in context, an average year comes up at zero. Finally, his PtchR from last season clocked in just above that number, finishing at 0.8 for the entire year.

Certainly, it’s highly unlikely the Reds front office even knew this stat existed at the time of handing Bailey a major contract extension. But what it does show is that they may have been justified in doing so. It wasn’t as if Bailey was average and then showed a slight uptick–and Reds fans can attest to this–the difference between Bailey pre-2012 and post-2012 are a night and day difference.

Two central themes hurt Bailey in 2014: walks and line drives. His 7.5 percent walk percentage was still below the 8.3 percent major league average, but it was his highest number since 2010. While he has a 7.6 walk percentage for his career, that’s mainly skewed by his hectic early days. His 27 percent line drive figure is the highest that total has been since 2008. There’s no reassurance about league averages here—the average major league pitcher sits at 20 percent; Bailey himself has a career average of 23 percent. I’m not sure there’s a way for a pitcher to focus on not allowing hitters to connect for line drives, but I am sure of the fact that a 97 MPH fastball around the letters and a 90 MPH splitter at the ankles are both tough to make solid contact on.

What Bailey can control is strikes. His strike percentage in 2014 (64.7%) was the lowest it had been since 2009. To be more specific, his first pitch strike percentage needs to return to form. While that number sits at 61.7 percent, and is above the 59.2 percent league average, the Reds don’t pay Bailey to be average.

Need some re-assuring numbers for a pitcher whose career ERA still sits above four? Well, his swinging strike percentage increased in 2014 to a career-high of 18.2 percent (which is nearly three points higher than the league average of 15.3). That can mainly be attributed to his uptick in velocity on his fastball and splitter, as well as the vicious downward plummeting of the latter pitch. His quality start percentage in ’14 was right up there with his stellar seasons of ’12 and ’13.

Aside from all the tricky statistics we could list, the most important aspect for Bailey heading into 2015 is health. If he can stay healthy, his numbers suggest a return to where he was just two years ago—brimming on the border of stardom.