Homer Bailey, the 27-year-old right handed pitcher from La Grange recently signed a one-year, $5.35 million contract to pitch the second of his three arbitration-eligible seasons for the Reds. John Fay’s fabulous article on Homer today reminds us of Homer’s dominant September and October in 2012.
Nominally, Homer Bailey was the Reds’ fourth starter last year. But down the stretch and into the playoffs, Bailey did a mean imitation of an ace. Over eight starts, he went 442/3 innings and allowed 10 runs (2.01 ERA) on 28 hits. He struck out 58 and walked 10. He pitched a no-hitter along the way.
The no-hitter! Of course, that glorious, 115-pitch performance against the Pirates on a football-weather Friday night last September. The Reds won that game 1-0.
But Homer’s definitive start of 2012 came in Game Three of the NLDS against the eventual World Series champion San Francisco Giants. Over seven heart-pounding and raucous innings, Homer struck out ten (including six Giants in a row) and walked one. He gave up a solitary, harmless two-out single in the sixth inning to Marco Scutaro.
If he’d received an iota of support from the offense, Homer Bailey would be rightly remembered for having put the Reds squarely on his newly durable shoulders and pitching them into the NLCS.
[Here is an account of that fateful game and Homer’s performance from Yahoo’s Nicholas Cotsonika. But I’ll warn you, it will stir memories and emotions that are probably best left forgotten.
Homer Bailey located his fastball, stayed ahead in the count. “He was hiding it well, and he was sinking it, cutting it and forcing it,” said Giants catcher Buster Posey, who led the NL in hitting during the regular season but went 0-for-3 off Bailey with two strikeouts.
How good was Bailey?
“I think I had better stuff tonight than I did when I threw a no-hitter,” Bailey said.
“We couldn’t do anything against Homer Bailey,” said Giants manager Bruce Bochy.
Sigh. Then much deeper sigh. Back to present day.]
Fay interviewed Reds’ pitching coach Bryan Price, who offered this explanation for Bailey’s strong 2012 season:
“The one thing Homer was able to do better than the other years I’ve had him is on the days when he didn’t have his best stuff, he was equally efficient. There’s days when Homer pitches at 88 to 92. There are other days where he pitches at 92 to 97. What happened to him was he was able to understand the importance of working ahead and commanding his pitches. I think he did that as well as anyone on our staff. You look at his walks per inning, you look at first-pitch strike percentages. Those are the types of things that were going to suggest he was going to have a good year.”
Was 2012 the season that catapulted the 6’4″ Texan from an over-hyped bust to a solid #2-type starter? Not really.
Take a close look under the hood. Both his basic (K/9, BB/9) and advanced (FIP, xFIP, SIERA) peripheral metrics demonstrate that Homer’s 2012 was not much different from his 2011 or 2010 seasons. Last year was neither a fluke nor breakthrough.
But are you yearning for an even-better Homer? Look no further than his first half/second half splits from 2012. His K/9 jumped from 6.56 to 7.99 and his BB/9 dropped from 2.42 to 2.08. The K/BB he produced over the last three months extrapolated to the entire season would rank him 13th among all qualified starters in MLB, ahead of Matt Cain, Zack Greinke, Clayton Kershaw, David Price and the rest of the Reds’ starting rotation.
About those newly rugged shoulders. In 2012, Homer pitched more than 200 innings (208) without missing a single start. His physical durability may in part be attributable to an offseason workout regimen where he focused on shoulder strength and added a few pounds. Homer believed in it enough to repeat it this winter.
Bailey followed the same routine this offseason as last. He’s added about 10 pounds of muscle to his 6-foot-4 frame each year. He weighs 230 now, roughly 25 pounds more than he did when he debuted in the majors as a 21-year-old. “Just like last year, I put a lot of emphasis on shoulder health,” Bailey said.
But every spring we hear countless stories about players whose offseason weight gain (or loss) will be crucial in their upcoming season. Trite, trite, trite. But it’s another part of Homer’s offseason that caught my eye. Homer Bailey hunted and killed an African lion without a gun. Seriously. Actually in Africa, not on a video game. Per Fay:
When Bailey gets away from baseball, he really gets away. This year’s adventure took him to Africa, where he downed a lion with a bow and arrow. “Just a little stick and string,” he said.
Just a little stick and string. Right.
Look, I revere the Super Todd Frazier life-saving Heimlich maneuver story as much as anyone. But keep in mind, at no point in the process was the Reds’ third baseman in danger himself. Reds fans (especially those who have erroneously questioned Homer’s mental make-up) ought to contemplate the discipline and fortitude this particular hunting expedition demonstrates. It may say more about Homer’s prospect for success than the 10 new pounds he’s put on.
On a somewhat less terrifying note, May 3 was another eventful day in Homer’s 2012 season. That’s when he was victimized by the worst called ball out of all 700,000 pitches thrown by major league pitchers last season — a 0-1 fastball, right down Brantley’s Broadway, to Ryan Dempster, who was then pitching for the stupid Cubs. By coincidence, this occurred on the birthday of both Bailey and Dempster.
Since his selection in the first round of the 2004 draft, Homer Bailey has fired the imagination of Reds fans and been the source of endless frustration. Heading into 2012, we had basically come to terms with this, resigned to the conclusion that he wasn’t going to be a #1 starter. Rather, he seemed destined to be a mostly-reliable #4 rotation slot guy. And that was OK. Not thrilling. But OK.
But just as we were settling in to that comfortable reality, Homer threw the first Reds no-hitter in twenty plus years. Then, in the most important game of his life, he followed up that feat with his post-season brilliance at Great American Ball Park.
Homer the Lion Killer is back, front-and-center as a plausible top-of-the-rotation ace. His roller coaster story is one of the many reasons you can’t take your eyes off the 2013 Cincinnati Reds.
Homer begins figuratively slaying humans on Tuesday, pitching against the San Diego Padres.
Just a little ball and glove.