2011 Reds / Homer Bailey / Trade Deadline

The View from 130: Home(r) is Where the Heart Is

(Ed.: Please welcome Steve Mancuso, a new contributor here at the Nation. Most of you know him from his frequent comments. Today, we’re giving him the floor to discuss what he saw yesterday afternoon.)

Homer Bailey walks off the field to a standing ovation. (AP Photo/Al Behrman)

It was the warmest, longest, most widespread standing ovation for a Reds player that I can remember.  David Dewitt Bailey, Jr. may hail from the Lone Star state, but the applause he received yesterday as he exited the game was a clear sign that he’s becoming an adopted son of Cincinnati.

Embracing Homer hasn’t been easy for the average Reds fan.  The Texas-sized expectations created a high hurdle.  The Reds selected him out of La Grange High School as the seventh overall player in the 2004 draft, having been named by USA Today the National High School Player of the Year.  When do the Cy Young awards start arriving, we all asked?

The false (and bad) starts kept fans at arms’ length.  Yes, Homer won his debut in June 2007, against the Cleveland Indians, and I was one of thousands who flocked to GABP to watch the phenom’s first game.  But everyone now agrees he wasn’t nearly ready.  There were injuries, fastballs that were too straight, more injuries, curveballs that were too loopy.  He was too stubborn to accept coaching.  We read about all that and more.

Even this year, there have been protests that he hasn’t proven anything yet.  He loses his composure, is easily distracted.  Some even have wondered whether his nickname was apt for more than just a tribute to his grandfather.

But if you’ve been paying close attention, you can tell that Homer really has turned a giant corner.  Take away five pitches and he’d be enjoying an unambiguously exceptional year.  The Cy Young trophies may never arrive.  But a pitcher who can win big games now has.

Most of the fans on their feet today probably didn’t know that Homer leads the 2011 Reds starting pitchers, including Johnny Cueto, in K/BB and xFIP.  They didn’t know and didn’t care.  What then explains today’s cheer?

The vibe in the park and the context had a lot to do with the size of the ovation. Today’s game may have represented only one out of 162, although against a bitter rival.  But being the swing game of the series, it was an early second-half indicator if the Reds were moving in the right direction or backwards.  As we filed into the park, or followed on our available media option, we wondered, would Homer rise to the occasion?

He sure did.  Against a determined and powerful Cardinal lineup, 25-year-old Homer Bailey followed Brandon Phillips’ lightning bolt Friday night with an afternoon of thunderous pitching.

And Cincinnati fans showed him the appreciation he’d earned.

It also occurred to me that if Walt Jocketty saw what I witnessed from my seat in Section 130, he’d scratch Homer’s name off of any trade list.

40 thoughts on “The View from 130: Home(r) is Where the Heart Is

  1. I think Homer has slowly been gaining more and more appreciation all year. His faults are evident, but are all things that can be fixed, and his stuff is awesome. Unfortunately, the gaps in his mental game are the type that could also never improve (see: Volquez). The way I see it, he has the confidence, and as he gets older and more mature I think he’ll continue to normalize and be more consistent.

    And.. what better way to make him look great than put Jimenez in front of him? I see the Reds have some pretty rich company interested in him. Could this happen without doing more harm than good?

  2. La Grange High School. I heard they have a lot of nice girls there. A haw, haw, haw, haw, a haw.
    A haw, haw, haw.

    Seriously speaking though, I think the problem many fans have is that their expectations are so unrealistic that unless HB throws a two-hit shutout he cannot measure up to them.

  3. I agree with Jim about expectations….many young players suffer from this..Cueto and Bruce are two others that immediately come to mind and it’s not just the fans, Cueto’s rookie year Marty said he’d never win at the big league level…and he’s constantly on Bruce, no matter what he does. Same thing happened with Bailey, people expected a great pitcher from start #1..you have to be patient with young players, you have to be patient longer with some than you do with others.

    It would talk a heck of a deal to get me to include Homer Bailey, just my .02.

  4. Homer seems primarily better because his control has improved. His trend line there is pretty impressive: BB/9–>5,4,4,3 to 2 this year. However, until he strikes more people out, I don’t think he’ll ever be a “great” pitcher. 6 K/9 just isn’t going to cut it in GABP particularly. Still, he flashes signs that he could be great…and he does them more often than anyone else on the roster, excluding Cueto.

    The semi-frequent comments on here about Bailey’s psyche just remind that first impressions are the most important. I really don’t see his mental toughness issues. Its kind of a double-edged sword. Bailey is an emotional guy…if he’s demonstrative and wins, everybody will love it. If he’s demonstrative and loses, the fans will say hes a nut job. You see the same thing with more laid back guys like EV, Votto, Griffey, Carson Palmer….and probably someday Travis Wood. Whenever one of these guys struggle/struggled, the fans start questioning their passion. EV just has ****y body language all the time, even when he’s pitching well. I think this universal but but fans in Cincy have a particularly bad case-they have this odd impression that only certain types of people can succeed. Not all athletes should/can behave like Pete Rose.

  5. Nice thread, and topic, Steve. I, too, made it a point to watch Bailey’s first MLB outing on TV. The unrealistic, and unfair expectations on this kid when he first came up were unbelievable. He was the first homegrown prospect in what, 20-25 years, for Cincinnati. Brett Tomko and Tom Browning were the answers to that trivia question, right? With all the hype surrounding Bailey and the age at which he reached the majors, there was just no way to live up to that sort of frenzy. Bailey was still just 24 years old when this 2011 season started.

    Leading the team in K/BB is in big part due to cutting down on the walks. He allowed just 2.1 bb/9, which is a lot lower than his previous season’s best 3.3 bb/9, which was just last year. In 2009 it was 4.1 bb/9.

    If he maintains that control and the maturity he has shown this year, Homer is definitely someone I want to see stay with this franchise.

  6. Good first piece, Steve. I’ve always enjoyed reading your insight on the threads. Look forward to reading more of your stuff here on RLN.

  7. The view from 128 was similar yesterday. Bailey came through time and again, only getting touched once by Berkman and completely silencing Pujols and Holiday. I was at his start against Cleveland too, and that was equally impressive except for the mistake pitch to Brantley. He could be a very solid #2-3 pitcher, and it was great to see him get some recognition yesterday.

  8. Sorry but if I could get Houston to take Homer for Pence and maybe we through in another prospect I make that move today. Still not that impressed with Homer.

  9. @CP: Well, I’ve been supporting Bailey all year and been taking quite a bit of blowback. However, I agree, he’s not going to be a #1 until he strikes out more guys, unless he’s about to cut his walk rate to 1 per 9. I had this discussion with Al after Bailey’s last start; Al saw Bailey as a #3-4 pitcher based on numbers and scouting, I can’t speak to the scouting, but the numbers suggest a #2. I don’t see what’s wrong with having a #2 starter. If you draft a pitcher in the high first round and he becomes a #2 starter, that is a *success*, not a failure.

    That said, I think Steve’s article is too optimistic. I love Bailey’s cutting down on the walks, but I still see 2011 as a small step back from 2010. I’d prefer to see Bailey’s peripherals from 2010, even with more walks, to 2011. In that sense I see where Al is coming from.

    It disturbs me greatly that the two best starters currently on the team have such low strikeout rates, especially in a home park like GABP.

    The article above also completely leaves out the arm problems Bailey has had. You cannot scratch a guy off a trade list when he’s had three DL stints due to arm problems in two years. That doesn’t mean “trade him”, but it is a cause for considerable concern, IMO.

    • @Dave Lowenthal:: Well, I’ve been supporting Bailey all year and been taking quite a bit of blowback. However, I agree, he’s not going to be a #1 until he strikes out more guys, unless he’s about to cut his walk rate to 1 per 9. I had this discussion with Al after Bailey’s last start; Al saw Bailey as a #3-4 pitcher based on numbers and scouting, I can’t speak to the scouting, but the numbers suggest a #2. I don’t see what’s wrong with having a #2 starter. If you draft a pitcher in the high first round and he becomes a #2 starter, that is a *success*, not a failure.That said, I think Steve’s article is too optimistic. I love Bailey’s cutting down on the walks, but I still see 2011 as a small step back from 2010. I’d prefer to see Bailey’s peripherals from 2010, even with more walks, to 2011. In that sense I see where Al is coming from.It disturbs me greatly that the two best starters currently on the team have such low strikeout rates, especially in a home park like GABP.The article above also completely leaves out the arm problems Bailey has had. You cannot scratch a guy off a trade list when he’s had three DL stints due to arm problems in two years. That doesn’t mean “trade him”, but it is a cause for considerable concern, IMO.

      I think you obsess to much on strikeouts. The job of the pitcher is to get people out, who cares how they do it.

  10. @Dave Lowenthal: Yeah Homer’s injuries are a big problem. His velocity seems to have dropped somewhat as well. I seem to remember him hitting mid to upper 90s in the beginning of the season. Still, he shows signs of being able to strike people out consistently (and it seems like he gets more swings and misses than anyone else-I don’t feel like supporting that with evidence right now though 8) ).

    Just for fun I had compared him to Halladay’s statistics and from the top of my head the 3 things that stood out were: 1) Halladay strikes out like 1.5 more guys per games; 2) walks 1 less per game; and 3) gives up 1/2 a HR less per 9 inngs. So if Bailey wants to become the best pitcher in the game, that’s “all” he has to do. 😦 Still, I think its reasonable for Homer to maintain his control, and strike more people out. His homerun rate is the oddity in the situation…his periphs actually look pretty similar to a guy like Chris Carpenter besides for that category.

    Sidenote:

    I wonder if the Reds’ pitchers K/9 are adversely affected by not being able to pitch against the Cincinnati Reds? 😀 They really do have an impressive amount of high strikeout guys. I knew Gomes always strikes out a lot but his K rate is almost exactly equal to Stubbs at 2.9 AB/K.

  11. The strikeout thing is overblown. Bailey and Cueto for that matter can both miss bats. I feel that their approach, whether influenced by Bryan Price or others, has both men intentionally trying to get guys to swing at pitches not made for solid contact in order to get outs. Both guys are much different pitchers than they were when they arrived in Cincinnati. As they get more notches under their belt and continue to master who they are as pitchers, the K’s will come.

    • Secondguessingfanbase: The strikeout thing is overblown.Bailey and Cueto for that matter can both miss bats.I feel that their approach, whether influenced by Bryan Price or others, has both men intentionally trying to get guys to swing at pitches not made for solid contact in order to get outs.Both guys are much different pitchers than they were when they arrived in Cincinnati.As they get more notches under their belt and continue to master who they are as pitchers, the K’s will come.

      Good statement, but I hope the Ks do come a little more. Otherwise they’re more suspect to the kind of inning Cueto had in the 7th in St. Louis on Friday nite. Sometimes you do want to go for the K, and I’m not sure if Cueto understands that now. Look at how much striking out has hurt the Reds offense in situations where contact is needed.

      • Good statement, but I hope the Ks do come a little more. Otherwise they’re more suspect to the kind of inning Cueto had in the 7th in St. Louis on Friday nite.Sometimes you do want to go for the K, and I’m not sure if Cueto understands that now.Look at how much striking out has hurt the Reds offense in situations where contact is needed.

        You nailed it. To me baseball is such a complex game it is hard to measure “solely” on obvious statistics like K/9 on K vs. Walk ratio. I too am concerned with Cueto’s K ability in situations like the 7th inning of Friday nights game. It was disappointing that Johnny could not get the K’s when he really needed them. That is just one game and I will, like everyone else here, be monitoring him the next time this situation arises.

        As far as on offense, I agree most people overestimate in general how important K totals are but in cases like the Reds where they are just deep, dark black holes, it’s an issue. You just will have a really difficult time scoring runs at the one-run for an inning if you have so many “dead” outs. At least to me. Hopefully Cozart can lead by his example.😀

  12. I both agree and disagree with Dave L.’s emphasis on Ks. That is, K/9 is not necessarily a key indicator but K/BB is. And Homer has dramatically improved his K/BB.

    Having said that, I share his concern with Homer’s injury problems and also don’t see him as an ace with the lower K/9. But I do see him as a number 2, if he stays healthy.

    Don’t trade him unless you get an overwhelming offer.

  13. @dn4192: Within the game itself, I suppose your approach is fine. If I’m Dusty Baker or Joey Votto or whoever, I don’t care how a guy is getting people out. But if the Reds front office is using that approach to evaluate players for the future, then they are grossly incompetent. I mean Bronson Arroyo’s record was 17-10 and he had a 3.88 ERA last year, right. But he also had a FIP of 4.61 with a K/9 of only around 5. Surely they wouldn’t be incompetent enough to give him a big extension? Oh, crap.

    Again, what Dave and myself are arguing isn’t that Homer isn’t good (a decade ago he’d be their clear ace), but that he could get better. The two main paths to doing so are less walks or more strikeouts. Unlike Cueto, I doubt Homer can become more controlled, 2 BB/9 is a solid for a power pitcher. Halladay is around 1 BB/9 but he’s a beast. So that pretty much leaves one path for Homer.

  14. Steve, that’s an exceptional post. It captures how I felt yesterday, I love it.
    This could turn out to be a landmark start in Homer’s career.

  15. @pinson343: Have you considered that maybe Cueto is not capable of getting the K? I mean, it is one possibility, isn’t it?

    • @pinson343: Have you considered that maybe Cueto is not capable of getting the K?I mean, it is one possibility, isn’t it?

      I think if he was willing to pitch off the plate more he could but he is really zeroed in on the strike zone now and that hurts his K-rate. Yes, if he increased his velocity another 2-3 mph it wouldn’t be an issue but of course that is a God-given thing he has no control over. I will gladly take him the way he is along as he remains effective. It is a plus to me that he doesn’t nibble.

  16. @CP: You make a distinction that I’ve been thinking about, between how a pitcher does in a game and evaluating him for the future.

    I was thinking about this in terms of CoCo yesterday. He faced the heart of the Cardinals order and retired them 1-2-3. I didn’t care at all that he didn’t K any of them. You could see right from the first couple of pitches that he was at the top of his current game, throwing quality strikes, mixing his pitches, keeping them off balance.

    BUT there’s less margin for error when you pitch that way rather than just blowing them away. A closer who Ks a lot of people can throw a fastball right down the pipe and get away with it. So even if I’m happy with most of CoCo’s individual outings, looking at his rapidly declining K rate, I don’t want to extend him. I don’t even want to exercise his option for next year, not for all that money.

  17. @CharlotteNCRedsFan: Good observations but Cueto should understand that at times a K is needed. On a good day he used to do that by getting ahead 0-2 and then King the hitter with a silder well out of the zone. That’s just good pitching.

    Also he can increase his velocity 2-3 mph when he wants. He used to rev it up to 97 in a big situation with 2 strikes. He still revs it up on occasion now, but not to 97.

    I of course like the way Cueto has progressed and become a consistent pitcher but I used to love those occasional 10K no walk outings (like his debut). I’d like to think he could still pitch a game like that if he felt strong and decided to go for it, but I don’t know.

  18. @pinson343: That just isn’t the case, actually—if one thinks FIP has any validity, of course—which you may not. If you look at FIP, at least as far as I can tell, for an identical K/BB, one’s FIP decreases as Ks increase. In other words, K’s are more valuable than BBs hurt.

  19. @CharlotteNCRedsFan: Again, consider the evidence about how much high K rates are correlated with low ERAs over the last several years. The top 25 pitchers in ERA since 2008 all have K rates above 6.3 per 9, and half of them have K rates above 8 per 9. Cueto has a K rate of 5.5 per 9. These are inconvenient facts, I guess.

    Yes, of course, none of those 25 pitchers probably had a 5.5 per 9 K rate and a walk rate of 1.5, maybe Cueto can do that.

    In no way does this mean that I do not root for Cueto, or that I do not like Cueto.

    • These are inconvenient facts, I guess.

      @Dave Lowenthal: Dave, these would only be inconvenient if he was sporting a lousy ERA or WHIP. Otherwise I consider this insignificant given his success. With a WHIP of 1.00, he is obviously not easy to square-up, strike outs notwithstanding.

  20. @Dave Lowenthal: I’m open-minded about FIP but just not convinced. I’m especially not convinced that Ks are more valuable than BBs hurt. (For a hitter, does more BBs at the cost of more Ks hurt ? I don’t think so.)

    The use of peripheral stats to measure and predict pitchers’ performance will continue to be refined, I’m watching with interest.

  21. @pinson343: If he could reach 97 when he needed it, wow! The only Reds starter I recall seeing hit that number this year is Volquez. I think Johnny’s approach has changed through the last couple of years for the better. I have also noticed when his “Tiant-like” body rotation is more pronounced he is more effective. Here is a couple of nice Cueto trends (for a 25 -year old):

    2008 ERA: 4.81, WHIP: 1.41
    2009 ERA: 4.41, WHIP: 1.36
    2010 ERA: 3.64, WHIP: 1.28
    2011 ERA: 2.01, WHIP: 1.00

    His K-rate has dropped each season as well! It is really difficult for me to argue with success like that.

    “If” Homer can avoid that one-inning that bites him, I believe the Reds have a very effective 1-2 punch. Leake is a more than adequate #3. Can Willis be a #4 at minimum? Have my fingers crossed for him tonight.

    The 5th stater situation is a real mess with Bronson still struggling. He looked more effective the last couple of starts and maybe if they limit him to 5 – 6 innings, it might be a manageable spot in the rotation. The more I watch of Arroyo, the more I wonder how much is not being able to top 87 mph or is his breaking stuff flattening out after 4 or 5 innings? Could that be a back tightening-up issue? Either way, here’s hoping Wood progresses at Louisville so he is ready when needed. Both Willis & Arroyo are precarious situations.

    • @CharlotteNCRedsFan:

      The 5th stater situation is a real mess with Bronson still struggling. He looked more effective the last couple of starts and maybe if they limit him to 5 – 6 innings, it might be a manageable spot in the rotation. The more I watch of Arroyo, the more I wonder how much is not being able to top 87 mph or is his breaking stuff flattening out after 4 or 5 innings? Could that be a back tightening-up issue? Either way, here’s hoping Wood progresses at Louisville so he is ready when needed. Both Willis & Arroyo are precarious situations.

      I’m optimistic on Willis, but wished they would ahve held Arroyo back to the 5th start after the break.

      I posted this on the DOTF thread…you didn’t mention Volquez, but I wouldn’t expect him back soon. Volquez’s bb/k ratio was better in his Sunday outing (1bb & 5k) but he still had trouble at the start of the game.

      From the AAA game story here.

      The first four Knights batters reached base against Bats starter Edinson Volquez, capped by Dayan Viciedo’s two run single that gave Charlotte a 3-0 lead.

      While he only had 1 walk, his wildness allowed 2 more runs to score in the 2nd inning:

      Volquez took the mound in the bottom of the inning…he allowed a double to Andrew Garcia and a walk to Alejandro De Aza with one out. After coaxing a ground out that advanced the runners to second and third, Volquez uncorked two wild pitches in one at-bat to score both runners and bring the Knights lead to 5-1.

      • I posted this on the DOTF thread…you didn’t mention Volquez, but I wouldn’t expect him back soon. Volquez’s bb/k ratio was better in his Sunday outing (1bb & 5k) but he still had trouble at the start of the game.

        @Greg Dafler: God I hope you are wrong about his coming back soon. Until he puts together a string (5-7) strong starts, he needs to stay at AAA. Unless both Arroyo and Willis are both ineffective. To me the first man up is Wood and after him I would go with Lecure. I don’t think we can tell how much control Volquez did or did not have based on his 1 BB. How many pitches did he throw in the game, how many 3-1, 3-0 counts as you mentioned, WP’s. I do not expect him back anytime time soon and hope for the Reds and his sake, he is not.

        Totally agree with you about holding Arroyo back. My philosophy is you start your best pitcher first, second best pitcher the next day, etc. with the possible of a righty-lefty-righty set-up and even then I think that is overrated. LaRussa starting Westbrook in the first game was not Tony’s greatest move ever. If the season comes down to one game and he has to start Westbrook rather than say Garcia, the loss would be in part be on LaRussa for over-managing in mid-July. Get as many starts out of your best pitchers as possible.

  22. @pinson343: That’s interesting, because I think the refinements ought to come with BABIP, which is where I figure the error in FIP would come from. Do some pitchers just give up more hard hit balls than others? McCracken’s work said basically “no”, but that’s really counter-intuitive, at least at first thought.

    Your point about K’s and BB’s is well taken, and I don’t get it 100% either, but it’s been explained to me as simply not symmetric. Not satisfying, I know.

  23. @Dave Lowenthal: Heck Dave, I know you like Cueto and all Reds with the possible exception of Renteria. You never need to explain that and I know you want them all to succeed like I do. But look at Cueto’s progression the last couple of years. Not too bad. I guess you guys have seen that the Yanks are all over Jimenez so now more than ever Cueto better keep this up, however he is doing it.

  24. @Dave Lowenthal: I agree that BABIP is the key area where refinements are needed: things like factoring in line drive rates. As you point out, that would improve FIP.

  25. @CharlotteNCRedsFan: Sure I love Cueto’s improvement from season to season, as reflected in his ERA and WHIP numbers.
    But as has already been stated, K-ing a guy when needed would raise him to the next level.

    Agree with your starter by starter assessment of the rotation.

    • But as has already been stated, K-ing a guy when needed would raise him to the next level.

      No question but let’s wait to see he how performs the next time around in a similar circumstance. Johnny sure is turning into quite a pitcher. If the playoffs started tomorrow, I would have no qualms about running him out there in game one!

  26. @CharlotteNCRedsFan: Well yeah, look at the other options! 😀 We should probably just write “Bronson Arroyo” in ink for game #2. Like duh, he’s got playoff experience.

  27. @CharlotteNCRedsFan: Charlotte, the “since 2008” requires 500 IP. Cueto has that great WHIP/ERA in very few IP. I find it highly unlikely he continues it with his current K/BB rate. That’s what this whole thing is about. He could do it for a month or two, but long term?

  28. @Dave Lowenthal: Dave you have two trends going here:

    1) Cueto’s important stats have improved every year since he came in the league.
    2) His K/9 has decreased every year since he came in the league.

    500 IP is all we have. Facts are facts. He has been a more effective pitcher each subsequent year since his debut. They may be very “few” innings but they are the only innings he has.
    I know you love to look Gift Horses in their mouths but I don’t. It works, it works, It doesn’t, it doesn’t. To me you try to complicate things a little too much. Just enjoy the ride while it lasts.😀

  29. @Dave Lowenthal: There is another pitcher we have this same disagreement with: Jair Jurrjens. Love that guy. Not much of a strikeout guy. Just get’s the job done.

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