I have been putting off writing about Homer Bailey. He draws such strong opinions and his performance has been so inconsistent that writing about him is daunting.
It is, I think, safe to say that we have all been disappointed in Bailey. He’s been hurt or ineffective for much of his time in the majors. Certainly, he was rushed. I won’t argue that. The Reds could have handled his situation much better, but at some point, we have to ask ourselves if Bailey will ever become the pitcher we thought he would be.
First we should talk about the kind of pitcher Homer has been. Despite his stuff, he is not a strikeout pitcher. Last year is the only season he has posted an above average K/9 rate. There’s no discernible up or down trend with strikeouts, so we should probably figure that, at least for now, his career numbers (which have him close to the average in strikeouts) are what we’re going to see.
One positive sign has been the steady decline of his walk rate. He has walked fewer batters every year, and this year he’s made a very nice step forward. His current 2.58 BB/9 is well above average. Sadly, there isn’t much beyond his walk rate to really hang your hat on. If you look just at his numbers and forget about the potential, you’d be forced to conclude that Bailey is, for better or worse, average. Certainly, other big time pitching prospects have done worse, but that doesn’t make Bailey less disappointing.
But there is a ray of hope that goes to the unpredictability of pitchers. Baseball-Reference, as I’m sure you’re all aware has similarity scores for all major league players. I don’t normally reference them because they often claim that wildly different players are “similar.” Bailey’s comps are instructive, though. Through age 24, his top three comparables are Jason Schmidt, Jamie Moyer, and Roy Halladay. After that you’ll see some bad pitchers and some pitchers you’ve never heard of. It’s an eclectic group.
If you look at the numbers for the other players, it’s easy to see the comparison, and anyway, it’s a familiar story. Pitcher has lots of potential and is given many chances to prove himself. He succeeds and becomes Roy Halladay or fails and becomes Ian Snell. And this is why it’s time to face some reality with Homer. He might figure it out, he really might. If he does, it might happen next year or it might happen in five years. The results are good enough that someone will find a place for him to pitch. The question is whether or not the Reds should.
Homer’s name was thrown around a lot in the recent trade speculation. Many of us came down against trading him (I count myself in this group), but I don’t think that was the correct viewpoint. The signs point to the most likely career path for Bailey being that of a #3-5 starter – not the ace we’ve all been hoping for. If you can get someone who still sees that potential and is willing to pay for it, I think you do it. There’s a reason we all know the phrase “there’s no such thing as a pitching prospect. Bailey has maybe a 10% chance of being what we wanted to be before the Reds lose him anyway. Pitchers are hard to project, and eventually, the results have to outweigh the projections.