“Homer Bailey. A down home Texan. He drives a diesel pickup truck. They tell me he wears boots and a cowboy hat. Spends his free time hunting. One of the things he hunts is wild boar. He misses inside. 2 and 0 the count to Uribe. Homer chases the wild boars, cuts the tusks out, keeps a collection in his room. Course he grew up in a 70 thousand chicken, 40 acre egg farm located between LaGrange and Flatonia. Traffic must be very busy there. But Homer said, if he’s not doing something important like playing baseball, he’s in the woods. Homer says, ever since I can remember, I was running around with a BB gun or a .22. But he eats all the wild game he hunts. One other thought about Bailey hunting wild boars, he says the biggest one he’s ever gotten was 400 lbs.”
[The game pauses as Prime Ticket shows a shot of Bailey, standing on the bump, staring at nothing in particular, a thoughtful look on his young face, rolling the baseball in his pitching hand as he contemplates his next pitch, framed by the opening in Dodger Stadium, palm trees gently moving in the background]
“Homer Bailey. Homer’s Odyssey. From Texas to the big leagues. And here he is in Los Angeles. No balls and two strikes.” —Vin Scully
Is it wrong for me to wonder what Marty Brennaman is thinking today, now that Homer Bailey has signed a contract that will keep him in Cincinnati for what will likely be the remainder of the Hall of Famer’s time behind the mike?
Is he thinking about Homer’s increased strikeout rate and ability to consistently find the strike zone, traits that have seen his WHIP drop each year from 1.47 to 1.37 to 1.28 to 1.24 to 1.12? Doubtful.
But it’s about more than that, anyway. It’s about his uptick in velocity, surely. But still, it’s about more. Yes, his ERA has continued to drop each year from 4.53 in 2009 to a low of 3.49 last season. But, yeah, there’s even more cogitation and rumination we need to do before we come to an informed opinion because this decision was never a slam dunk. It could never be, the human anatomy being what it is—and the violent and ugly reality of throwing a baseball being what IT is.
Consider that Bailey’s Ground Ball Rate has increased over the last three years from 39.5% in 2011, with a significant jump the next year to 44.9%; and further improvement to 46.1% last year, which is above league average. This is not inconsequential when you think about where he makes half his starts. A combination of strikeout pitcher who keeps the ball on the ground and out of the air (or the moon deck), with good glove work behind him is a good thing. Amirite?
But, still, it’s about more than just that.
Bailey has been a reverse platoon split pitcher. Yes, oddly, he has been better against opponents who bat from the left side than he has against hitters from the right from 2010 up until last season. In 2013, all that changed, as he began mastering right-handed hitters the way he you would think he should. Interesting.
And, yes, of course there’s more.
Does the number 853 mean anything to you? It seems like Homer Bailey has been around forever, doesn’t it? And all but a few pitchers have an expiration date on their elbow or shoulder. As the innings pile up, so does the risk that oil will begin to leak, that an overhaul may be looming. Clayton Kershaw, two years younger than Homer, has totaled 1,180 innings in his career so far; Zack Greinke? 1,670 innings. Ubaldo Jimenez? 1,275. How about the oft-compared Justin Masterson? 1,013. Bailey, at age 27, has only 853 innings on the odometer. I’m guessing the Reds know this.
No, Homer is not an “elite” pitcher. Yet. He’s not Wainwright, or Kershaw, or Verlander. But the needle the last two years is pushing in that direction.
Undeniably, there is risk here. He’s a pitcher, for god’s sake. The Reds are betting on and thus paying for future performance, which is a heckuva lot better than paying for past performance, which is what Albert Pujols wanted the St. Louis Cardinals to do, and what last year’s World Series hero now loudly wants Red Sox management to do. So, it might be foolish to get stuck looking at the past, placing too much emphasis on aggregate numbers of days gone by, when a callow lad was learning his craft, albeit slower than we hoped. The Reds are thinking about the pitcher Homer Bailey is today and what he might be going forward.
The Reds are also betting on Bailey, the individual and the certainty of knowing who he is. This is something you never can truly evaluate with any assurance when trading for a guy outside your organization. How many people were worried how Mat Latos would adjust to Cincinnati and its smaller park? How would he mature? How will he continue to mature? With Homer comes years of home movies. We’ve watched him stumble. Then pick himself up. What once was “pout” is now viewed as “stout.” Bailey brings a work ethic—a commitment to getting better—something he displayed two years ago when he showed up for spring training bigger and stronger, particularly above the waist. After suffering a shoulder impingement that stole months from his season 2011, he trained, building up the area in and around that shoulder, which might explain the jump in velocity. Indeed, the Reds have watched Homer grow, and not just physically. They’ve watched him master his emotions on the bump when things didn’t go his way. They’ve watched him learn to think and adjust, to know when to keep the ball down using a variety of breaking pitches, to know when to challenge with the fastball up in the zone, to sometimes reach back for velocity later in the game, velocity that’s there because he didn’t over-rev the engine looking to overpower hitters in the first three innings.
But, there’s more.
Recently, baseball insiders (GMs, saberists, international scouts, team employees, etc.) were asked to evaluate where Masahiro Tanaka would fall in fantasy starting rotation featuring the following: #5 Trevor Cahill. #4 Justin Masterson. #3 Homer Bailey. #2 Mat Latos. #1 Stephen Strasburg. The pitcher the closest in the evaluation? Bailey, whom the experts rated Tanaka slightly above, sloting the Japanese pitcher below Latos. Tanaka’s salary? Seven years, $155M—and they haven’t seen him throw a single pitch in the majors.
Let that percolate for a moment.
You may have wanted to see the Reds pass on an extension, see what the season held and sell high if things went poorly in 2014. But with Bailey in his walk year, there really was no such thing as “selling high.” You might have been willing to let him go, make the qualifying offer and take the pick. But, these draft picks are overrated. Only one in five turn out to be a what is considered a “good” player. We’re not even talking an All Star player here. Merely an above average player. A 20% chance. For that? No thanks.
We are also seeing the first payoff on the managerial change made back in October. The close relationship between Bryan Price and Bailey is likely to have been a factor in Bailey’s decision to stay despite the rampant rumors he wanted out of Cincinnati.
And yes, just one more thing. Maybe one of the most important things to remember on February 20th—and something the local media has largely missed. In an interview given to Ken Rosenthal, Homer Bailey said his concern about signing an extension with the Reds hinged on the following question:
“Can we get a deal done and still field a competitive team if I’m making X amount of dollars? That’s what I want to know.”
If you think the signing of Homer Bailey means the Reds won’t be spending more money, you likely have it completely backwards. Forget local television money projections. David Dewitt Bailey just told the world the Reds aren’t done yet. And that should make every Reds fan—and perhaps Dallas Latos—very happy.
Now that Bailey is guaranteed to be here for the foreseeable future, the only thing left is for Cincy Shirts to FedEx Marty a companion Votto T-shirt that says:
“I JUST DREW A ?#@!*&%! WALK.”