Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Baseball America on Homer Bailey

This is an interesting read on Homer Bailey by J.J. Cooper at Baseball America, so I thought I'd just re-post it as is for your reading pleasure. It talks a bit about Homer's struggles and the changes he has made to increase his effectiveness at the MLB level. The mention about his curve ball, which was always reputed to be a "hammer curveball" and a "swing and miss pitch" is especially intriguing, as it has never been an effective or impressive pitch at the MLB level.

Monday’s Dish: Bailey Keeps Making Baby Steps

Homer Bailey is no longer a prospect. He’s thrown 82 big league innings, which means he’s no longer rookie eligible. He first pitched for Triple-A Louisville in 2007, but he’s still there two years later after narrowly failing to beat out Micah Owings for the Reds’ fifth starter job.

So you may be wondering why he’s showing up in a Daily Dish? For all of his Triple-A and big league experience, it’s easy to forget that Bailey just turned 23, which makes him younger than Rays prospect David Price. So we’re making an exception today, one we may make a couple of other times through the season to look at a former prospect who hasn’t made it yet to try to help figure out if he ever will.

Watching Bailey’s most recent start on Wednesday evening against Wade Davis and the Durham Bulls summed up a lot of Bailey’s young career. His final line doesn’t look very good: 6 IP, 4 H, 4 ER, 0 BB, 4 K. But Bailey also showed some of the reasons that the Reds haven’t given up on him.

Bailey retired the first 12 batters he faced, carrying a perfect game into the fifth until Johnny Gomes lost a fly ball in the lights and watched it fall 10 feet away for a double. He managed to get out of that jam, but an inning later he gave up a two-run home run to Jon Webber. An inning later he gave up another two-run home run to Chris Richard, ending his night.

If you’re looking to make excuses for Bailey, it was a relatively dominating performance undone by two pitches. But then, it’s also fair to say that home runs have have been a problem for Bailey all year. He gave up only 10 home runs in 111 innings in Louisville last year, but he’s already given up nine home runs in 39 innings this year.

That’s the bad news for Bailey. On the plus side, he is a different looking pitcher than the one that arrived in Louisville in 2006. Back then Bailey brought his hands up over his head before breaking them in his wind-up. He then stabbed some with the ball as he rared back and fired mid-90s fastballs.

He has a much more compact motion now in an attempt to improve his once shaky command. He breaks his hands much lower and has reduced the stabbing motion in the back of his delivery. But according to Louisville pitching coach Ted Power, the biggest change is his stride. He used to have an exaggerated hip twist and an extremely long stride. He’s now shortened it because in his old delivery, when he tired he was prone to leaving the ball up in the zone.

Bailey also throws a different assortment of pitchers. He added a slider last year out of necessity. When Bailey first debuted in the big leagues in 2007, he used a hard-breaking 12-to-6 curveball to compliment his 93-95 mph fastball. But Bailey’s curveball came from a different, higher release point than his fastball. At the big league level, hitters recognized that and simply let them go, waiting to get a fastball they could drive.

"They would see the hand come up and they’d know it’s off speed, so they took it. Now his arm angle is the same for all of his pitches," Power said.

The slider gives hitters something a little less recognizable to worry about, although he still will throw an occasional 75-79 mph curve (three by my unofficial count), as he showed against the Bulls. His changeup is a fourth pitch, although he throws it infrequently.

The fastball sat at 92-95 mph last Wednesday, although he still ran it up to 98 mph at least once out of the zone. It may not be the Nolan Ryan-esque gas he once had, but he’s not far off his old velocity. And velocity has never been Bailey’s problem–if he’s ever going to succeed in the big leagues, he’ll have to show improved command. There are signs that the toned-down delivery is helping. For Louisville Bailey is throwing strikes on 65.9 percent of his pitches this season, compared to 62.8 percent in 2008 and 60.58 percent in 2007.


  1. puts a lot in perspective and actually encouraging! Seems like Ted Power may be the real deal if he can get Bailey to make some changes...of course, some failures make one a little more open to change.

  2. Hey Anon,

    It's an interesting article, to be sure. I think it offers a little something for everyone. The Bailey haters can point to his continued issues, while the Bailey supporters can point to the potential improvement that may ultimately be brought about by the changes.

    I'm not ready to give up on Homer by any stretch of the imagination, but I have also yet to be impressed by him. Typically, when I see a young prospect with "ace" potential, something about them will stand out to me. When I first saw guys like Lincecum, Cueto, Greinke, and even Gil Meche, they had an electricity about them. They had fastballs with hop and movement and they had swing-and-miss offspeed pitches. They also seemed to know what to do with their stuff.

    Since Homer has arrived, I've yet to really see anything that indicates that he can dominate at the big league level. His fastball never seemed as fast as it was reported to be and his curve ball was a huge disappointment (to me, at least). Maybe, the different release point is the reason for the ineffectiveness of the curve ball.

    As for the changes, I agree that Homer had a very long stride and his "stabbing" of the air was a rather odd move. It's understandable that when he tired, his stride shortened up and he struggled to keep the ball down. However, I've always preferred the "over the head" arm motion in the windup, but Homer has removed that aspect. I suppose it was done to shorten up his delivery in all aspects.

    For the foreseeable future, I think it's in the best interests of both the Reds and Homer for him to stay at triple-A. He needs to truly earn his way back to the majors. In addition, it can take a long time for a major mechanical overhaul to completely take effect.

    I'll be very interested to see which Homer Bailey emerges at the end of all of this. Maybe a nice hard slider is what he needs to give the hitters something else to think about and improve the effectiveness of the fastball.

    He remains an enigma, but he's young enough and possesses enough upside to warrant the organization's patience. Hopefully, it'll be rewarded.

    Thanks for the comment!


  3. Actually, claiming his stride shortened when he was tired it debateable. I heard different fwiw. Homer hasn't been the same since 2007 spring training compared to what we expected after his 'breakout' 2006 season. You could see it early on. I think it was because they first shortened his stride. Then they gave him a sinkerball in 2008 and took away his curveball. That is some serious micromanaging by the Reds.

    What you need to do is get 2006 Homer Bailey starst in AA and compare it to Homer Bailey's starts since then. Compare and contrast the style(not so much the results) and findout which ones looks "more electric". I did so taking 5 Bailey AA starts and comparing then to April 2007 start in AAA, 2007 MLB game vs. the Cards in June, Astros in September 2007, Brewers 2008 and Indians 2009. I thought the 2006 version looked much more electric. His fastball was better with his weight coming toward the plate rather than in a controlled motion he started showing in 2007. Looks like to me they have compacted his mechanics to much and he is having trouble throwing a sinkerball(2 seam fastball). The 2006 Homer had a sick curve 3/5 games I watched, good curve 1 game 1 subpar curve. 2007-9 Homer had only one game, against the Astros he showed that kind of breaking stuff and it surprise a game he abandoned the shorter strides.

    I say let him go back to the "velocity" pitcher. The current "sinker/slider" model isn't working.

    I would love to get him in our organization and allow him to "go back to the beginning" with him mechanically. I think the Reds are scared to death they let him go and end up looking like idiots.

  4. Anon,

    To be honest, I'm not sure what to think of Homer at this point. He is truly an enigma wrapped in a riddle.

    What concerns me most about Homer is not the terrible results, but how he has gotten those results. Every time I see him pitch at the MLB level, his fastball looks pedestrian and his breaking ball is ineffective.

    As much as I heard about his hammer curveball, I have never seen him snap off a plus curveball. And, maybe it's because, as mentioned in the above BA article, of a different release point. If hitters could identify the curveball from the different release point, then maybe they could effectively lay off the pitch. Whatever the reason, it's just not an effective pitch against MLB hitters, so I don't mind seeing him add something else to his arsenal.

    As for the mechanics, I don't mind them trying to make a few tweaks. He had a few unusual aspects to his delivery, so trying to refine them isn't a bad idea. That said, his lack of effectiveness is a big cause for concern. I would imagine that the Reds are REALLY freaked out by the thought of getting absolute nothing of value for their investment in Homer Bailey.

    If Bailey would be better off going back to his old mechanics, then I'd have no problem with him doing so. However, it's likely more difficult than it seems. There is a degree of muscle memory at work here, so switching back may not be easy. And, I'm not convinced that switching back would necessarily lead to better results. The Reds are running out of options on Homer, so he'll need to be in the majors full-time in the near future.

    For what it's worth (admittedly, not much), Homer's average fastball in 2007 was 92.4 mph and in his 2009 start it was 92.4 mph. Of course, the sample size in 2009 is minuscule, but I'm not sure if a lack of velocity is his problem. In addition, in the minors he is still giving up more fly balls than ground balls. So, if they really are trying to turn him into a ground ball, 2 seamer pitcher instead of a high velocity pitcher, it doesn't seem to be working too well.

    I just don't know what to make of Homer, but he has never impressed me at the MLB level. I really wonder if he was just overhyped coming up the ranks. I've got a buddy who agrees with you on the changes to his mechanics. He thinks that was the beginning of the end as well. I'm just not sure Homer Bailey 1.0 was truly as good as advertised, so I'm heistant to scrap version 2.0 when the old version might not be any better.

    As much as I think the media tends to over-exaggerate the issue, I do question his attitude. For a pitcher who has had zero success at the MLB level, he certainly has strong opinions. His comments after his last start about how he and Ramon Hernandez struggled to get on the same page because Ramon had never caught him before seemed odd. From a defensive standpoint, I'm not a big Ramon fan, but I'd rather see Homer throw whatever Ramon puts down. I'm not sure Homer has earned the right to shake off a veteran catcher.

    Anyway, I appreciate the interesting and well thought out comment. Unfortunately, I really don't know what to make of Homer at this point, but if the Reds are going to get anything of value out of him, then they need to leave him at triple-A until September.

    By the by, where do you watch complete minor league games from past years? Or, were you just watching video clips? Thanks!


  5. FWIW, Bailey has gone back to his old arm slot and stride. It shows. He has pitched better.

    They are using the Split finger as a excuse.