Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Extraordinary Homer Bailey

Homer Bailey is extraordinary. He's an enigma wrapped in a riddle.

First, why would a pitcher voluntarily adopt the nickname "Homer"? Maybe it's high time he makes the switch back to David. Second, I'm not sure anyone in baseball gets less with more than he does.

While his problems seem somewhat clear, it's still mindboggling that he has as little success as he does.

First: The Problems

Given his less than impressive 4.65 BB/9 mark on the season, it's easy to see that control is not a strength. Still, I'm not sure that stat quite illustrates the problem. As problematic as his control has been, it pales in comparison to his command.

Control problems mean an inability to throw strikes, while command is the ability to spot your strikes inside the zone. Control problems lead to a higher number of base runners due to the extra free passes. Command problems lead to ineffectiveness in the strikezone, which can result in extra baserunners from a higher rate of hits.

Obviously, Homer is plagued by both.

Homer REALLY struggles to hit his spots inside the strikezone. That may even be too kind. In fact, I'm surprised Ryan Hanigan doesn't strain his arm with the amount of reaching he does to catch Homer's pitches. Hanigan is always reaching a LONG distance to corral Homer's pitches. It's not exactly a rare occasion to see Hanigan set up on one corner only to have to reach all the across the plate to the other corner to catch the ball.

How rough is his command? Well, homeplate is 17 inches wide. So, when Hanigan is reaching from corner to corner, he's reaching a foot-and-a-half or more. Great pitchers miss their spot by only a couple of inches either way. Homer misses by a foot or two. Suffice it to say, it's difficult to be effective with that type of command.

Many of the pitches that Homer throws are a complete waste. They are so far off the plate that they are easy pitches to take for the batter. As soon as the ball leaves Homer's hand, the hitter knows it's off the plate and he can take it. Not only are those pitches worthless in and of themselves, but they also fail to do anything to setup the next pitch. They are so far off of what Homer is trying to do that they prevent Homer from effectively sequencing his pitches.

As the saying goes, "Hitting is timing and pitching is upsetting that timing." It becomes much more difficult to upset that timing when you can't setup your pitches.

How bad is it? Well, he actually walked Bengie Molina twice in the same game last week. That's bad. Really bad. And, frankly, not easy to do.

The other problems that leaps out at me on Homer is that his offspeed pitches simply aren't consistent or effective. All to often his once hyped power curve rolls and hangs. The vaunted splitter is used too infrequently and doesn't always have the nasty bite that it needs.

He's throwing a fastball 68.7% of the time that averages 94.4 mph. He throws a cutter/slider 14.1% of the time that averages 86.3 mph. He throws the curveball 8.3% of the time averaging 76.6 mph. As for the splitter, he throws that 7.3% of the time at an average of 88.6 mph. So, the vast majority of his pitches clock in at 86 mph or higher. Working in the changeup more often to give the hitters a slower look might be a good idea.

Still, it's not all doom and gloom.

Second: The Positives

There are a number of positives that actually give me reason for optimism. In fact, I'm more hopeful about Homer than I have been in quite some time.

First, Homer has demonstrated the velocity that he has long been reputed to have. In 2007, Homer's fastball averaged 92.4 mph. In 2008, it averaged 91.5 mph. In 2009, it is up to 94.4 mph.

In the past, Bailey didn't demonstrate the type of electricity you expect to see in elite pitching prospects. In 2009, he has flashed it a bit.

Another positive that really jumps out at me is the changes in his mechanics. There were reports that he was refining his mechanics in the minors and I really like the results. Homer has eliminated the stabbing motion from his arm swing.

Before the change, Homer would stab at the ground with his pitching hand after breaking his hands. Now, Homer has a much more fluid and fundamentally sound arm swing. After breaking his hands, he uses a fluid half-circle arm action. He breaks his hands and swings his arm down from above his left thigh, past his right hip, and then up into the throwing position.

And, of course, he still has the free-and-easy arm action. He has a loose and easy throwing motion, which makes it look like he's not a max effort type pitcher.

Finally, and most importantly, he's still a light-switch guy. He has the type of upside that could make him really special once he figures it out. Unfortunately, he hasn't done it yet, but it could still happen at any time. At this point, he is clearly struggling with his arm slot, but perhaps that is not unexpected given the overhaul of his mechanics. It's not easy to make changes to the throwing motion you've used your entire life, so maybe he just needs more time to get comfortable and find a consistent arm slot. If he can do that, then he could start to unlock his true potential.

At this point, the best hope for the Reds is that Homer Bailey is the next Edwin Jackson. Some guys simply take longer to figure it all out and put it altogether. Jackson was a very highly regarded pitching prospect in the Dodger organization, but didn't put it together until this year in his age 25 season. Edwin was similar to Homer. Big time power stuff, but no ability to command it. Hopefully, Bailey can follow in Edwin's footsteps, but do it before he changes organizations twice.

Maybe as soon as 2010....


  1. he pitched a good one tonight, we need him to step up big next year.

  2. Yeah, I've gotta feeling that he will. Even prior to Friday's performance I was more optimistic than I had been in a while on Homer. His mechanics are improved, his arm action is clean, and his velocity is stellar. He just needs to find a consistent release point to improve his command and polish up his secondary offerings. He's getting closer.

  3. Right around the time you wrote this up Homer really started to show what he can do on the hill. Going 6-1 with a 1.79 era (great) and 1.33 (somewhere around there...not 'outstanding'...but not terrible). I thought he started to show better command with his pitches in the strike zone and he showed greater control of his pitches (3.7 bb/9). Some will discount his final 9 starts due to the teams he faced, i.e, the Pirates x4. But he also faced some pretty good teams as well (LA, COL, STL, and FLA). His much improved k/9 is noteworthy as well. What's important is the fact that he shut these teams down regardless of their level of talent.

    His ability to use his curveball has improved as well. It has good break and he can throw it for strikes. I do agree that he doesn't use the split-finger enough. It seems like it can be a plus pitch. He made Pujols look silly during the middle of the season. Maybe he still doesn't have full confidence in the pitch. But I think it can be a good pitch to induce groundballs.

    I think being humbled/pummeled was good for him. I see a more confident pitcher out there who isn't nibbling and is going right after guys.

    I've been pulling for Homer since he was drafted. It's nice to see him finding success. Hopefully he can keep it up.

    And for what it's worth, I like checking out your website. Very informative stuff. Keep up the good work.

  4. Hey Pete,

    Thanks for the comment and kind words.

    As for Homer, he really flipped the switch late in the year. His performance was truly impressive. I couldn't possibly agree more with your statement that it's the level of performance that matters, not the level of the competition.

    Regardless of who he played, he was still pitching at a much higher level against MLB competition. Even poor competition doesn't help you hit your spots.

    You may be right about the benefits of being pummeled. The borderline conventional wisdom is that organizations prefer to see their prospects struggle. Learning to deal with adversity is important to the development of all players and it may be more beneficial for it to happen in the minors.

    Unfortunately, Bailey's plus velocity likely enabled him to succeed against all minor leaguers, but wasn't enough to enable him to succeed against big leaguers. He could get by in the minors without good command, but velocity alone doesn't cut it against MLB hitters.

    Still, the adversity may have helped. His quotes from early in his career indicate that he could use a rather large slice of humble pie. Of course, I'm sure we wouldn't have been saying that if he was blowing people away. People love a cocky successful pitcher.

    As for the splitter, I was really surprised at how infrequently he used it. Judging by the rave reviews it was getting in the minors, I thought it would figure prominently in his repertoire. I would have to imagine that you are right in that he doesn't entirely trust it yet.

    It'll be very interesting to see how Bailey does in 2010. Suffice it to say, I think his breakthrough to a new performance level is legit. I'm bullish on his chances in 2010 and hopefully he won't let me down, because we need him more than ever in light of the loss of Edinson.

    Anyway, thanks for the thoughts!