From the moment he arrived, Homer has somehow managed to be less than the sum of his individual parts. Not only did his performance disappoint, but his stuff was underwhelming. He resembled nothing like the top of the rotation power pitcher that was rumored to be climbing the organizational ladder. He seemed to lack an understanding of how to pitch, which limited the effectiveness of his repertoire. He showed flashes of brilliance, but overall it has been a long, disappointing career arc for Homer. However, slowly but surely, Homer has been trending upwards over the years. Now, those improvements may have reached the critical mass necessary for a true breakout performance in 2012.
First and foremost, Homer has demonstrated linear improvement in his walk rate. In each and every season since 2007, Homer has reduced the rate at which he puts hitters on base per via the base on balls. And, the benefits of putting fewer runners on base are obvious, as fewer base runners typically means fewer runs allowed. Here's how Homer has done in this department:
In addition to improved control, resulting in fewer walks, Homer has also demonstrated improved command, resulting in an improved ability to control the strike zone. For example, Homer is trending upwards in First Pitch Strike Percentage (F-Strike%). As you would guess, F-Strike% is just the percentage of "batters faced" for which the first pitch was a strike. This includes anytime the count was 0-1 after the first pitch and anytime the ball was put in play on the first pitch. It's obvious that a pitcher will get better results when working in a pitcher's count than in a hitter's count and, not surprisingly, statistical analysis bears this out. So, the more often a pitcher can get ahead of a hitter, the better results he is likely to produce.
All that said, here is how Homer has done in the first-pitch strike department since he first arrived on the scene in 2007:
Once again, Homer is demonstrating tangible improvement in his pitching skills. The Major League average F-Strike% for all players from 2005-2008 is 59%. Since 2007, Homer has improved his ability to start each batter faced off with a strike, which tilts the probability of success decidedly in his favor.
Another area in which Homer has demonstrated marked improvement is in his ability to generate swinging strikes, which is an underrated attribute in a pitcher, as there is a correlation between swinging strikes and strikeout rate.
Here's how Homer has done since 2007:
League average for SwStr% is roughly 8.0%, so Homer has gradually improved to the point where he's well above league average. Obviously, there's some overlap in these areas of improvement, as his ability to throw more first pitch strikes puts the hitter on the defensive and his improved command inside the zone also improves the overall effectiveness of his offerings. In light of the improvements Homer made in both first pitch strikes and swinging strikes, it's not surprising that he has also improved his strikeout rate, which now falls more in line with a power pitcher profile.
Here are Homer's strikeout rates since he first arrived on the scene:
The improved strikeout rates over the past two seasons have been encouraging, as the low strikeout rates early in his career long belied the scouting reports on his plus stuff. Basically, it appears the former is finally coming into line with the latter.
The upward trend makes it likely that Homer has finally learned how to properly harness his arsenal. At this point, his skills have improved and made him into more of a pitcher, rather than just a thrower. However, there are two components of production, (1) performance level and (2) work load. It doesn't mean much to have an elite level of performance if you can't provide that performance level over a significant workload (i.e. Rich Harden), just like it doesn't mean much to provide a massive workload at a mediocre performance level (i.e. Bronson Arroyo circa 2011). So, while Homer is pulling his performance level upward, he still needs to maintain that performance level over an appreciable number of innings.
So far, that has been problematic for Homer, who has put up the following workloads in his career:
Total IP2007: 45.1
When I got around to looking at Homer this offseason, I was surprised to see that his peripherals were lining up rather nicely for a breakthrough season. While there remains no guarantee of health and Homer has yet to log more than 132.0 innings in a season, he is definitely trending in the right direction. And, given that his improvement is a trend (largely linear over each successive season), it's easier to be confident that his improvement is sustainable, evidencing a possible breakthrough, than it would be if his improvement was more erratic and volatile.
If Homer can maintain his 2011 level of performance, then he should have a good 2012 season. But, if he increases his performance level yet another tick in 2012, then he could have a very good season. And, a very good season out of Homer Bailey would give the Reds starting rotation a very formidable troika.
At this point, it's looking like the question isn't whether Homer will be better in 2012, but rather by how much? If I was a betting man, then I'd have to look at these peripherals and say "quite a bit."