In honor of Homer Bailey's late season, spot-on Tom Seaver impersonation, including a no-hitter and a stellar postseason performance, now seems an appropriate time to revisit my preseason thoughts on Homer, which you can read here.
In summary, based on the trend lines of four peripheral statistics, I thought Homer was a legitimate breakout candidate in 2012. The conclusion of my write-up read as follows:
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."
One of the more interesting recent developments in the baseball universe is the attempt to strip away anything and everything that could cloud player evaluation, including narratives created by fans and baseball writers. In fact, I sometimes think that this "stripping away" comes at the cost of the pure enjoyment of the game. A compelling narrative may not always be relevant to player valuation, but it can certainly make the game more engaging and enjoyable for the fans. But, I digress, anyway, this "stripping away" development is driven by the emergence of statistical analysis, which has provided a newer and more accurate measure of the value of players. As the more accurate measure of player value became apparent, the narratives crafted by the fans and media began to ring untrue, whereas in the past there was far less ability to differentiate between the narrative and the truth. One of the players for whom the narrative had begun to overshadow the value appeared to be Homer Bailey.
Not many players entered the 2012 season with more narrative baggage than Homer Bailey, who originally arrived on the MLB scene with massive expectations and who proceeded to consistently underwhelm all while displaying a questionable attitude. Homer's perennial struggles kicked up so much noise in the form of fan frustration that it was very, very easy to overlook the incremental improvement that he had been making. In fact, I admit to falling prey to that myself, as when I took an objective look at him this offseason, I was rather surprised by what I saw.
Taking a look at four separate peripheral stats (BB/9, K/9, F-Strike%, and SwStr%) revealed that Homer was likely closer to figuring it out than fans, myself included, previously realized.
Here are those peripheral stats, this time with the 2012 season included:
Interestingly, Homer maintained the same exact walk rate, to the 100th decimal point, as he did in 2011, which is very encouraging given how impressive that mark was in 2011.
F-Strike% is the percentage of batters that Homer starts off with a first pitch strike. Major League average is 59%. It's an important metric for the simple fact that getting ahead in the count permits the pitcher to tilt the probability of success in his favor. As good as Homer was in 2011, he was substantially better in 2012, evidencing vastly improved command inside the strike zone.
In 2012, Homer posted the highest SwStr percentage of his career, which is encouraging given the correlation between swing-and-miss strikes and strikeout rate.
Obviously, a strong strikeout rate is important to dominating pitching, especially when the pitcher operates in a launching pad like Great American Ballpark where contact frequently spells trouble. Homer maintained a posted the second highest strikeout rate of his career in 2012.
Total IP2007: 45.1
Finally, while the four peripheral stats indicated a potential breakthrough to a new performance level, that breakthrough would have been far less valuable if it had not been paired with a heavy workload. Prior to the 2012 season, Homer had never thrown more than 132.0 innings in a season. Obviously, 2012 was an entirely different animal, as Homer combined health and performance to break the 200 inning mark for the first time.
When all was said and done, those peripherals and workload came together to produce a season of 3.68 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, and 168/52 K/BB ratio over 208.0 innings pitched. Granted, there were times when it didn't look like a breakthrough was coming and he continued a level of "own-age" of the Pirates that has rarely been seen in nature, but Homer excelled in the second half and took his game to the next level.
While it is possible that Homer will regress in 2013, his peripherals indicate that this is a legitimate and sustainable breakout driven by incremental improvement in his game. Homer is actually looking like a top of the rotation pitcher on whom the Reds can rely in the future. That would be one of the biggest and most important developments of the 2012 season for the Reds franchise.