Friday, October 12, 2012

2012 Breakout Star: Homer Bailey

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:

2007: 5.56
2008: 4.21
2009: 4.13
2010: 3.30
2011: 2.25
2012: 2.25

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.

2007: 54.6%
2008: 57.8%
2009: 55.7%
2010: 60.4%
2011: 62.4%
2012: 66.0%

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.

2007: 8.9%
2008: 5.4%
2009: 7.9%
2010: 8.4%
2011: 9.3%
2012: 9.4%

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.

2007: 5.56
2008: 4.46
2009: 6.83
2010: 8.26
2011: 7.23
2012: 7.27

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 IP
2007: 45.1
2008: 36.1
2009: 113.1
2010: 109.0
2011: 132.0
2012: 208.0

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.


  1. There are two narratives going into 2013 that I think will be followed closely: 1) is Votto's knee healthy or have the Reds medical team botched another injury intervention? and 2) is Homer Bailey going to get even better?

    If the Reds can run Cueto, Latos, and Bailey to the mound for 90+ of the teams 162 games, this team should win a number of ballgames. And if Bailey's Sept./Oct. is an indication of what he can do annually (sure, there were some things that swayed heavily in his favor, e.g., .195 BABiP and facing the Pirates and Astros a few times. He's damned if he does, and damned if he doesn't...), the Reds have a very strong trio at the front of the rotation.

  2. Yossarian,

    I would agree on Votto. If Reds fans aren't scared to death over the knee injury, they should be. Until he proves that he's fully over it and that it's not a lingering concern, I'll be concerned. That massive contract extension hasn't even kicked in yet and a chronic condition for Votto could sink the franchise for a decade.

    As for Homer, I agree, it's an interesting question. I can't recall ever seeing a pitcher take this type of long, winding development path and STILL have questions lingering regarding what type of pitcher he might be. I agree with your damned if he does, damned if he doesn't factors, but I think there was a legitimate step forward this year and the playoff performance helps solidify that view for me. Next year will be interesting.

    The other storyline to follow is Devin Mesoraco. The Reds really need SOMEONE swinging from the right-side to balance out Votto and Bruce. I know it was his first extended taste of the majors, but all the starts and stops in his development are a bit disconcerting, especially with Grandal hitting up a storm in S.D. Would Grandal in our lineup have made a difference in the postseason? Our lineup lacked punch and discipline, Grandal provides both. Maybe he was the impact bat that we ultimately needed in the postseason. Did we trade the wrong guy?

    I really hate it when people bring it up, but does Devin Mesoraco have a bit of Brandon Larsen in him? Or, was it just a slow start? I have my concerns.

    The thing I hate most about the 2012 season was that we didn't take advantage of the health of our starting pitching. It takes a confluence of events to earn postseason glory and rolling out (basically) 5 starting
    pitchers all season was remarkable for an organization that formerly trotted the Steve Avery, Jimmy Haynes, and Eric Miltons of the world out to the mound. Wasting that combination of health and performance level is disconcerting.

    But, hopefully they can sustain it over over the next couple of years.

    Thanks for the thoughts!