Homer Bailey’s Peers

Homer Bailey threw a no-hitter last night, putting him in the same group as a lot of other people. It was actually his second no-hitter, putting him in a much smaller group of guys who have done it twice. This post is not really about Homer Bailey’s no-hitter — I’m working on one of those too, but it’s a little more research intensive — but about the fact that Homer Bailey shouldn’t have needed to throw another no-hitter to get some attention. Because, even before last night, Homer Bailey was pitching like an ace.

I’m going to show you a table of pitchers, the qualification being that they met minimum thresholds based on just two statistics. These lines were somewhat arbitrarily drawn, and there is more to pitching than clearing these made up dividers in these two metrics. That said, I think these parameters illustrate the point pretty nicely.

Below is a list of every starting pitcher in the Major Leagues (minimum 75 innings) that has thrown at least half of their pitches in the strike zone while also getting hitters to make contact less than 78% of the time, according to PITCHF/x.

Name IP ERA FIP xFIP WAR RA9-WAR Contact% Zone%
Anibal Sanchez 81.2 2.76 2.07 2.57 3.2 2.4 73% 50%
Max Scherzer 110.1 3.10 2.69 2.79 3.4 3.1 74% 51%
Matt Harvey 117.0 2.00 2.00 2.64 4.2 4.6 74% 51%
Corey Kluber 81.0 4.33 3.53 3.13 1.2 0.5 75% 52%
Chris Sale 106.1 2.79 2.86 2.99 3.1 3.3 76% 52%
A.J. Burnett 89.1 3.12 3.32 3.09 1.3 1.9 76% 50%
Clayton Kershaw 130.1 1.93 2.59 3.12 3.4 4.7 76% 50%
Madison Bumgarner 111.0 3.08 3.42 3.49 1.6 2.1 77% 51%
CC Sabathia 117.0 4.15 3.93 3.52 1.8 1.6 77% 50%
Homer Bailey 111.0 3.57 2.67 2.98 2.9 2.0 77% 50%
Hisashi Iwakuma 115.1 2.42 3.47 3.22 2.0 3.7 78% 53%
Justin Verlander 105.0 3.77 3.05 3.42 2.8 1.8 78% 51%
Justin Masterson 124.0 3.48 3.43 3.39 2.3 2.7 78% 52%
Mike Minor 102.2 2.98 3.47 3.60 1.8 2.2 78% 52%
Total 1,500 3.07 3.04 3.15 2.5 2.7 76% 51%

14 pitchers in baseball are pulling off this neat little trick, and Homer Bailey is one of them. Now, these arbitrary lines exclude guys like Adam Wainwright and Stephen Strasburg, who are both over 49% on in-zone pitches, and it excludes Cliff Lee and Shelby Miller who are pitching to just slightly more contact than this. You can be a good pitcher without meeting these exact parameters.

But, you know, throwing a lot of pitches in the zone while also getting hitters to swing and miss a lot is a sign that you’re doing most of the things that good pitchers do. And that list is full of pretty great pitchers, plus Corey Kluber, who Carson Cistulli thinks is a pretty great pitcher. As a group, they’re averaging 4.2 WAR per 180 innings pitched, and no, it isn’t full of guys like Kluber who are underperforming their FIP, as their overall ERA is a little lower than their peripherals would suggest.

Throwing strikes and missing bats is the majority of good pitching. It’s not the entirety of it, and this list is primarily missing a variable that would account for home run rate, but Homer Bailey is doing the two things that are most likely to make you an ace. And despite his name and the not-really-deserved reputation, he’s not giving up home runs either. If his first name was Mat or Bronson, I wonder if he’d be viewed as a pitcher with a long ball problem, given his career 10.5% HR/FB ratio and 1.01 HR/9 rate.

Bailey’s main problem has been that his strikeout rate has never really matched his stuff before. He’s basically been a league average strikeout hurler, which limited his ability to reach his potential. It takes some kind of special command to be a true ace while only striking out 20% of the batters you face in the National League.

This year, though, Bailey’s striking out 25% of the batters he faces, and that difference has allowed him to make the leap into the top tier of NL starting pitchers. He’ll have to keep this up for more than three months to be considered a true #1 starter, but his combination of high strikes/low contact is a recipe for greatness.

Bailey’s no-hitter last night wasn’t a frustrating young pitcher finally putting it all together; it was a high quality pitcher having a great night in the middle of a great season. Homer Bailey didn’t arrive last night. He’s been really good for a while now.




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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.


45 Responses to “Homer Bailey’s Peers”

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  1. Well-Beered Englishman says:

    Last night, my drunken self was very irate that I had somehow completely forgotten Homer Bailey ever threw a no-hitter. I remember shouting to a bemused Englishwoman, “Homer Bailey threw a no-hitter! Wait… it’s his SECOND?! What?!? When did he throw a no-hitter?!?” I possibly am drinking on all the wrong nights.

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  2. Jacks says:

    Don’t have the data to back it up, but Homer seems to be a lot more inconsistent than the other names on the list. Even aces have their blow-ups of course, but I’m wondering if there’s some kind of volatility measure that can be used and if there is, what kind of value that measure would have. Assume pitcher A and pitcher B have the nearly the same stats and peripherals after 20 starts. Does it matter if pitcher A got there by throwing 2 super-gem shutouts, 5 gems, 7 merely quality starts and 6 melt downs (6 plus ER) and pitcher B got there by throwing 8 gems, 10 merely quality starts and 2 melt downs?

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    • E-Dub says:

      I was thinking along the same lines when discussing Bailey with a friend who was gauging him on pure numbers with no anecdotal experience. I’ve probably seen almost every Bailey start the last two years, and I think he comes off as less than an ace in the aggregate because the gems are leavened by clunkers like the outing against Cleveland where he couldn’t make it out of the 4th inning this year, or the slightly longer but still poor outings against the Cards and Brewers. I tend to think of an ace as a guy who doesn’t get blown up like that very often, if at all, but that may well be a misapprehension on my part.

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    • Jafar says:

      Masterson is the same way. Very volatile. I’d be curious as to whether pitcher A or B gives his team more value. Assuming they have identical stats at the end of the year… What if pitcher A gave up 3 runs every start, and pitcher B gave up 0 runs half his starts and 6 runs the other half?

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    • KDL says:

      Fangraphs ran an article looking into the value of pitcher volatility sometime last season. (I looked for a second and couldn’t find it.) But I remember them concluding that for team wins, assuming similar ERAs, volatility is better. Offense tends to be a little more stable. So if you usually score 4-5 runs a game…a guy who consistently gives up 4-5 runs means a lot of chance. If you have a guy who goes 1 run, 1 run, 6 runs. This is better because you have a REALLY good chance of winning the 1-run starts, and winning the 6 run start (given 4-5 runs per game from the offense) is still a possibility. And altogether the expected winning percentage is going to be a little higher with the volatile guy.
      That said. It’s still frustrating as hell to watch.

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      • matt w says:

        While I don’t doubt the overall results about pitcher volatility, your example is a bit off — the pitcher who gives up 1, 1, and 6 runs is a LOT better than the one who consistently gives up 4-5 runs even before you adjust for volatility. One gives up 8 runs per three games, one gives up 12-15.

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        • KDL says:

          Yeah. Those were terrible off-the-cuff examples. Thanks for the gentle, generous correction.

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    • High but grounded says:

      Speaking as an owner in 2 leagues and having targeted him gong in, I have been spending all season trying to figure out what “the problem” is with Homer Bailey (I.e. why his peripherals are in line with true aces but for some reason his ERA always seems too high). while he generally flat out dominates when the bases are empty, for some reason he has trouble with runners on. His LOB% has always been below league average/unlucky, and this year it is mostly bad again. In the post game interview he even referenced all the work he had done leading up to this start practicing pitching from the stretch before laughing at the end and saying “but I guess I didn’t have to do a lot of that tonight” so it seems like something he and the team are aware of and trying to fix. Even when he’s getting lit up he still doesn’t give up a ton of HRs, he gets singled and doubled to death (and it will usually be for a single inning, sometimes early, sometimes late, where he just loses it but every other inning is stellar)

      I view this all in a positive light though because he no question has the talent to overcome this last hurdle and is playing in an ideal environment to do so. This guy is a talent level in the Sale, Hamels, Bumgarner tier and he’s really showing it this year. The ERA should fall and he might even step in front of Latos as the true Ace of the staff.

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    • walt526 says:

      A quick and dirty way to capture what you’re describing would be to compare standard deviations of game scores across pitchers.

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    • redsfandan says:

      Jacks
      Look at QS%. In your example it would be obvious that player B was more dependable and less likely to have really bad games.

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    • Owen says:

      The only problem there is that Player A&B wouldn’t have the same stats; player B would have a lower ERA by a full run. I tinkered with your general probabilities in an Excel sheet and found the following players would have equal ERAs:

      -Player A has 5 supergems (9 IP, 0 ER), 6 gems (7.5 IP, 1.5 ER), 4 quality starts (6 IP,3 ER), and 5 meltdowns (4 IP, 6.5ER).

      -Player B has no supergems or meltdowns, but 8 gems, 7 quality starts, and 3 poor starts (5 IP, 4.5 ER).

      Player A has 3.59 ERA, Player B 3.57 ERA (by the by, Homer Bailey’s ERA is 3.57 now). Whom would you rather have?

      If you’re looking for consistency in “good enough to win” stats–say 5 IP, 4 ER or less–player B will give you that more than 90% of the time, compared to just 80% for player A. But 55% of player A’s starts will be “easy win” gems with less than 2 ER over min 7.5 innings, compared with 40% of player B.

      Does this depend on your own offense? The 5.11 runs/game Red Sox might prefer the guy who keeps them in the game 90% of the time, counting on their offense to put them over the top, whereas the Pirates (3.94 r/g) might choose Player A, punting on 25% of the games but having an excellent shot at winning the other 75%.

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  3. Brandon T says:

    Hmmm… the Red Sox have no players on this list, but have traded away two of them.

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  4. Tim A says:

    He’s even more ace-like if you pull the torching the A’s put on him out of his season, he went from 2.46 too 3.04 that day.

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  5. SerMonty says:

    If his first name were Mat or Bronson, it would be pretty weird that he ended up in the same rotation as another guy named that. Just sayin.

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    • Mac says:

      Wow does baseball come up with the best names or what? Decided to search out other Bronson’s, found this interesting chap from Hawaii who had a cup of coffee with the Yanks in ’07:

      Bronson Kiheimahanaomauiakeo Sardinha

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  6. Wobatus says:

    Does anyone have the phone number of the girl with the, um, tan line in the Bad Idea tee-shirt on the right side of the page? Or at least on the right side of my page. Which is occasionally replaced by an ad for a Holiday Inn in Elmira. Damn me, I once used the internet to search for a hotel room in Elmira.

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    • majnun says:

      “Hey, this is Wobatus, I saw a picture of you on the Internet and damned if I don’t get a physical reaction every time. I asked around for your phone number, and you know the Internet, it’s got like everything… Aaaanyway, would you like to have some sex sometime?”

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      • Wobatus says:

        Gee, and here I really kinda expected someone might help a brother out here. I mean, she’s only been on the page about as often as Carson mentions Corey Kluber.

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      • Wobatus says:

        BTW, i clearly have to work on my sarcasm. Surprised anyone thought I actually wanted that number, thought i would get it if I asked, would call if i got it, or assumed i’d get a positive response if I did. Besides, even if she did come over for a drink what the hell would I do with my collection of Snorg t-shirts?

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  7. Striker says:

    Based on this representative sample size, I’ve inferred that Homer Bailey will continue his streak of consecutive no hitters until his retirement.

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  8. John says:

    Inconsistent isn’t quite the word – I would wager an extremely high percentage of his innings were scoreless, and half his ER probably came in half a dozen innings. He’s becoming a shutdown pitcher.

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  9. JAL says:

    Dave, great write up, thank you. Quick question and sorry for my ignorance. On a player page, what is the difference between the “plate discipline” and pitchf/x plate discipline” numbers? For example, Kluber’s zone% are greatly different for the two. Thanks!

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    • Andy E says:

      i have asked this same question

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    • Dave Cameron says:

      The pitch type/pitch value/plate discipline numbers that are not denoted as PITCHF/x are from Baseball Info Solutions, who uses video scouts to record this data manually. While the PITCHF/x data is updated nightly (because it’s just an algorithm), the BIS data catches up two days later. For starting pitchers, this can make a difference in small samples, as PITCHF/x will have their most recent start included in the data the next day while BIS will not.

      They also use different definitions of the strike zones, so you want to compare them to their own averages, not each other.

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  10. jay says:

    Darvish doesn’t make this list.

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  11. TheoK says:

    CISTULLI SLAAAAAM

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  12. Ctownboy says:

    Homer Bailey is a joke. The only time he is an “ace” is when he is facing a AAAA team.

    Before Bailey no – hit San Francisco, the Giants were 2 – 8 in their previous 10 games. The runs they scored in those games were as follows: 1(six innings), 2, 1, 1, 2, 5, 1, 2, 1 (11 innings) and 3. So the Giants were in a batting slump before they even went to Cincinnati. In the three games at GASP, one of the best hitting parks in the NL, the Giants scored a total of 3 runs in 26 innings and had a total of 7 hits.

    In 2011, Bailey no-hit the Pirates on September, 28. Now remember, this wasn’t the hot Pirates who were over .500 most of the year. No, these were the stone cold Pirates who were in a late season free fall.

    In the 10 previous games before they were no-hit, the Pirates were 2 – 8. The scores of those games was as follows: 5, 0, 10, 2, 8, 1, 1, 7, 1 and 0. The Pirates’ offense wasn’t as anemic last year before Bailey no – hit them as the Giants was this year but they were scoring like gangbusters either.

    In 2011, in 132 innings, Bailey was 9 – 7 with 4.43 ERA and a WHIP of 1.28. Against the Houston Astros, the WORST team in the NL (56 – 106), Bailey was 4 – 0 with a 1.29 ERA and a WHIP of .93.

    In 2010, in 109 innings, Bailey was 4 – 3 with an ERA of 4.46 and a WHIP of 1.37. Against the Pittsburgh Pirates, the worst team in the NL (57 105), Bailey was 1 – 0 with an ERA of .56 and a WHIP of .56.

    In 2009, in 113 innings, Bailey was 8 – 5 with an ERA of 4.53 and a WHIP of 1.47. Against the Pittsburgh Pirates, one of the worst teams in the NL (62 – 99) Bailey was 4 – 0 with an ERA of 2.13 and a WHIP of 1.4.

    In short, if Bailey isn’t pitching against a bad team then Bailey isn’t a very good pitcher.

    My guess is, based on the way his career has gone so far, Bailey’s next four starts will go something like this; good start, decent start, two bad starts and then he will go on the DL with a shoulder injury.

    Nope, Homer Bailey is the luckiest/worst pitcher to ever throw two no hitters in their career.

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    • Ctownboy says:

      Oops, I stand corrected, Bailey looks like the second worst pitcher to have ever thrown two no hitters in their career. Bill Stoneman looks to be worse than Bailey……

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    • Hurtlockertwo says:

      Agreed, I’m thinking the Giants couldn’t hit Cy Young that night and he’s been dead almost 60 years!

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    • AJT says:

      Bailey threw a no-hitter in 2011?

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    • Jake says:

      But he’s 27, is it that far out of the realm of possibility that he’s just getting better? His FIP and xFIP are lower than ever. His K/9 is higher than ever. Just about every number this year is better than his recent history would suggest.

      Homer before this year was a very average pitcher. Homer this year, through 11 innings, has been a very good pitcher.

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    • Charlie says:

      Bailey is sporting a 2.67 FIP this year while averaging 93.6 mph. Give me more of these bad pitchers to watch, please.

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  13. Hurtlockertwo says:

    Another comment, has Homer Bailey always thrown 97MPH?? I don’t remember him having that velocity in year’s past.

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    • AJT says:

      He was able to throw around 100mph in the minors. He’s been a hard thrower for awhile.

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    • Nate1213 says:

      Bailey was almost hitting 100 MPH as much as Robert Stephenson is now in the Reds system (which is very often). And to Ctown, what do you call Homer’s 7 innings, one hit in last year’s playoffs against the eventual WS champs? That wasn’t a AAAA team.

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  14. The Ghost of Vander Meer says:

    Y’all can’t touch me!

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