It appeared that 2009 was something of a turnaround for Reds RHP Homer Bailey. The No. 5 overall prospect in 2007, Bailey struggled during his first two major league stints. His minor league walk rate, 3.8 per nine innings, suggested he might hand out a few too many free passes in the majors, at least in the early goings, so it didn’t come as much of a surprise when he did. His stuff and his minor league numbers, however, suggested that he might be a bit more proficient with the strikeout. His rates dropped considerably upon promotion, though, just 5.1 per nine in 2007 and 2008.
The Reds exercised patience with Bailey in 2009, keeping him on the major league roster despite his poor performances. After a poor start on August 18 against San Francisco his ERA peaked at 7.53. In 55 innings he had walked 28 to just 33 strikeouts. He had also surrendered 10 home runs, which certainly helped inflate his ERA. From that point on, though, Bailey showed marked improvement, at least in the results. In 58.1 innings to finish the season he allowed just 11 runs. Even better, he walked 24 to 53 strikeouts and allowed just two home runs.
On the negative end, September results can mislead. Teams expand their rosters, so there are many more young, inexperienced players getting into games. Plenty of teams have little to play for at that point, too, and will likely give their youngsters a longer look. This is especially true of a team like the Pirates, again whom Bailey logged 25.1 innings. He did face three playoff teams, the Dodgers, Cardinals, and Rockies, so there were at least some positives to take from the experience. It also boded a bit well that he allowed just two runs over 20.2 innings against them.
In his first two starts of 2010, though, Bailey has looked a lot more like he did in 2008 than he did in 2009. Over just 10.1 innings he has thrown 221 pitches and has allowed 21 batters to reach base. That includes two home runs, both of which came in his start last night against the Marlins. Through 5.1 innings he threw 115 pitches, walking four and allowing 12 baserunners. Only one of those walked batters came back to haunt him, though he can’t expect to be that lucky in the future. The two home runs also came with no one on base. Again, we can’t expect that to continue if he allows more than two baserunners per inning.
The two home runs, to Brett Carroll and Jorge Cantu, both came on high and inside pitches that didn’t get quite inside enough. Both came on fastball varieties, a four-seamer to Carroll and a splitter to Cantu. The velocity on each appears a bit down from last year, when Bailey averaged 94.5 mph on his fastball and 88.5 mph on the splitter. So far this year that’s down to 92.7 and 86.8. We’re dealing with small samples so far this year, and there’s a good chance that there are inaccuracies in these readings. Bailey’s secondary pitches, however, clock at almost exactly the same speeds they did last year. So while we can’t draw much from this now, it’s certainly something to examine as we get a bit larger sampling on Bailey this season.
(Then again, while the BIS data has only his fastball and splitter down, PitchFX has his curveball down as well, and his slider up. It gives me confidence that things will even out over a few more starts.)
While Bailey still has the potential to turn into a fine major league pitcher, he still has plenty to improve on before he can reach it. His strikeout rate isn’t nearly high enough to support walking a batter every other inning. His home run tendencies have continued to plague him, and while he was at a reasonable level last year I’m not sure we can peg him for a recovery this year. He pitched pretty horribly during the first half of his major league stint, and his dominance in his second half came either against teams comfortably in the playoffs, or else the Pirates.
The Reds field a quality defense, with above-average players at most positions on most days. Bailey’s problems, however, stem from issues that his defense can’t solve. Chris Dickerson can’t catch a ball popped over the teal monster. Scott Rolen can’t make a fancy play on a walk. In other words, the impetus to improve is all on Bailey himself. He’s yet to prove he can do it against major league rosters from April through August. While he’ll continue to get chances in 2010, he’s off to a pretty bad start. Unfortunately for him, he’ll miss Pittsburgh this time around. His next chance to show improvement comes against the Dodgers next week.
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