Prospect Retrospective: Homer Bailey, RHP, Cincinnati Reds
Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Homer Bailey entered the baseball record books with a no-hitter against the Pittsburgh Friday night. This caps off a very solid season for the right-hander.
A high school superstar in La Grange, Texas (population 4,923), Bailey was drafted in the first round by the Reds in 2004, seventh overall, earning a $2,300,000 bonus. Featuring a plus fastball, impressive curve, and more polish than most prep pitchers, he was expected to move quickly through the farm system and emerge as a number two starter, perhaps a number one. He threw 12 innings in rookie ball, allowing 14 hits and seven runs with a 9/3 K/BB. For some intangible reason I was a bit cautious with his grade entering 2005, giving him a B-, noting his potential but wanting more pro data.
Bailey spent 2005 with Dayton in the Low-A Midwest League, posting a 4.43 ERA with a 125/62 K/BB in 104 innings, allowing 89 hits. His K/IP and H/IP marks were quite strong, reflecting the quality of his fastball and curve, but his control was sloppier than expected, there were some complaints that he wasn't focused, and his changeup drew poor reviews. I still saw enough to increase his rating to a Grade B+, seeing ace potential if he could round out the rough edges.
Moved up to High-A Sarasota to begin 2006, he posted a 3.31 ERA with a 79/22 K/BB in 71 innings, allowing only 49 hits. He still showed the mid-90s heat and hammer curve, and his changeup and control were better. Promoted to Double-A Chattanooga, he ran off a series of outstanding starts against the best competition of his life to that point, going 7-1, 1.59 with a 77/28 K/BB in 68 innings, allowing 50 hits and just one homer. He had no problems with a larger workload after being on a strict pitch count as part of a tandem-starter system in '05. I moved him up to a straight Grade A entering 2007.
2007 brought mixed results: he performed well in Triple-A (3.07 ERA, 59/32 K/BB in 67 innings, 49 hits), but his command slipped in nine major league starts (5.76 ERA, 28/28 K/BB in 45 innings). His changeup went backwards, and he lost momentum with a persistent groin injury that hampered his velocity at times. On the other hand, he added a cutter, and overall his potential remained impressive. I lowered his rating to a Grade B+, concerned about the command slippage, but noting that he could still develop into an ace.
It didn't happen in 2008; he was awful in the majors (0-6, 7.93 in eight starts) and quite mediocre in Triple-A (4.77 ERA, 96/46 K/BB but 118 hits in 111 innings). He'd lost rookie eligibility by that point, so he no longer showed up on prospect lists. In 2009 he began to improve, posting the first of three similar major league seasons with ERAs around 4.50, with slightly positive WARs (1.3, 1.9, 1.5). The stuff was there, but the consistency wasn't.
There were signs of change in 2011. His ERA was 4.43 in 132 major league innings, but with an improved 106/33 K/BB and a reduction in his walk rate, down to 2.25 BB/9 from his previous major league high of 5.56.
Bailey is 13-10 this year with a 3.75 ERA and a 162/52 K/BB in 204 innings, allowing 202 hits with a 2.7 WAR. His ERA is 68 points lower this year, but his FIP is actually identical to last season, 4.06 both seasons. His xFIP is actually a touch higher at 3.99 compared to 3.77. The main differences over the last 12 months look like statistical blips, but he's certainly much better than he was when he first reached the majors.
Overall, Bailey has shown gradual but steady improvement. No-hitter aside, while he isn't the Roger Clemens/Texas dominator that scouts thought he could become, he is an above-average starting pitcher, still just 26 years old, entering his prime seasons. He's got plenty of stuff (mid-90s fastball, curve, slider/cutter, changeup), and showed what he's capable of last night. Barring any sort of physical breakdown, Bailey's best seasons may yet be ahead of him.