"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only."
Now, Charles Dickens wasn't speaking directly about Homer Bailey when he wrote this, but I'd like to think that he was prescient enough to know it could be loosely applied to him in the future. But to tell the story about Homer Bailey's performance in 2012, you really need to look his results four different ways - and here they are:
Homer Bailey, 2012 (1st Half) - 7 wins, 4.14 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 6.56 K/9, 2.71 K/BB in 104 1/3 IP
Homer Bailey, 2012 (2nd Half) - 6 wins, 3.21 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 7.99 K/9, 3.83 K/BB in 103 2/3 IP
Homer Bailey, 2012 (Home) - 4 wins, 5.16 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 21 HR allowed in 99 1/3 IP
Homer Bailey, 2012 (Away) - 9 wins, 2.32 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 5 HR allowed in 108 2/3 IP
Let's start in reverse order, with the home/road splits. First of all, ouch. We know that Great American Ball Park is a bandbox, but in 2012, it had a higher HR factor than Coors Field (and second only to Miller Park in Milwaukee). Clearly, Bailey was a big part of that, but what we're trying to figure out is whether that is a fluke or something we just have to build into his value. As you would expect, his HR/FB rates at home versus the road are completely out of whack - 18.4% at home, 4.5% on the road. But if you look at Bailey's pre-2012 splits, the differences are much more compressed. Instead of allowing more than four times as many HR at home, he's allowed 48% more (31 at home, 21 on the road).
Those are more reasonable numbers. In fact, if you look at ESPN's home run tracker, 12 of Bailey's 26 HR (46%) allowed were classified as "just enough" - the league average is roughly 30%. Now, with that all said, Bailey will still be pitching in a bandbox next year, so it's not like we can just look at his HR allowed numbers and say they should regress. However, for someone who had home HR/FB rates of 10.4%, 9.1% and 10.8% the previous three seasons, his 18.4% does seem a little excessive. Though, on the flip side, his extremely low road HR/FB rate seems a little excessive as well.
So, while that first issue may show you how best to use Bailey on your roster (always active on the road, a possible sit at home against powerful offenses), his progression over the course of the season is indicative of his future overall value. But first, we need to look back at his past. For those of you who don't remember, Bailey was twice a top-10 prospect in baseball according to Baseball America (#5 in 2007 and #9 in 2008) and a legitimate potential #1 starter. And they weren't alone. Kevin Goldstein, formerly of Baseball Prospectus, ranked him #4 and #9, respectively, for those two years. In other words, he was kind of a big deal. And this is important because when a pitcher has the best year of his career, it's more likely to be sustainable if he has the pedigree.
In so many ways, Bailey had a nearly identical season in 2012 as he did in 2011, when he was still former top-prospect Homer Bailey. Here are some examples:
Homer Bailey, 2012 - 19.2% K, 6.0% BB, .290 BABIP, 3.97 FIP, 11.5% HR/FB
Homer Bailey, 2011 - 18.9% K, 5.9% BB, .296 BABIP, 4.06 FIP, 11.5% HR/FB
Right before Memorial Day this year, I traded for Bailey in my most important league. As a consequence, I ended up watching him a lot this season - probably more than any other starter not named R.A. Dickey. And because I was able to watch him as much as I did, I had an idea anecdotally about why he was able to have more success this season versus previous years. And in the end, my thoughts from watching him were borne out in the statistics. So why was Bailey able to lower his ERA by nearly a full run this season? The most important answer here is his improved command.
Improved command can manifest itself in a couple of different ways. First of all, Bailey ranked 7th in baseball this season by throwing first pitch strikes 66.0% of the time - by far the highest rate of his career. Not only that, but fewer of them were being put into play (11.0% in 2012 versus 11.9% in 2011). This is a great thing for him as opponents hit .223/.252/.333 off Bailey after he got to an 0-1 count. Also, improved command can lead to more swings and misses outside of the strike zone, as command doesn't just include throwing quality strikes, but quality balls as well. In that arena, Bailey's 32.0% chase rate (swings at balls outside the strike zone) was the highest of his career, as well the first time he's been above league average.
Finally, Bailey was also able to keep the ball on the ground better than previous seasons. His 44.9% ground ball rate was his highest since his abbreviated debut in 2007, and his line drive rate was his lowest since that same year. This stems from two improvements. First of all, Bailey started throwing a two-seamer (or sinker, depending on how you classify it). He threw it 8% of the time in 2012, inducing ground balls 51% of the time that hitters put it into play. Second of all, from an anecdotal standpoint, it looked like Bailey was doing a better job of keeping his fastball down in the zone, especially on the corners. The numbers bear this out, as his four-seam fastball was a called strike 19.7% of the time (a career high) and had a line drive rate of only 17.1% (a career high and much lower than his career average of 21.4%). On top of that, the ground ball rate on his four-seamer was much improved over 2011 (41.5% versus 34.2%).
I know that was a lot of information to digest, but here's the short summary. Homer Bailey has continued to make improvements in his command which will allow him to build on the success he exhibited in 2012 (especially in the second half). He's still the third Reds pitcher off the board for me in 2013 drafts, behind Cueto and Latos, but it's much closer than you might think, and he should be a reasonable #3 starter in most leagues.
My way-too-early Homer Bailey 2013 projection: 14 wins, 3.54 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 183 K in 208 2/3 IP.