Sunday, February 5, 2012

Is Homer Bailey ready for breakout year?

An injury-free season would please both
Bailey and the Reds just fine

It was June 7th of 2004 when the Cincinnati Reds tabbed Homer Bailey - a promising high school pitcher out of LaGrange, Texas - with their first round pick (7th overall) of the MLB Amateur Draft. The club passed over the likes of Jered Weaver, Huston Street, Gio Gonzalez, Billy Butler and Stephen Drew, among other, in doing so.

After putting up solid numbers in parts of four minor league seasons the right-hander made his major league debut just three years later on June 8th, 2007 against the Indians. His counterpart for the evening? Cliff Lee. However, it would be the younger Bailey who would outshine Lee on this night as the rookie tossed five innings of 5-hit, 2-run ball en route to earning his first big league victory. Yes, the future was looking bright for the 6'3" hurler at this point.

Bailey's lack of relative success
isn't because of a lack of effort
Turn the clocks forward to just over a year later to June 15th, 2008 and things aren't looking so peachy. After getting knocked around for eight hits and five runs in his previous start - a 7-2 loss to the hated Cardinals - the home crowd reins down a chorus of "boos" as he exits the mound after another horrid outing, this time against the Red Sox. I still remember fondly seeing not only the frustration of that start on the fans' faces, but the despair and look of a defeated man on Bailey's. The 2008 campaign turned out to be a disaster for him. He went 0-6 with a 7.93 ERA in eight starts with the Reds and didn't fare much better in the minors either posting a 4-7 record and 4.77 ERA in 19 starts with Triple-A Louisville.

But yet here we are nearly three and a half years later and the same question still remains about Cincy's former first round pick. Can he be the ace of the pitching staff the Reds envisioned he would be when they drafted him back in '04? Fortunately, it appears as though this upcoming season may provide a more definitive answer to this very question.

By all accounts, the last three seasons for Bailey have been steps in the right direction. He has consistently lowered his ERA, WHIP, and SO/9 totals over each season all the while increasing his K/BB ratio considerably. In spite of his progression though, he still continues to be prone to injury. Entering his sixth MLB season in '12, he has yet to record more than 133 innings pitched or double-digit wins in any individual season -- this can be heavily attributed by his multiple trips to the disabled list over his career thus far. One can only imagine what kind of numbers he would post in a given year if he could just stay healthy for the entire duration of it.
The franchise has yet to waver
on their commitment to Homer

And as long as it feels like the franchise has been waiting for Bailey to come around it's important (and somewhat surprising) to remind ourselves that he's still only 25-years of age. The strides he made in 2011 are very encouraging -- 22 starts, 9-7 record, 4.43 ERA, 1.280 WHIP, 3.21 K/BB - and is perhaps foreshadowing for what is to come in 2012.

The addition of Mat Latos to the rotation should only aid in Bailey's performance. With ace Johnny Cueto shouldering the load at the top, accompanied by Latos and the emergence of Mike Leake, Bailey should feel less pressure than ever in carrying more weight than he's capable of hauling. And for a guy who's undoubtedly felt the heavy burden of various pressures ever since he was drafted, this fact can't be underestimated. If there's anyone who deserves an injury-free and breakout year on this Reds roster it's Bailey. Whether 2012 is that year for him or not is still to be determined, but in my opinion his time has come for a breakout year.

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