Sunday, July 1, 2012

Homer Bailey: A classic case of fool's gold


Fool's gold, or iron pyrite, is a mineral that has deceived and been the root of false optimism among countless people who have encountered it. It's appearance is intriguing, dazzling and full of promise. One might even mistake it for the precious metal known as gold (hence the name). Unfortunately, the sulfide mineral is a bit of an imposter. Fool's gold is as abundant and inexpensive as minerals come and can therefore be replaced with relative ease.

It's been over eight years since the Reds drafted Homer Bailey 7th overall in the 2004 MLB Draft, but it's sure felt a whole lot longer than that to most. The right-hander has seemingly been playing professional baseball for ages now, but still remains a frustrating project that's playing career can best be compared to a roller coaster. In fact, the only real constant in Bailey's career up onto this point can be summed up in one word: inconsistency.

Although it's important to remember that the enigmatic Bailey is still only 26-years old, it's also fair to point out that he's now pitching in his sixth season in the major leagues. Yes, injuries have limited his time and production on the mound during that time, but he hasn't exactly set the world on fire when he has been healthy either. Bailey's been a mixed bag of results since breaking into the big show in 2007. He's delivered dominating performances in some starts and woefully awful ones in others.
Bailey as a senior at La Grange High in '04

The organization continues to show patience with the right-hander in hopes that he will blossom into the ace they envision he could be. There's no denying that the La Grange, Texas native has the tools and talent to do so, but what he lacks can't be taught nor acquired at this point, what he lacks is intangibles.

It's easy to see why the Reds fell in love with the potential of Homer Bailey, and still hold that belief to this day. The zip of his mid-90s fastball whistling into the catcher's mitt is music to the ears of onlookers. The sharp bite on his breaking ball buckles the knees of opposing hitters. Scouts, coaches, and baseball executives alike gleam over his proto-typical size (6'3", 225lbs) for a starting pitcher. Add in the fact that he hails from the fertile grounds of Texas, which is known to produce big league talent, and you have yourself one good-looking pitcher. What Cincinnati seems to have with Bailey is fool's gold.

Bailey has made 93 starts in his MLB career in which he is compiled a modest 30-29 record. Okay, so that's not too shabby. What is shabby though is a career ERA upwards of five (4.81), a whopping WHIP of 1.436, and a K/BB ratio of just over two (2.03). Furthermore, he's never recorded a season ERA lower than 4.40 and has never stayed healthy enough to make more than 22 starts. The only year in his pro career that he's displayed any kind of dominance, in my opinion, is in 2006 when he went 7-1 with a 1.59 ERA in 13 starts at the Double-A level. Bailey has shown to be a mediocre to above-average pitcher (at best) at every other level. He's also proved to be not only inconsistent, but fragile as well. And I'm not only referencing his propensity for injury.
We've all seen this look
too many times since '07

When you think of pitching greats such as Nolan Ryan, Greg Maddux and Randy Johnson, to name a few, you think of guys who were intimidating, bullish and wanted to go the distance everytime out. I think you would be hard-pressed to honestly see that in Bailey. Homer's confidence level seems to fluctuate more than the Dow Jones and it appears to rely heavily on how he's performing during a given outing.

Aside from strong confidence, Bailey seems to lack other things you just can't teach. He regularly shows deficiency in command, drive and instinctive ability -- traits that nearly all great pitchers, and players for that matter, possess. Oh, and his first name should have sent up a red flag as well considering he's a pitcher. That's neither here nor there though.

The Reds will continue to bank on him becoming an elite pitcher at this level, but I for one don't ever see it happening. Bailey could very well hang around for 5-8 more years as a solid middle-to-back end of the rotation-type pitcher, but I doubt he ever reaches the proverbial ceiling people had for him. Although the talent is most definitely there, he doesn't have that certain "it" factor that's going to lift him above mediocrity. Bailey is a classic example of fool's gold and the sooner that folks realize that the better. At that point, he can be held to different expectations, ones that he might actually have the chance to reach.

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