MLB: Cincinnati Reds-Workout

Homer Bailey is not responsible for your expectations. Homer Bailey did not put his own name at the top of every prospect list for what feels like a decade. Homer Bailey isn’t responsible for your baggage.

Homer Bailey can only be the guy he is, a 28-year old pitcher who just got paid. Paid a lot. Paid what he’s worth, if we’re being fair. Six years and $105 million, with a mutual option for a seventh year at $25 million ($5MM buyout) signed one year before he could hit free agency.

He isn’t the ace some expected as an amateur but, especially over the last two seasons, Homer Bailey grew into a very good starter. An above-average starter who just so happens to look like he’s capable of more.

The Red guaranteed a lot of years and a lot of dollars for a pitcher with two full seasons of good not great performance, but that’s what the market bears and it is also hints at a bright future relative to his less than glamorous past.

A popular comparison for Homer Bailey as this deal came together is Lance Lynn. They are, in fact, similar players. They have similar results and similar workloads so maybe the comparison fits. Bailey strikes out more and walks fewer but surrenders more home runs.

Wins Above Replacement, 2012-2013

Rk Player WAR Age GS IP ERA+
1 Homer Bailey 5.7 26-27 65 417.0 111
2 Lance Lynn 4.0 25-26 62 377.2 96
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 2/19/2014.

Which is all well and good until you remember Homer Bailey plays in one of the most notorious bandboxes in the league, the tiny and homer-crazy Great American Ballpark. Busch Stadium, where Lynn plies his trade, is quickly earning the reputation as a pitcher’s safe haven. It matters. As a comparison, Bailey is way ahead for me. A quick look at their road numbers on over the last two years paints quite a picture.

The last two years have been key for Bailey, as he put the shoulder woes of 2010 and 2011 (when an injury suffered while batting made things worse) behind him and just pitched. Two consecutive 200 inning seasons, using a splitter and sinker to increase his ground ball numbers and give him extra weapons versus left-handed hitters. It doesn’t mean his earlier seasons should be ignored, just an acknowledgment of improvement and development of a young pitcher finding his way.

Bailey’s improved performance tracks with a curious increase in velocity over the past two years. Typically, players lose zip on their fastball as they age, not gain. But the Reds starter added almost two full mph, on average, from 2011 to 2013.

Courtesy of Brooks Baseball

Does that mean Homer Bailey will make another step towards acehood? It almost doesn’t have to. The Reds keep locking up their in-house guys, hoping their core maintains its quality while the players around them improve. Bailey is young enough (entering just his age-28 season) that even if he doesn’t make another step forward, he’s still a fine mid-rotation option and player the Reds know and trust. A player who also pitched brilliantly in the post season for Cincy when the situation presented itself. $17.5 million AAV for six years is simply the cost of doing business. If the Reds didn’t give Bailey this deal, somebody else would.

Maybe the “somebody else” option suits some folks in and around Cincinnatti just fine. Perhaps trading Bailey and spending this money elsewhere was the right play. Rather than hope for a trade windfall and spend on an Ervin Santana-type, the Reds bet on Bailey’s recent gains, believing this is his new standard for production rather than his peak. Not the worst decision in the world. I mean, what’s a hundred million bucks between friends?