Homer Bailey is no longer a prospect. He’s thrown 82 big league innings, which means he’s no longer rookie eligible. He first pitched for Triple-A Louisville in 2007, but he’s still there two years later after narrowly failing to beat out Micah Owings for the Reds’ fifth starter job.
So you may be wondering why he’s showing up in a Daily Dish? For all of his Triple-A and big league experience, it’s easy to forget that Bailey just turned 23, which makes him younger than Rays prospect David Price. So we’re making an exception today, one we may make a couple of other times through the season to look at a former prospect who hasn’t made it yet to try to help figure out if he ever will.
Watching Bailey’s most recent start on Wednesday evening against Wade Davis and the Durham Bulls summed up a lot of Bailey’s young career. His final line doesn’t look very good: 6 IP, 4 H, 4 ER, 0 BB, 4 K. But Bailey also showed some of the reasons that the Reds haven’t given up on him.
Bailey retired the first 12 batters he faced, carrying a perfect game into the fifth until Johnny Gomes lost a fly ball in the lights and watched it fall 10 feet away for a double. He managed to get out of that jam, but an inning later he gave up a two-run home run to Jon Webber. An inning later he gave up another two-run home run to Chris Richard, ending his night.
If you’re looking to make excuses for Bailey, it was a relatively dominating performance undone by two pitches. But then, it’s also fair to say that home runs have have been a problem for Bailey all year. He gave up only 10 home runs in 111 innings in Louisville last year, but he’s already given up nine home runs in 39 innings this year.
That’s the bad news for Bailey. On the plus side, he is a different looking pitcher than the one that arrived in Louisville in 2006. Back then Bailey brought his hands up over his head before breaking them in his wind-up. He then stabbed some with the ball as he rared back and fired mid-90s fastballs.
He has a much more compact motion now in an attempt to improve his once shaky command. He breaks his hands much lower and has reduced the stabbing motion in the back of his delivery. But according to Louisville pitching coach Ted Power, the biggest change is his stride. He used to have an exaggerated hip twist and an extremely long stride. He’s now shortened it because in his old delivery, when he tired he was prone to leaving the ball up in the zone.
Bailey also throws a different assortment of pitchers. He added a slider last year out of necessity. When Bailey first debuted in the big leagues in 2007, he used a hard-breaking 12-to-6 curveball to compliment his 93-95 mph fastball. But Bailey’s curveball came from a different, higher release point than his fastball. At the big league level, hitters recognized that and simply let them go, waiting to get a fastball they could drive.
"They would see the hand come up and they’d know it’s off speed, so they took it. Now his arm angle is the same for all of his pitches," Power said.
The slider gives hitters something a little less recognizable to worry about, although he still will throw an occasional 75-79 mph curve (three by my unofficial count), as he showed against the Bulls. His changeup is a fourth pitch, although he throws it infrequently.
The fastball sat at 92-95 mph last Wednesday, although he still ran it up to 98 mph at least once out of the zone. It may not be the Nolan Ryan-esque gas he once had, but he’s not far off his old velocity. And velocity has never been Bailey’s problem–if he’s ever going to succeed in the big leagues, he’ll have to show improved command. There are signs that the toned-down delivery is helping. For Louisville Bailey is throwing strikes on 65.9 percent of his pitches this season, compared to 62.8 percent in 2008 and 60.58 percent in 2007.
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