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Reds P Homer Bailey, once a franchise savior, now a $105 million man

05.07.14 at 7:02 am ET
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Homer Bailey was supposed to be the “savior of the Reds,” similar to how Anakin Skywalker and Harry Potter fulfilled the prophecies in their respective universes. Bailey was the pitching savior the Reds had long been looking for.

Homer Bailey

Homer Bailey

But for a long time, Bailey barely resembled a shell of the pitcher who posted a 2.47 ERA between High-A and Double-A in 2006. Bailey did not look like the Baseball America top-10 prospect who boasted a fiery 100 mph fastball. He certainly did not look like a pitcher who would sign a six-year, $105 million contract extension.

Through the first five seasons of his career, Bailey posted a 4.89 ERA with a 1.450 WHIP and 9.5 hits per nine innings extremely underwhelming numbers for a pitcher hyped as the savior of the franchise.

But then in 2012, something clicked for Bailey. For the first time in his career, he posted a sub-4 ERA and had a 1.240 WHIP.

It was less than 10 months ago that Bailey completed his second career no-hitter against the Giants. While consistent excellence had eluded the right-hander, the 2013 season solidified his credentials as a front-line starter, a second straight year of 200-plus innings with a career-best 3.49 ERA and WHIP of 1.24.

Those trend lines convinced the Reds to sign the 28-year-old this spring to a six-year, $105 million contract extension — just four short years after he turned in a 4.53 ERA in 20 starts.

Bailey took a while to find his footing at the major league level and to at least partially fulfill the promise that he displayed in the minors.

With David Ross, his catcher from his rookie year on the opposing bench, Bailey seemingly channeled his rookie year-self on Tuesday night, turning in a non-headline-grabbing six-inning, three-run, five-walk, five-strikeout performance against the Red Sox in the 4-3 Boston victory. Bailey struggled to command his arsenal, as he only threw 58 percent of his 110 pitches for strikes against the Red Sox.

Ross, who spent 2006 through mid-2008 with the Reds, remembers the tough times Bailey went through in his first season in the big leagues.

“He had a lot of really good minor league numbers and came up really raw and had to fill his way out,” Ross said. “He struggled early on trying to figure out who he was. I don’t think he had struggled much. He was supposed to be the savior the franchise. It was putting a lot of pressure on the young kid, which was not his fault at all. He had such good numbers in the minor league.”

Bailey struggled with his mix of pitches in his initial exposure to the big leagues. At that point, Bailey had not yet developed his slider, a pitch he currently throws nearly 20 percent of the time. Toward the end of Ross’ tenure with the Reds (and ironically, his first tenure with the Red Sox), Bailey discovered the slider.

“He had a great arm and a good split-finger and a good breaking ball, but I remember my last year there, he developed a slider and I really, really liked it,” Ross said. “Now, that seems to be one of his main pitches he goes to. He’s got a fastball, slider, two- and four-seam. He used to not have a two-seamer. He’s just developed and learned how to pitch and learned pitches at the big league level, which is really hard to do.”

Bailey’s development into a top-of-the-rotation starter took considerably longer than the development of many other pitchers. Ross believes that Bailey’s even-keeled personality helped the hurler stay patient and develop into the pitcher that he is today.

“He’s not a super emotional guy,” Ross said. “He’s what I think you want out of a pitcher. He’s real even keel, doesn’t get too high or too low. I saw him get banged around a lot and had to throw a lot of pitches and he went out there and he was going to give it all that he had and that’s the kind of guy he is. I got to hang out with him a little bit on some road trips, and just how he’s come up from Texas and just being so good there and always a lot of expectations on him and for him to live up to what he was supposed to do is really impressive.”

Ross believes that with experience, Bailey grew into his presence on the mound, which ultimately helped him become a pitcher deserving of a $106 million contract.

“Some of the hardest things to get in the big leagues is experience, and luckily they kept running him out there and letting him learn on the fly and it’s paid off for him,” Ross said. “It’s paid off for him and the organization. He’s been one of those guys that you can count on every day when you take the ball and he’s going to make his start and he’s going to go out there and give you a good chance to win. I think that’s all you’re looking for out of a pitcher in the major leagues and especially in that ballpark, a guy that can keep it three runs or less.”

Bailey’s extension with the Reds sets some precedent for a pitcher on the Red Sox potentially heading into free agency: Jon Lester. Bailey’s deal with the Reds is a recent example of a team giving a pitcher significant money on a long-term deal. Ross, who has become Lester’s personal catcher this season, believes that the lefty’s track record of success is much greater than Bailey’s.

“It’s hard to compare the National League and American League,” Ross said. “We were talking about the American League East and no pitcher to get out. It’s kind of a free inning, getting the pitcher out three times. Jon Lester has won two World Series and he’s got a little bit more on his resume, but definitely, similar in the fact of age and stuff like that Homer Bailey deserved every penny he got.”

Lester has posted a career 103-60 win-loss record with a 3.72 ERA, 8.2 K/9, 0.8 HR/9 and 1.297 WHIP versus Bailey’s career 51-47 win-loss record with a 4.30 ERA, 7.5 K/9, 1.1 HR/9 and 1.331 WHIP. Despite Lester’s longer resume, the Red Sox reportedly offered a significantly smaller deal (four years at between $70 million and $80 million) to the lefty than the Reds’ deal with Bailey. Lester also has two World Series rings, something Bailey cannot claim.

As someone who saw Bailey at the beginning of his career, Ross is incredibly happy to see the righty’s success for the Reds.

“It’s one of those things that make me smile because it’s funny, you never know what kind of player somebody is going to be and his success,” Ross said. “He’s still learning. Watching some video today, he’s still making adjustments and he’s such a talented player and his skills and he’s so young. That’s why they gave him all of that money, because he’s well worth it.”

Read More: David Ross, Homer Bailey, Jon Lester,
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