Preaching Patience with Bailey

In Homer Bailey’s first appearance of the 2012 season, he gave up 4 earned runs (3 HR) in the first inning to the Reds most-hated rivals, the St. Louis Cardinals. As you’d expect, the message boards and twitter were immediately filled with comments such as, "RELEASE BAILEY NOW!" Homer settled down and managed to pitch into the 6th inning without giving up another run. Regardless, for many Reds fans Bailey has been a monumental disappointment to this point in his career. Young Bailey has yet to reach his 26th birthday, but is now in his 6th season as an MLB pitcher. Based on his high draft-pick status, his picture-perfect pitcher’s frame, all the hype surrounding his MLB debut, and 79 career starts in the big leagues – many fans expect him to be a more productive pitcher.

Reds fans don't have to search far and wide to find reasons to be patient with Bailey. Simply look into the clubhouse of those defending World Champion Cardinals. In 1993, the Toronto Blue Jays drafted a tall, hard-throwing high school pitcher named Chris Carpenter in the first round of the amateur draft. Much like Bailey, Carpenter was highly touted by scouts as he ascended quickly through the minor leagues. Here's what Baseball Prospectus had to say about 22 year old Carpenter in 1997:

Toronto’s #1 pick in the ’93 draft. Scouts drool about his makeup as much as his sinking fastball and power curve. He’s extremely raw, but he’s the best pitching prospect in the organization, and may surface in Toronto sometime in ’97. Pitched well in the AFL.

{Disclaimer: I realize that comparing Bailey public enemy #1 (Chris Carpenter) is not the best way to endear him to the Reds fan base. Nonetheless, there are lessons to be learned from Carpenter’s career path, even if he is a despicable character}

For comparison sake, 10 years later Baseball Prospectus on 21 year old Bailey:

Cocky and talented, Bailey`s the classic Texas amateur power pitcher. Consistently delivering heat in the mid-90s and touching 98 MPH, he also features a sledgehammer 12-to-6 curve and a solid change. Bailey was handled carefully in his first two years as a pro, and Krivsky followed suit last year, resisting the temptation to bring him up into the middle of a faltering stretch drive. Bailey will get a good look in camp. Bet on his making the rotation before the All-Star break.

Their minor league stats are eerily similar. In 584 minor league innings pitched, Bailey posted a 3.56 ERA. In 601 minor league innings pitcher, Carpenter posted a 3.89 ERA. Bailey debuted with the Reds at 21, while Carpenter made his Blue Jays debut at 22. By the age of 25, both Bailey and Carpenter had fallen short of expectations. Once again, their MLB stats through their age 25 seasons are remarkably similar.

Age 25 Record IP ERA SO/BB
Carpenter 34-34 581.2 5.04 1.79
Bailey 24-23 436.0 4.89 1.99

Homer Bailey is now entering his age-26 season, the exact age when Carpenter started to reach his potential. In 2001, at 26 years old, Carpenter recorded his first season of 30+ starts and 200+ innings. After his 2002 season was cut short by injury, the Blue Jays elected to release Carpenter, disappointed he never reached their expectations. He signed with the Cardinals in 2003 and 8 seasons later Carpenter has a Cy Young award, 3 All Star selections, 95 wins (42 losses) and 2 World Series rings.

It may seem like we’ve been waiting for Homer to develop for a decade, but it is important to keep his age in perspective. Bailey is younger than Johnny Cueto and only 18 months older than Mike Leake. He is 2 years older than Aroldis Chapman and has more MLB starts than Chapman has innings pitched. He hasn’t developed into the ace that many of us expected. He’s been injured too often and inconsistent. Regardless, Bailey has shown signs of improvement. His SO/BB ratio has improved every year, from 1.06 in 2008 to 3.21 in 2011. Will he ever become a front-line, top-of-the-rotation starter? Nobody can say for sure. However, history (and guys like Chris Carpenter) will tell you that it’s far too early to give up on Bailey.

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