Homer Bailey to Start Saturday?

Well, it appears Homer Bailey might be the third big-time pitching prospect to make his debut in the majors this year. Philip Hughes and Tim Lincecum were called up earlier in the year and put up good numbers (although Hughes has since been injured), but Bailey is likely to put a stop to this trend. The Reds sent down fifth starter Bobby Livingston yesterday and will be unable to recall him for nine more days. The Reds will need another starter by Saturday, earlier than they could bring Livingston back, and MLB.com indicates Homer Bailey is the likely choice to make the start.

Let’s take a quick look at Bailey’s minor league numbers.

2005 | A | 103.3 IP | 10.89 K/9 | 5.40 BB/9 | 48.7% GB
2006 | A+ | 70.7 IP | 10.06 K/9 | 2.80 BB/9 | 44.2% GB
2006 | AA | 67.7 IP | 10.24 K/9 | 3.72 BB/9 | 49.7% GB
2007 | AAA | 56.7 IP | 8.10 K/9 | 3.81 BB/9 | 46.0% GB

We see that Bailey didn’t struggle at all striking people out until this year, but an 8.10 K/9 is still decent. Towards the end of Spring Training, the Reds told Bailey to start using his off-speed pitches more and to rely less on his mid-to-high 90s fastball. This is something he will need to do in order to be successful in the majors, so it’s good that he is starting now. The fastball, however, was most likely a dominant factor in his great K rates through Double A. The combination of the move to Triple A, with better hitters, and his lack of reliance on the fastball seems to be the reason for the lower K rate. It’ll probably decline a little more once he reaches the majors, and a K/9 in the low-to-mid 7s seems likely until Bailey adjusts to the majors.

Even a 7.00 strikeout rate is manageable for many big league pitchers, but the successful ones are able to pair it with a good walk rate and/or a great ground ball rate. Bailey’s groundball rate will be pretty good, in the mid-to-high 40s, but his walk rate is what will hold him back from being a good pitcher this year. It was terrible in 2005 at Low-A Dayton, but improved at the beginning of 2006 when he was promoted to High-A Sarasota. It has risen at each level since then, and it should continue to rise if he makes the jump to the majors this week. A BB/9 over 4.00 should be a certainty. That would leave Bailey with a K/BB of 1.88 if he can manage a K/9 of 7.50. That’s not going to be enough for Bailey to live up to the hype he has gotten over the past couple of years.

“‘It might be bigger than bobblehead night,’ Reds manager Jerry Narron joked.” Sorry, Jerry; I just don’t see it. The Reds should get a spike in attendance on Saturday, but the fans are going to be disappointed. Bailey should be strongly considered in 12 (because of his Ks) and picked up in 14-team mixed leagues. He should also be picked up in 10, 12, and 14-team NL-only leagues, but if you have to use your top waiver priority on him, you probably shouldn’t. Wait for a guy like Adam Miller or Yovani Gallardo. Don’t rely on Bailey to be your team’s savior.

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